Are software engineers and software developers that different?

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You’re a “software developer.” Your friend’s a “software engineer.” But if a mutual friend introduces the two of you to someone, they’ll bucket you together. 

That’s because there’s often a huge gray area when it comes to software engineer vs developer. Employers tend to use them interchangeably. And if that isn’t confusing enough, some companies are even hiring “software development engineers.”

While it may seem nitpicky, your job title matters more than you might think. Even though your work ethic, ideas and skills will help you build the career you want, a title alone could earn you more or less money (and status)—even if you do the same work as someone with a different title. The titles on your resume could affect promotions, your future job prospects and even your reputation.

So are there certain cities that have higher demand for software engineers vs software developers? Is there a difference in salaries? And if so, should you negotiate a title change with your current employer? But more importantly, are there actually any differences at all or does it simply come down to employer preference?

Table of contents

To take the pulse of the job market for both developers and engineers, we looked at the growth in employer and tech talent interest over a span of two years. 

From 2017 to 2019, the number of people searching for software developer jobs on Indeed.com rose by over 25%. In that same time period, the number of people searching for software engineer jobs spiked by over 52%. 

But what about employer demand? Between 2017 and 2019, the number of open software developer jobs on Indeed increased by 22%, while the number of software engineer jobs increased by just a small percentage less at 20%. 

So, while jobs with these titles are increasing at a similar pace, job seeker interest is much higher for “engineer” titles.

Do developers and engineers have different responsibilities? 

There’s a clear difference in the title job seekers are most interested in, but is it just because “engineer” sounds more impressive? Or are there any big differences between the two roles?

Megan Avery, a software engineer at Seen, says: “In practice, I don’t think there is much difference. But engineers are generally more involved in the architecture and design of solutions than developers.”

Along with a potentially increased scope in responsibilities, another major difference stems from education level. A software engineer often holds a traditional degree, such as a BS in CS. And while many software developers do hold college degrees, a report by HackerRank shows that nearly one-third of all developers are completely self-taught.

But when it comes down to it, there’s no official definitions for the two. The connotation for developers is that they modify and execute while engineers also design and create, but if you read through a handful of job postings, you’ll see that’s not universal. 

Join Seen for free to get matched with both developer and engineer roles

A closer look at employer demand

There aren’t any huge discrepancies between software engineer vs software developer when it comes to job function (and it’s even questionable if employers actually know those differences). But do certain cities have higher demand for engineers vs developers?

software developer vs software engineer: demand

According to Indeed.com, Washingtons top the list for both software engineers and software developers—but on opposite ends of the country. Employers in Washington, DC have the highest demand for software developers, while employers in Seattle, WA are looking for the most software engineers (but as you’ll see, Seattle actually tends to pay its software developers more). 

So why do the top five vary so much? This may be partly due to the fact that different industries use “developer” vs “engineer.” And often, it’s just a matter of preference among employers.

Software developer vs software engineer: Where can you earn a high salary?

Since there’s only one overlapping city when it comes to employer demand for developers vs engineers (Washington, DC), we decided to dig a little deeper and take a look at average salaries in these high-demand cities.

The average salary for software developers is $92,466 each year, while software engineers typically earn 13% more at $105,071 per year.

But just like every job, certain cities pay top dollar to attract more workers and account for cost of living. And as you’ll see, moving to a high-paying metro area can actually flip-flop which title pays more.

software developer vs software engineer: salary

Indeed data shows that in all but two cities (Seattle and Dallas) software engineers tend to earn more than developers. And as you might expect, places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley and New York top the list for both developers and engineers, as the salaries there must account for the high cost of living

What else does this data reveal? The city with the biggest pay gap is New York, with employers paying software engineers over $25,000 more per year than software developers, on average. That means it might be worth it—literally—to call yourself a “software engineer” if you plan on moving to the Big Apple. 

We see the smallest salary difference in the cities that typically pay developers more than engineers: Dallas and Seattle. For instance, Dallas employers pay developers only about $3,000 more per year than engineers. And despite Seattle employers demanding more engineers, companies in the seaport city actually pay developers $3,000 more per year than engineers, on average. 

Want to find a top-paying role, fast? Call yourself a software engineer and move to San Francisco, as it comes in at #3 for highest demand and is also a top-paying city for software engineers. Looking for a slower pace and lower costs? Head to Dallas and call yourself a software developer, as the city comes in at #5 for highest demand and tends to offer slightly higher salaries for developers.

Does software developer == software engineer?

While there may be some nuances between software developers and software engineers, employers don’t always take those into consideration—or even know about them. Every company has their own definition of each title. 

So the truth is, if you apply for a developer role, you could be interviewing for either. But even though the two terms are often synonymous, here’s what you can take away from our data: 

  1. Don’t discount one title over the other. Your perception isn’t necessarily the same as an employer’s.
  2. Read through full job descriptions to see if your skills (not title) align with what the employer is looking for.
  3. Compare salaries in your market to see how to best sell yourself to employers.

*Methodology: Seen by Indeed analyzed the percentage change in the share of job postings with “software engineer” in the job title and the share of job searches per million for “software engineer” over a two-year period from September 2017 to September 2019.

We also analyzed the percentage change in the share of job postings with “software developer” in the job title and the share of job searches per million for “software developer” over a two-year period from September 2017 to September 2019.

To find the cities where demand is highest, we analyzed which metro areas have the highest percentage of either “software developer” or “software engineer” jobs.

Our analysis for the high-paying cities was calculated based on the average salaries listed on “software developer” and “software engineer” job postings and via user-submitted data on Indeed Salaries in the US over a three-year period from September 2016 to September 2019.

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