Software Engineer vs. Developer: What Specialist Does Your Startup Need?

a Software Developer or a Software Engineer?

What is the difference between a software developer and a software engineer? As both job descriptions involve writing code, many people get confused when they hear the terms. But the difference is clear:

A software developer writes computer programs, while a software engineer creates and maintains applications and systems.

The titles are different though the salary ranges are about the same.  You just need to find what’s best for your particular need. 

In other words, you might feel like you need to hire a super-skilled software engineer to develop your product or service. But maybe what you really need is to hire a software developer—it could be more aligned with your product needs and easier on the budget.

If you can relate (we know you can!), then read on. Let us help you figure out what’s best for your software development needs.

List of Content

What Are Software Developers and Software Engineers? What Do They Do?

Both software developers and software engineers work on software applications. They are responsible for the design, construction, testing, implementation, deployment, maintenance, and support of all software systems, tools, and products.

So then what the heck is the difference between a computer software engineer vs. a software developer?


A software developer creates applications, programs, and solutions using computer programming languages, software development tools, and related technologies. They are responsible for developing a specific product, feature, or functionality, as well as the entire lifecycle of the application. Software developers put together a complete set of instructions for your software, including how to load that program onto your computer, make it run, and maintain it.


Software engineers typically specialize in a specific aspect of a product (front end, back end, database, etc.) or work on a particular set of tasks within an application (such as user interface design). They know how to write algorithms, write instructions, and debug. In addition, they know how to write instructions for a computer to follow.


There are many different kinds of software developers and software engineers, but they can be grouped into the following categories:

  • System programmers
  • Web developers
  • Database administrators
  • Data analysts
  • Software architects
  • User interface designers

Software Developer vs. Software Engineer: What’s Common and What’s Different

There are a variety of things that are unique to each role, but there’s definitely some overlap, too. Let’s break it down:

Software EngineersSoftware Developers
EducationBachelor’s degree in computer science or engineeringTaking courses (but not earning a degree) is sufficient
Team RoleThis role contributes and is part of a teamThis role can be within a team or standalone
Job FunctionOrganizes the software development process Writes software code for all the software components
Career PathSoftware Engineer—> Lead Software Development Engineer—> VP EngineeringSoftware Developer—> Software Architect—> Tech Lead
Job ResponsibilitiesLarge-scale issue solvingBuilding and innovating
ToolsCreates frameworks to develop softwareUses existing tools to develop software

Differences in Skills of a Software Engineer vs. a Software Developer

#1 Software Developer Skills

Software developers use their technical expertise and skills to modify, write, and debug software for end-customer use.


They also document software and test applications for clients.

Many software developers rely on their knowledge of programs like, Java, C++, and Python to do their jobs.


Since software developers innovate across the entire product lifecycle, they must learn to think creatively to solve problems that arise during the design, development, testing, and launch of a product. They also must understand the basic data structures and be skilled in cloud computing. 


Another critical skill is hands-on experience with IDEs and either GitLab or GitHub. Software developers can focus on a single niche, such as mobile application development or IoT development.


Obviously, with as quickly as technology moves, every developer (and engineer, frankly) needs to get in the habit of learning constantly. A finger on the pulse of the industry and trajectory is super important for every technical specialist.

#2 Software Engineer Skills

Software Engineers are programmers who use engineering and mathematical tools to create computer programs and data management systems.


Software engineers are expected to be well-rounded—they need to have excellent technical skills, but must also interact well with others and have solid business communication skills.


A software engineer’s love language is algorithms, programming languages, data structures, and best practices in web development and systems engineering.


Generally, software engineers work with the same technology developers use (including Java and C#), but they also analyze, test, scale, and incorporate communication into their work.

Not sure how to choose the right fit for your particular needs and how to test a candidate’s skills? Let turnkey do it for you.

#3 Key Skills for Both a Software Engineer and a Software Developer

Both engineers and developers should have excellent analytical skills and experience creating and maintaining software architectures and databases.

You want them to be skilled with pattern design and have experience with cloud-based infrastructure.

And if you’re an agile software development company, the software developers and engineers on your team must have hands-on experience with multi-core CPUs.

And finally, though it’s not a technical skill, experience with various software development methodologies such as Agile, Scrum, and Kanban helps both software developers and engineers adapt more quickly to their new positions.

Roles and Responsibilities of Software Engineers and Developers

Though software engineer and developer positions are different, they are some common threads. The main difference though is that software engineers use a more holistic approach, while software developers work on smaller, more specific tasks.

