Many people use the terms ‘software developer’ and ‘software engineer’ interchangeably. But there are actually some key differences between the two roles that are important to understand, whether you’re applying for a position or looking to hire for one.
In general terms, a developer is someone who is in charge of not only building something but also testing it, improving it and maintaining it. An engineer requires the same technical skills as a developer, but is a more senior position that involves understanding the wider influences and principles that are informing product or system development.
Software engineering vs software development really comes down to the way that a project is approached, as we will discuss in more detail later on. Both roles are valid and both are essential parts of a successful team working on delivering software solutions to clients and customers.
So how do you decide which role is right for your project? We’ve got the answers.
What is a Software Developer?
A software developer is someone who develops software solutions through building a variety of applications and computer, mobile or web-based programs. In the electronics and embedded systems industry, software developers can work on anything from programs for smart devices to medical machinery and defence or security systems.
There are broadly two different types of software developer; software application developers and systems developers. The former role focuses on creating solutions that are more consumer-based and usually used on mobile devices or computers, whereas the latter describes developers who create software for operating systems or machinery involved in science, medicine, aerospace or communications.
What Does a Software Developer Do?
A software developer is in charge of designing, building, testing and maintaining a wide range of software products. The type of projects that they work on will depend on whether they have specialised in a particular sector, such as automation, safety-critical or IoT.
Common responsibilities of software developers include:
- Writing code for new programs or applications
- Creating instructions for programmers to write code for new programs or applications
- Reviewing existing systems and suggesting improvements
- Creating updates for existing software and delivering them
- Debugging programs and fixing errors
- Testing code, applications and programs that are created and recording test data
- Responding to client briefs with ideas for new programs, software and applications
- Working with marketers, designers and other developers to complete projects
What is a Software Engineer?
A software engineer is a type of engineer who designs different kinds of software, programs and applications. They use their knowledge of mathematical, scientific and engineering principles and concepts to come up with ideas for new software solutions and establish processes that serve specific functions.
There are a wide variety of different kinds of software engineer, from general roles to industry-specific positions. In electronics and embedded systems, software engineers often work as a consultant or project manager of a development project, supervising every stage of the software development life cycle and advising on processes and solutions.
What Does a Software Engineer Do?
A software engineer creates, maintains and improves software to meet certain needs or requirements, applying general engineering knowledge to solving problems. You’ll often work with a team of analysts, programmers and designers or developers in order to create a functioning program or application.
Within the role of a software engineer, the following responsibilities make up a lot of day-to-day work.
- Analysing and responding to user requirements or client briefs
- Researching and creating a development plan for new software or programs
- Evaluating existing systems and software and suggesting improvements
- Finding solutions to existing software integration
- Writing technical specifications for developers and programmers to follow
- Deciding on test procedures and maintenance systems for software you are creating
- Overseeing the full development of new programs or applications from start to finish
- Monitoring the performance of existing and decide when delivering an update is necessary
- Staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends and developments
What’s the Difference?
What’s the difference between a software engineer and a developer? It all comes down to how each role approaches the same project.
A software engineer takes a bigger view of a project than a developer, focusing on how the entire software development life cycle is going to operate to ensure that a successful program or application will be produced at the end. They are focused on ensuring that the overall project meets customer or client requirements, sticking to the planned budget and schedule, and refining the development process to ensure that everything is being done as efficiently as possible.
On the other hand, a software developer usually focuses on a single element of the project. They may just be involved in designing the code that builds a program or testing and refining prototypes. They are given parameters for their work, usually by a software engineer, and do not need an idea of the bigger picture to complete their tasks.
Both roles require a drive to seek out the best way to get a task done, but again this operates on different levels. So whilst a software engineer will take a wide view of the development process and look for ways in which time and resources can be saved and engineering principles can be applied to refine the process, a developer will decide on the most appropriate way for a program or application to be created and select methods of testing and refinement that they believe are best.
