Software Developer vs. Software Engineer

April 8, 2020

Jake Anderson

Q:  Something that comes up, point of confusion for people outside the industry, even inside, is two terms, the term of software developer and the term of software engineer.  Talk to be about , is there a difference, what is it? 

A:  Yeah, a lot of times it’s dependent on the company.  Some companies use them as interchangeable terms, some companies use them as marketing ploys, like, an engineer sounds more valuable so clients might pay more for an engineer.  But the way that we like to think of software developer versus software engineer is a little bit different. So, you can think of them as somebody who creates versus somebody who implements.  So an engineer is somebody who has to take an idea and literally build something from it. They’ve got maybe very little that they’re working with and they have to come up with the solution for a given problem, whereas we see developers as people that might implement that solution.  So, they’re not the ones that are ideating, they are more the ones that are taking the different pieces that they have available to them as the building blocks for creating whatever they need to create.  

Q:  Okay.  Give me some technology examples of when an engineer might come into play.  Can it be more specific to certain languages or programming tendencies or types of projects versus a developer?  

A:  Yeah, a good example I like to think of is in WordPress.  A lot of times you will see WordPress developer, it’s rare to see something like WordPress engineer.  And the reason being is if you’re working with WordPress, you’re really leveraging the things that WordPress already gives you.  So, you’re not having to create new functionality within WordPress itself, you’re taking the functionality that WordPress has built in it, to extend it out.  Or if you want to add in custom fields, you bring in a plugin to do that or a plugin to do something else, and so a lot of that is just implementing something that’s available to you via WordPress.  Something that might be a little bit more different is, say, you have an internal application that manages data for whatever you’re trying to do, and think of it as, kind of a good data example, say you have a whole  bunch of facilities and your team has different traits that are on these facilities and you’re trying to work with and manage them, well, somebody has to model what that facility looks like in the database, as well as the relationship that facility might have to other vendors or certain contracts.  So somebody has to create and model that system, it’s not like you just get that out of the box for something like WordPress.  

Q:  So that would be more of an engineer side.  So I guess, general rule, there are exceptions to the rule, if you’re working with maybe a preexisting platform that has some notoriety, whether it be Shopify, WordPress, even somewhat like Contentful for headless CMSs and things like that, would you say that’s more likely to be a developer based person working on it, but if you’re creating something new, well, it could be within a preexisting technology such as Rayos, Vuu, JavaScript, could be more of an engineer level? 

A:  Absolutely.  And that’s not to say you can’t have engineers in a WordPress or Shopify space.  You definitely can. There are people that go way above and beyond and build plugins themselves.  We’ve built plugins, so there’s definitely engineering capabilities in those other ones, and I don’t want to discount that fact.  But more often than not, you see it in the software space of working with technologies like Ruby on Rails, anything like JavaSpace, all that, most of it goes to some point, engineering.  

Q:  Would you say are there certain uses that stick out in your mind of when you may want to lean on more of a software engineer versus a software developer?  Can it the type of project? Or when do you know, let’s say I’m a client and I’m looking to have something developed. Now, we may also take that as I also may want it engineered, but I don’t know that.  But let’s say, I always say, I’ll consider it development, so hey, I want this new product or process or system developed. How might I know when to go with an engineer versus a developer?  

A:  Yeah, so it really comes down to the third party services that you might have available to you.  Lean on third party services as much as you can, because they’re there ones managing them. Yes, they might cost a little bit more money but they end up saving you money more or less in the long run because they take care of a lot of the headache for you.  But if you have a third party service and say hey, I’m an e-commerce shop, I want to sell handbags, well, Shopify already has all of that available, and if you are a business and you’re like, okay, I know Shopify allows me to sell handbags, I just want somebody to help build me a site that better caters to my brand to sell these handbags.  Well, you’re looking for someone to implement Shopify for you, so you’re really looking for a developer, versus if you’re the type of person that’s I want to do e-commerce but I don’t want to be on Shopify. I want to own my whole platform, I don’t want to give away any commission, well, then you might be looking more towards an engineer to help build out more of that custom solution for you, especially if your ordering process is a little bit more unique.  

Q:  Okay.  So, quick kind of summary, software developer, someone who helps to implement technology.  Software engineer, someone who helps to create technology.  

A:  Either the technology or the underlying application, yeah. 

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