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Software engineer vs. software developer: Comparing skills and career paths

At a glance

  • Software engineers typically take a big-picture approach to a software development project, overseeing it from start to finish. Software developers focus on specific aspects of engineering, such as testing or designing individual parts of a program.
  • Typically, a bachelor’s degree in computer or information technology is required to become a software engineer or developer.
  • Both software engineers and software developers rely on such skills as analytical thinking, communication, and interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
  • Learn IT skills such as software development with an online technology degree at University of Phoenix!

What are STEM careers

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are developing rapidly and will expand further over the next decade. According to a September 2022 estimate by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for qualified STEM professionals will increase by 10.8% between 2022 and 2032.

STEM careers, such as software engineering and development, require technical knowledge. According to current employment trends, there are not enough qualified tech workers to fill available roles in computer science fields. As companies move more toward digital processes, AI and data analytics, the skill gap could get even wider.

The issue affects companies and organizations, but it also rises to the geopolitical level. 

Career-focused tech degrees aligned to the skills employers want. 

Two of the computer science careers playing a pivotal role in today’s workplaces are software engineering and software development. Though these two fields overlap, there are important differences to consider, especially with regard to computer science and technology-related education. 

Differences between software engineers and software developers

Software engineers and developers create new applications and programs. They both use knowledge of computer programming languages and development frameworks in their daily jobs. However, the two roles have different scopes and goals.


Software engineers oversee every aspect of a software development project. They often start with an issue that their employer or client needs to solve or a task to complete. Software engineers find a solution, design a program that delivers the solution and plan the steps to build it.

Engineers also oversee testing, debugging and deployment of the finished software. In other words, software engineers create the entire blueprint that software developers, coders and other computer science professionals follow to complete the project.

Software developers are different from engineers because they focus on specific software engineering aspects of the project. For example, software developers may design, code and test specific parts of a program. Their exact role can vary depending on the team, employer and project.

Software developers may have input into the design of the software and the plan for the project. They almost always start with a concept created by a software engineer or software architect and hand the project back to them for final approval after they finish coding, testing and debugging.


The goals of software engineering revolve around delivering a functional program that meets the needs of the employer or client. Each step in the design and software development process leads toward this aim. Software engineers look at the outcomes of software developers, computer programmers, product testers and other related professionals to ensure they move the project toward its overall goal.

Software developers aim to ensure their assigned portion of the software functions correctly and efficiently. They may be concerned with how their portion of the software fits with the other components but aren’t concerned with the functionality of the other parts.

Similarities between engineers and developers

Engineers and developers work as programmers on the same software development projects and often interact. Though the roles are not interchangeable, they are similar. If you have a strong knowledge base of programming languages, you may apply for both positions depending on the specific job requirements and your interests.

Here are some similarities between software engineers and software developers.


Engineers and developers have similar educational backgrounds. While a college degree alone may not be enough to qualify you for a job, it can provide a knowledge base for creating, designing, developing, coding and testing software.

Technology degrees help students develop tech skills, and a computer science degree can provide experience in coding, computer languages and development processes. Finally, IT degrees provide a general skill set for both engineering and development.

Essential qualities

According to BLS, it’s important for professionals to have analytical, communication and problem-solving skills. It’s also important to have interpersonal skills since collaboration is critical to the success of projects.

On occasion, engineers and developers may also need to communicate with project managers to provide updates, learn about potential or existing issues, and provide general software maintenance to fix or prevent said issues.


Typically, a large software team has both engineers and developers. While engineers are ultimately responsible for designing a project and delivering a fully functioning version, they can get input from developers, who may have a deeper understanding of programming languages and how components of the software work with one another. Engineers may also work with developers during the concept and design process to gauge the feasibility of their plans.


Because they work on the same projects, engineers and developers often find employment in the same industries. And those industries are prolific. Digitization across industries has led to a wide range of employment opportunities for computer science professionals. In addition to being employed by IT departments, software development companies and tech service providers, for example, software engineers and developers may work in information security, web development, or business or data analytics. They could also work with mobile apps or in industries like retail, government, financial services or healthcare.

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Which field should you go into?

Even though both career paths start with a computer or tech-related education, internships and job experience can give you the entry-level knowledge base to focus on either software engineering or development.

Ultimately, your career path will depend on your interests and skills. If you are more interested in software design and using technology to build solutions, engineering may be the better choice. If you are more detail-oriented and adept at coding and problem-solving, software development could be a good career path.

Job outlook for developers

Demand for software developers is projected to increase by 25% between 2022 and 2032, according to BLS. This equates to roughly 153,900 openings for software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers each year. This also includes progressions in software engineering.

BLS Occupational Employment Projections, 2022-2032 is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data reflects BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

Salary for software developers

In May 2022, BLS published salary data for software development professions, which include software engineer jobs. It was reported that these professionals made between $71,280 and $198,100 a year.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

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IT programs at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix educationally prepares students for careers in software development through its Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree. While UOPX cannot guarantee alignment to a career in software engineering, students learn a wide range of skills in the field of information technology. Explore the following online degrees and certificates!

  • Bachelor of Science in Computer Science — This degree program teaches you how to apply information technology theory and principles to real-world business challenges. It covers advanced concepts in math, programming and computer architecture.
  • Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity — This program teaches top skills such as security policies, network security, information systems security and cybersecurity.
  • Bachelor of Science in Data Science — Gain fundamental skills and knowledge to analyze, manipulate and process data sets using statistical software. Learn ETL (extract, transform, load) processes for integrating data sets for business intelligence and more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Information Technology — This program is designed to teach top skills such as business process, cybersecurity, information systems, operations and systems analysis.
  • Master of Information Systems — Go beyond building computers and managing your queues in this master’s degree program. Learn technical and leadership skills necessary for developing and managing information systems.
  • Advanced Software Developer Certificate — Learn to design and implement software solutions in relation to project scope and stakeholder needs. Study multiple programming languages and software architecture principles while earning this certificate.


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