So, what are their typical responsibilities?

Both specialists work across teams to provide technical guidance, support the entire development process of the product, and develop a thoughtful plan.


Post-data collection, they analyze the results and offer relevant advice for improving services or development initiatives. And based on the results of testing and analysis, they develop tools for enhancing the internal team’s productivity so everyone is constantly improving.

Best Practices for Software Developers and Engineers and the Main Challenges for Each

#1 Best Practices for Software Developers And Engineers

To be a perfect fit for a team, both software engineers and developers have to create code efficiently and understand the overall impact of the developed code on the business’s success. 

To achieve these goals, the best practice is to jot down two or three main coding goals every day in order to avoid being distracted by secondary tasks.


The best engineers and developers make a habit of starting every project with the most challenging part before moving on to the easier tasks. Each of them has to have a plan of attack even when they have to pivot due to an urgent need that may pop up.

#2 Main Challenges for Software Engineers

The software engineer role has responsibility for uptime and overall tech operations, so they not only need strong technical expertise, but they also have to be solid under pressure with excellent communication and collaboration skills. 

For example, software engineers in industries like space or nuclear power are literally in charge of many people’s lives—systems failure isn’t an option.

Moreover, with time software becomes more and more complex, so new applications will need to continually be optimized to keep up.

#3 Main Challenges for Software Developers

Software developers encounter different challenges.

During the discovery phase, it is essential for them to understand end-user requirements clearly and meticulously document everything that should be done. If they don’t adhere to stringent processes at the beginning, they’ll for sure end up backtracking—not an attractive dance to have to do (or explain to the client).

Clients have to be part of that process too, though. Because if the requirements are constantly changing or unclear, they will likely end up with a low quality product. 

Throughout the entire process, developers need to adopt the product development mindset—how can it be maintained and extended? Creating a product in a vacuum that can’t iterate or scale won’t get the job done.

What Is the Right Fit For My Company/Startup?

If you have a small company or a start-up, we generally advise you to hire a software developer. You have to build great software first before there is a need to maintain it. 

But when your company is in a growth stage, and you feel that you have the potential to really scale (or, at least, need some tools to optimize your team’s internal work and processes), it’s time to look for software engineers. 

If neither of these stages feels like the one you’re in, and you’re still not sure who exactly you need, there’s an easy answer: TurnKey is here for you.

We can help you define your exact needs and custom-recruit the best software engineers and developers for you.

How Can I Test the Skills of a Software Engineer vs. a Developer?

Software engineers should have a strong background in at least one commonly used programming language, such as Java, Python or C++. Be sure to ask about their proficiency with these and other languages. 

In addition, look for framework proficiency—an organized framework can improve your application’s quality, reliability, and robustness.

A good software developer with solid tech expertise knows what it takes to write software that has high performance, works as expected, and is easy to maintain. They can apply OOP, functional programming, declarative and imperative programming techniques, and they are adept at writing code for embedded systems.

It is also crucial that software engineers can use the different types of DBMS, like MySQL or PostgreSQL, and that they follow the basic requirements of backing up, securing, and managing a database.

Moreover, as versioning is the lifeblood of any good source code management system, source code structure knowledge is a must have. 

Need help building a checklist to run down when looking at candidates? Call TurnKey or use our guide to check the cultural fit of the candidate.

Or, if you’re having a DIY moment, here is a sneak peek at how they organize the assessment process in Google including specific questions you can use in your hiring process.

How Will TurnKey Help You With This?

We know what you need, because when we ran our own SaaS-based startups, we needed it, too (and couldn’t find it). That’s why we created TurnKey. Now we use our extensive expertise in hiring the best tech specialists worldwide and put it to work on your behalf.   We build your dedicated development team from scratch around your specific needs and company culture.

Ready to get started? Let’s start the conversation and get your engineers and developers on board.


What’s the difference between a software engineer and a developer?

Developers are your coders. Engineers maintain your system.  Both usually earn a degree in computer science or engineering and have a strong knowledge of programming and object-oriented languages like C++ and Java.

Is the engineer higher than the developer?

Both are equal in the eyes of the software development world.  Building great software requires a team of specialists, each with their own role.  Great software can’t be built without either group.  You need both sides of the proverbial house!

Do software engineers have to code?

Most software engineers usually do not write code, but they need a solid technical background to communicate appropriately with programmers and set the framework for the entire development team.

November 22, 2022

TurnKey Staffing provides information for general guidance only and does not offer legal, tax, or accounting advice. We encourage you to consult with professional advisors before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business or legal rights.

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