Recently, a conversation I was part of involved a casual sharing on what the metaphorical difference was between someone who had the mindset of a software developer compared to one with the mindset of a software engineer. As someone who’s never cared for details such as to have the engineer or developer domain within someone’s “designation”, I have been curious why the two exist and where the divide occurs. So, I thought I’d share the opinion shared from that conversation, along with my own thoughts on the explanation or if my opinion differs.

Developers focus on the scope of their domain and anything which lies within it, whereas Engineers try to understand the entire picture of their domain and inner workings of the various pieces which makeup the their platform.

To me, this seems like a far too black or white perspective which doesn’t allow for the Developer to stretch beyond their product. Likewise, an Engineer’s area of work may cast a wide net encompassing various technologies, topologies, deployment strategies, and more; but that doesn’t allow for a deeper understanding beyond what is needed at the time. We can further see the definitions and lines blur between the two when acknowledging that many software developers have to understand not just the product they’re building, but how it is deployed or delivered to the client; how a mobile application developer now has to consider REST APIs for their application’s features, and how this API has to be deployed, secured and scale around the success of their mobile application. Suddenly, the mobile developer, similar to the cloud engineer, is learning and implementing on a multitude of mediums all the various pieces which augment their primary focus: the mobile application.

Considering all chat revolving around OpenAI this week, I thought I’d ask their ChatGPT3.5 instance how difference between a oftware developer and an engineer. Here is how it responded to my prompt, What are the differences between a Software Developer and an Software Engineer?

The terms “Software Developer” and “Software Engineer” are often used interchangeably, and the distinctions between them can vary depending on the context and the specific company or industry. However, there are some general trends and interpretations:

  1. Scope of Work:
    • Software Developer: This term is often associated with individuals who primarily focus on writing code and developing software applications. Developers may be involved in various stages of the software development lifecycle, such as design, coding, testing, and debugging.
    • Software Engineer: Engineers, on the other hand, are typically associated with a broader set of responsibilities. They may be involved not only in coding but also in system architecture, project planning, algorithm design, and ensuring the overall quality and reliability of the software. Software engineers may take a more holistic approach to the software development process.
  2. Emphasis on Engineering Principles:
    • Software Developer: Developers may be more focused on the immediate task of coding and may not necessarily be as involved in the broader engineering principles, such as designing scalable and maintainable software architectures.
    • Software Engineer: Engineers are often expected to apply engineering principles to software development. This includes considerations like system design, performance optimization, and understanding how the software fits into a larger technical ecosystem.
  3. Education and Training:
    • Software Developer: The title of “developer” is often associated with a more practical and hands-on approach to software development. Many developers may have a strong background in programming and may gain expertise through practical experience.
    • Software Engineer: The term “engineer” can imply a more formal education in engineering principles and a deeper understanding of the theoretical aspects of software development. Software engineers may have a broader skill set that includes not only programming but also system design, algorithms, and project management.
  4. Team Collaboration:
    • Software Developer: Developers often work closely with other team members, such as designers, testers, and project managers, to deliver specific features or functionalities.
    • Software Engineer: Engineers may play a more central role in coordinating and collaborating with various stakeholders, including other engineers, architects, and management, to ensure that the entire software system meets the desired goals.

It’s essential to note that these distinctions are not universally agreed upon, and different companies may use the terms differently. In many cases, the titles are used interchangeably, and the specific roles and responsibilities are more dependent on the organization’s structure and culture rather than the job title itself.

I was curious and asked AI offering the same question, and got an almost exact response as above. One item that I’ve always loved about You’s AI is the inclusion of links which it referenced for it’s response, which included:

So, it seems there is a somewhat well known difference between the two in theory, but I’m curious how others have precieved the divide between the two. Surley as we continue moving forward in the techy-20s, the responsibilites I imagine will blur even further between the two, time will tell.