Looking at the role specifications of a software developer vs engineer, an engineer usually has a higher level of qualification or experience. You can become a very successful software developer without any higher education qualifications, but in order to qualify as an engineer, you usually need to complete a university degree or equivalent level apprenticeship.
A software engineer will usually be brought in first on a project, and it will be their responsibility to create a plan from start to finish of what needs to be done to deliver a finished program or application. Software developers are then brought in later once the specifications of their role have been decided.
A software engineer oversees the whole process of software development. A developer focuses on a specific element of this process and practically applies their skills to create and refine a program or application.
When Do You Need a Software Developer?
If you’re in charge of hiring or managing staff in a company or business that creates software within the embedded systems and electronic industry, you may have occasions where you need to decide whether to hire a software developer.
The simplest instance when a software developer is required is if a role in a team or company becomes vacant, and the other staff cannot cover all of the work the former employee was responsible for. Similarly, if your company suddenly sees an increase in development work, you may need to hire an additional software developer to lighten the load.
You should also consider hiring a software developer if you already have a team of programmers working in your company, but lack a bridge between them and the overall software project manager. A developer tends to be in charge of deciding what code needs to be written and can then delegate this task to programmers whilst they work on testing and refining the software, which can help to streamline your process.
If you have project managers and specialist programmers in your team, but lack an individual with the skill to plan what code needs to be written and test and refine it before a program is complete, you need a software developer.
Where Can You Find a Software Developer?
The easiest way to find a quality software developer is to advertise the role on a jobs board or vacancy platform. Make sure that you include all the specifications of the role in the advert, sell your company culture as well as the position, and state any necessary skills and competencies to save you time in the recruitment process.
Talented software developers can also be located on technical blogs or open-source coding platforms, where you will also be able to see examples of their work.
Finally, if you’re looking for developers to work on a specific project within a certain sector, working with a specialist recruitment agency like KO2 can be the best way forward. Not only will you receive applications from only talented candidates, but you can also be sure that the agency will only send genuinely interested candidates your way who are sure to be a good fit for your company.
You can read more about finding talented developers in our article How to Recruit Software Developers.
When Do You Need a Software Engineer?
If your software development business or company frequently completes specialist projects within the electronics and embedded systems sectors, particularly ones that involve lots of different teams and stages, there will likely be instances where you need to hire a software engineer.
A software engineer is essentially a specialist project manager. They can also be brought in on a consultancy basis if you’re embarking on a project in an unfamiliar industry and need guidance on what needs to be considered or included.
It can also be useful to hire a software engineer if you’re looking for a team member who can liaise with clients, report on project progress and ensure that any requirements or specifications are being communicated to the relevant teams. If you are only a small company then this may not be necessary, but larger businesses can really benefit from having a knowledgeable engineer managing communication and clarifying any queries from both their team and the client.
If you have all the specific roles required in a software development project but lack an individual who can oversee and advise on the entire process whilst contributing their specialist knowledge, you need a software engineer.
Where Can You Find a Software Engineer?
One of the simplest ways to find a software engineer for your business is to advertise the role through a jobs agency or on a specific engineering recruitment platform. It’s important to specify what is involved in the role because as this article has proved, the differences between an engineer and a developer aren’t that obvious.
Specialist software engineers can also be found working for other companies, advertising their services as a freelancer, or even through networking events like conferences.
We also recommend that if you’re looking for a talented software engineer then you work with a specialist recruitment agency like KO2, which has a large number of engineering candidates in their talent pool and knows the embedded systems and electronic industry inside out.
There’s a lot of talk in the engineering and software development industry about the software engineer vs developer debate, as many people simply don’t understand the difference in responsibility and approach to working between the roles. However, both are distinct and essential parts to successful application and program development, and the majority of businesses will need to hire both as part of their team at some point.
If you’re an employer in the embedded systems industry that is looking for specialist help with hiring software engineers or developers, get in touch and find out more about how our recruitment agency can help you.