Software Developer v Software Engineer

Robert Beckley, Regional Director, Hays ANZ

If you work in or with the IT industry, chances are fair you’ve heard others use the terms ‘Software Engineer’ and ‘Software Developer’ interchangeably.

Sometimes, it’s a non-issue. Other times, it’s problematic.

We recently sponsored the YOW! Conference and surveyed members of the software community for their views on the terms ‘Software Engineer’ and ‘Software Developer’.
 
More than 200 conference participants spoke to us on the distinctions – and some had quite strong views on the subject.  The findings regarding how these two roles are understood are interesting reading.
 

Survey points to confusion between the terms 

95 per cent of our survey respondents think that Australian organisations use the terms Software Developer and Software Engineer interchangeably.
 
However, almost half (45 per cent) think there is, in fact, a difference between Software Developers and Software Engineers.
 
We have previously highlighted that the job description of a Software Engineer and Software Developer is often used interchangeably in New Zealand.
 
However, many important distinctions can be made between the roles too – although these vary depending on the person, organisation, industry or even country you direct the question to.
 
In essential terms, these distinctions often centre around the fact that Software Engineers are seen to be focused on big picture solutions involving the design, development and maintenance of software systems. Meanwhile, Software Developers are recognised as technical specialists who concentrate on coding on a specific application or function.
 

Breaking down Software Engineers and Software Developers further

67 per cent of our survey respondents agreed that a Software Engineer can undertake a Software Developer’s role, but a Software Engineer’s core responsibility is for ‘larger scale’ solutions. 

63 per cent of respondents agreed that Software Development is less ‘big picture’ and more focused on creating functional applications. In addition, almost three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents agreed that Software Engineers focus on organisational-wide ‘best practice’, whereas Software Developers are likely to complete a function for a specific application/system.
 

Key skills and competencies for each role

Do you think there is a distinction between the two roles? Perhaps you agree with the 45% of people we spoke to who feel there is a clear difference and the two roles should not be used interchangeably.
On the other hand, perhaps you are comfortable using these terms interchangeably. 
 
Here at Hays Technology, we regularly talk to employers who do use the terms interchangeably, and we always ensure they find the exact talent they need to meet their individual needs regardless of the job title used.  
 
However, if you do like to differentiate the key skills and competencies into two distinct lists, here’s some suggestions from the employers we recruit for. We welcome your thoughts on whether you agree or disagree with this division. If you do agree, should any other skills be added to the below? 
 

Software Developers: 

  • Familiarity or proficiency with programming languages including JavaScript (and modern libraries/frameworks), Java, C#, Python and PHP;
  • Software development skills;
  • Strong customer service and consulting capabilities; and
  • Strong problem-solving skills. 

Software Engineers:

  • Strong understanding of programming languages including Java, JavaScript (and modern libraries/frameworks), GO, C++, C, Kotlin SQL, Python or R. Extensive programming skills or certification are advantageous;
  • Test automation and continuous integration & continuous delivery practice experience;
  • Scaled agile experience;
  • High-level design experience at an enterprise level;
  • Critical thinking skills to promptly resolve technical issues, including bugs;
  • Strong attention to detail; and
  • Teamwork and collaboration capabilities.

Popular career choice

Our survey of software professionals also found that a significant number (40 per cent) would be more inclined to apply for one role over another when searching for a new job. Of these, 85 per cent would prefer to apply for a Software Engineer position.
 
In the next few years, very strong growth is forecast for Software Developers and Software Engineers. According to 2020 forecasting from Deloitte Access Economics, there will be more than one million tech workers in Australia by 2027, increasing from the 772,175 recorded in 2019.
 
We recently highlighted that Software Developers will be a skill in demand in the years ahead, as organisations continue to count on developers to create a raft of products, tools and services.
We also expect to see demand for Software Engineers across industries such as healthcare, financial services, retail, public sector and defence, as more organisations outside the technology sector develop better software systems to match technologically-savvier business models.
 

Find your next Software Developer job or Software Engineer job

At Hays Technology, we specialise in recruiting technology talent for permanent and contract jobs at all levels.
 
Thanks to the wide range of relationships we have with IT professionals and organisations, including tech start-ups, fintechs and global tech organisations, we can help you find your next job or team member. 
 
Please do reach out on LinkedIn if you’d like to share your thoughts on the distinction, or lack thereof, between Software Developers and Software Engineers.
 
Search or apply for your next Software Developer or Software Engineer job or contact your local office.

About this author

Robert Beckley is a Regional Director based in Melbourne. Having worked in the Australian IT recruitment market since 2006, Robert leads the Hays Information Technology business in the ANZ region. Robert has a Master’s degree from the University of Birmingham, and two decades of industry experience.

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