Software developer vs software engineer: the difference explained for hiring managers

By Robert Half on 25 April 2022
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

Software developers and software engineers share a lot of similarities – both have similar educational backgrounds, and share a passion for coding.

In other words, it’s easy to see why some job postings in Singapore use the terms interchangeably.

However, the differences between the software developers vs software engineers are important, and it’s essential you know which one suits your company’s needs.

What is a software developer?

A software developer is someone who programs or develops software.

This involves conceiving of the program, designing it, and building it by writing code from scratch.

As a result, software developers are considered to have a more integrated approach to and knowledge of software compared to, say, a programmer.

Additionally, software developers also test and document software for their clients.

Software developers' end products might be web, mobile, or desktop applications.

Related: How to effectively review resumes

What is a software engineer?

Like software developers, software engineers also have a solid grasp on programming.

However, software engineers extend their knowledge by applying analysis.

Software engineers analyse user requirements, test and refine code, and develop existing programs by analysing and identifying areas for improvement.

Typically, software engineering is a team effort, and software engineers will need to communicate with any developers involved in the projects they’re working on.

Although proof of refinement and visualisation are both quantitative, because of the nature of the work carried out by software engineers, their end products are less tangible than software developers.

Related: Interview questions for employers to get the ball rolling

Software developer vs software engineer – and why these roles are important to your business

Arguably, software developers and software engineers have similar personality traits: they are creative, intellectually curious, and expert problem solvers with an eye for detail.

That said, the skills, qualifications, and experience to look for when hiring a software developer vs a software engineer might vary significantly depending on what your company's goals are.

If, for example, you’re looking for a team player to consult clients and colleagues on issues concerning the maintenance and performance of existing software systems, you’ll need a software engineer.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone to liaise with clients or stakeholders and bring a project to life, you’re likely looking for a software developer.

Software developer skills to look for

  • Write code in one or more programming or scripting languages, such as PHP, C# or JavaScript
  • Design the architecture of the components of an application and develop software prototypes
  • Build and test Application Program Interfaces (APIs) for applications to exchange data
  • Debugging knowledge
  • Establish a detailed program specification through discussion with clients.

Software developers often have degrees in computer programming or IT.

Experienced software developers will have a portfolio of applications and tools they have developed that demonstrates creative, out-of-the-box thinking, and awards previous projects might have won.

Software developers vs software engineers are capable of working individually and on a contractual, per project basis.

Related: Shortlisting the best candidates

Software engineer skills to look for

  • Write code in one or more programming languages and frameworks such as C#/C++, HTML, Java/Java Enterprise Edition
  • Ability to improve or modify existing code
  • Ability to solve large-scale issues using analytics and testing
  • Knowledge of relational databases, SQL and ORM technologies (JPA2, Hibernate)
  • Knowledge of algorithms and data structures
  • Possesses strong analytical and reasoning skills with an ability to visualise processes and outcomes
  • Work across teams to communicate and coordinate the functionality and optimisation of system components.

Since technology is ever evolving at an impossible pace, it is critical for software engineers to stay up to date with the latest developments in hardware, systems, and coding.

Here team settings are an essential part of the job; software engineers typically work solely in full-time roles unlike software engineers.

Additionally, it is imperative software engineers ensure that software products and their related modifications should meet best in class standards professionally.

Software engineers often also have degrees in computer programming or IT, although some might have software engineering backgrounds too.

Still unsure of whether you’re looking for a software developer vs a software engineer? Let us help! With over 300 locations worldwide, and one of Singapore’s top technology recruitment agencies, Robert Half offers access to expert recruiters and talented candidates.

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