Is there a difference between programmer and software developer?

  • Reading time:15 mins read

The goal of this article is to give you an idea about what each specialist like programmer, software developer or software engineer does within the IT world. To show what their main tasks are, and what the differences and similarities are between them. We’d like to present you with a comprehensive summary that will clarify some commonly used expressions to those who are not yet familiar with this area.

It is important to emphasize that in many cases there are no clear lines drawn between individual roles, it can also depend on a given company, on expertise or on an order who has to perform what tasks exactly.

What is the difference between a programmer and a software developer?

In everyday use, the two terms are practically interchangeable, and we can even add the term coding next to programming and development. The words programmer, developer and coder can also be used interchangeably in most contexts. They all describe the same knowledge and role—somebody who uses programming languages to create commands that computers can understand, through which software can be made. 

What exactly a software developer does?

And although in everyday use they mean the same thing, some employers might differentiate what they mean by a software developer or programmer. Some people think software development is a more comprehensive design task with high-level decision-making (e.g., the software developer designs the database or how data moves between the parts of more complex software), while by programming, they usually mean writing lines of code based on the guidelines of designers (e.g. fixing a drop-down menu that was displayed incorrectly, or writing a function with a specific output and input).

There is a difference between software developer and software engineer
There is a difference between a software developer and a software engineer. Credit: Unsplash

What is the difference between a software engineer and a programmer?

A Software Engineer always has an engineering degree, i.e. a university degree with at least a BSc level in the field of informatics (engineering informatics, program design informatics, etc.). Their tasks and role are determined by the given company, but it needs to be a programming position for someone with a university degree in all cases.

In university, the theoretical and mathematical bases of Computer Science are taught more prominently with less focus on programming practice. As a software engineer, you need to have a firm grasp of the theoretical side of development (e.g., designing data structures, the efficacy of algorithms) and the practical execution as well.

If a company is not looking for software engineers, but programmers or software developers, having a degree may not be an entry requirement – it is very possible that the programming skills you acquired during courses and through individual learning will be enough to get the job. Of course, fast learning and the openness to acquiring new skills are essential.

What is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?

In order to create a nice, well-functioning website, different kinds of experts need to be involved. Designers are responsible for the visual design and feel of a website, while web designers are responsible for the look. Web designers use graphic design software (e.g., Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch).

They need to understand colour theory and typography, and other graphic skills might be useful, such as vector graphics or basic typographic knowledge (since the website and the printed materials usually look the same, it is useful to know how the things on the screen will look on paper).

It is important to know the basic structure of websites, and it can come in handy for a web designer to be familiar with the basics of HTML and CSS so that the languages of site-building don’t seem alien to them. Web designers, however, are (usually) not programmers—they are responsible for only the visual aspects of a site.

Web developers are the ones that create and maintain a website using web programming languages (e.g., HTML, CCS, JavaScript or, depending on the tasks, Java, Python, PHP, SQL etc.). Unlike designers, web developers are programmers who write the code that is needed to run a website.

A programmer and a developer position could be different at any company
A programmer and a developer position could be different at any company. Credit: Unsplash

What is the difference between UI and UX designers?

When designing a UI (user interface), the designer has to take users needs and the look of the brand into account. A UI designer creates the visual aspects of the interface—like colours, illustrations, buttons, etc.—using mostly graphic software to do so.

When designing UX (user experience), UX designers need to assess user needs accurately, so they create interviews and ask for feedback from users. Based on this information, UX designers create the structure, the menu, the navigation and other parts of a website. They use software that has been created to design and optimize the user experience.

What is the difference between front-end, back-end and full-stack developers?

Front-end, also known as the client-side is the part of the website that we see: the buttons, the images, the texts and the interaction—every program that runs in the client (the browser). People who create the interface (the front-end) of a website or mobile/web applications and everything that users see and interact with are called front-end developers. During web projects, they usually work in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, but sometimes they use JavaScript frameworks (e.g., React, AngularJS, Vue.js) as well.

Back-end, also known as server-side is the part of a website we don’t see: saving and loading data from databases, performing calculations, serving requests from the client, providing API endpoints—in short, it’s every program that runs on the server. Back-end developers, also called server-side programmers are working on the back-end. The most frequently used server-side languages are Python programming language, Node.js, PHP and Java.

Full-stack developers are developers that can program on both the client-side and the server-side.

What is the difference between a system administrator and a DevOps engineer?

System administrators, also known as sysadmins (sometimes capitalized like SysAdmins) are responsible for the maintenance and reliable operation of servers. Their responsibilities include installing and supporting software systems, managing downtime and other issues. Usually, there is also a bit of programming involved: they have to write programs (scripts) that automate regularly repeating tasks.

DevOps engineers (sometimes written in lowercase: devops) acts as a boundary between the hardware tasks of the administrator and the software tasks of developers. They can be developers who take part in the tasks related to the installation, testing and operation of infrastructures, or they can be system administrators, who are more confident in their programming skills and who understand and update the necessary codes. One important task of DevOps engineers is to secure systems and to protect them against hacker attacks. An essential part of their job is to keep in contact with the development team, users and the system administrator, so they need great communication skills and they need to be able to work on team projects well.
Software architects make decisions in questions of design and execution of a high level. Credit: Unsplash

What does a software architect do?

The role of a software architect requires a lot of experience, and a wide range of skills and knowledge, and comes with great responsibility.

Software architects make decisions in questions of design and execution of a high level and know a wide variety of tools regarding technologies and possibilities in software design and development. They are usually present during communication with business partners and customers.

What does ethical hacker do?

Colloquially, we use the term “hacker” for people who abuse their IT knowledge and experience to break into computer systems without authorization in order to obtain data or cause damage.

In contrast, ethical hackers have official authorization to assess the security of an IT system by attempting to gain access and obtain data, under a contract. They use their experience and knowledge to test systems and uncover security problems. They document this process in detail and let the operator know about the flaws in security.

What does a software tester do?

Before a product can hit the market or can be handed over to the customer, a long series of tests are run to see if everything is working properly. There are two different types of testing methods—manual and automated testing.

Manual testers take on the role of end-users and test the functions of the software (web page, application, etc.), documenting malfunctions. They also model individual situations, like what happens if the user accidentally touches the screen, or what error message she gets if she tries to log in with an invalid username. Manual testers usually test based on exact scenarios and always document the process thoroughly, giving feedback about bugs to developers. The procedures, protocol and necessary concepts can be learned within a few months, and after gaining some experience, you can get an IT job.

During automated testing, the tester uses or creates tools specialized for testing instead of just going through a list of problems. Test automators are programmers, and test processes are developed by automator experts or teams.

Data analysts clear up and change data, and they also help the team interpret and visualize it.
Data analysts clear up and change data, and they also help the team interpret and visualize it. Credit: Unsplash

What is the difference between a data analyst and a data scientist?

Data analysts clear up and change data, and they also help the team interpret and visualize it. Their main tools are Excel, SQL, R and data visualization tools like Tableau and Data Studio.

Data scientists lead complex projects, identify trends and patterns by analyzing data, create analyses and forecasts, and give information to support decision processes. They usually have high mathematical, statistical and programming skills. Their main tools are SASS, Python, R, Tensorflow, Hadoop and Spark. It is a sought-after profession with a great salary, but its complexity requires knowledge and a lot of experience.

If you need more tricks or advice, check out the following articles too – in these, we are writing about our own experiences and ideas that might help you to get really good chances at a job interview or earn some more additional skills to improve your programming knowledge!

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