Career Insight

Software Engineer vs. Programmer: What’s the Difference?

Software engineer working with their programmer teammate on a project

As expansive as the world of technology is, so too is the diversity of jobs within it. Two key professions that help make all computers and machines operate are software engineers and programmers. For many, it can be difficult to define the characteristics of the two. We’re here to explain their differences.

What Is a Programmer?

For computer programmers, it’s all about the code.

Programmers write code for a myriad of computer programs, mobile applications, and web development. Writing code is their primary job function. They’re vitally important in today’s digital-centric world and without them, technology would be non-operational.

Also referred to as coders or software developers, programmers typically specialize in only a few languages. But not only do they read and write functional code, they also play a role in maintaining, evaluating, debugging, and troubleshooting systems and software to ensure everything is running efficiently. A programmer must also exhibit an affinity for problem-solving, design, and understanding complex algorithms.

Programmers are in charge of taking the software engineer’s product blueprints and building programs and software. During the project management phase, programmers work directly with designers, software engineers, and other programmers who create guidelines for programmers to work within.

Although development processes are a team effort, programmers typically work independently, constructing systems bit by bit, line of code by line of code. As specific as writing detailed instructions, or as intricate as transforming an entire concept into a full-fledged program, project tasks can vary greatly.

Programmers are essential for numerous technology disciplines, and they’re in especially high demand for web and software developer roles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for web developers is projected to grow by 13% with an increase of 25,500 jobs between 2020-2030. The job market is growing, and so is the demand for programmers.

More Information About Being A Programmer

  • Various Job Types

    Full-stack developer
    Computer programmer
    Programmer analyst
    UI/UX developer
    Software developer
    Web developer

  • Recap of Job Responsibilities

    Writing and testing code
    Testing and executing code builds
    Troubleshooting and debugging issues with code
    Working with engineering, design, marketing, and product teams to develop guidelines
    Maintaining documentation
    Writing computer instructions

Ultimately, a programmer writes code to bring software to life.

What Is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers apply engineering principles to software systems and their subsequent development. Just like a mechanical engineer analyzes a building’s structure before designing an HVAC system, software engineers take into account the software’s purpose, environment, and goals to construct a system that works efficiently within a given environment. They’re trusted to lend a hand to a project’s many variables.

Software engineers are also multi-faceted and cover a wide range of job functions. They’re more on the “big picture” side of a project. Whereas programmers typically focus on the coding portion of software development, a software engineer works in conjunction with the rest of a team, working toward creating a software system. Along with a team (programmers, web developers, customer service, UI/UX designers, etc.), they communicate directly with clients to design software geared toward fulfilling the company’s needs.

Like a programmer, software engineers need to be proficient in abstract thinking, advanced logic, and general programming languages to appropriately understand the intricacies of the software system. In addition to those skills, software engineers must be comfortable doing things like writing training manuals, creating and managing budgets, researching relevant materials, helping to train new software engineers and developers, among other tasks. Software engineers are dynamic in job responsibilities and capabilities.

The need for software engineers is in high demand and growing more as the need for web technologies escalates. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were over one million software engineers in 2020, and that number is projected to grow by 22% between 2020-2030.

More Information About Being A Software Engineer

  • Various Job Types

    Backend engineer
    Frontend engineer
    Full-stack engineer
    DevOps engineer
    Security engineer
    Software quality assurance (QA) engineer

  • Recap of Job Responsibilities

    Designing and developing software platforms
    Maintaining software
    Collaborating with stakeholders, project managers, customer service, and other engineers
    Managing team task milestones
    Monitoring system performance
    Overseeing development lifecycle
    Identifying opportunities for improvements in applications

In summary, a software engineer is the jack-of-all-trades in the tech industry.

Software Engineer vs. Programmer

Differences between a Software Engineer and Software Programmer Infographic
Now that you have a grasp of what is what and who is who when it comes to software engineers and programmers, it’s time to answer the key question:

What’s the difference?

In the grand scheme of things, all software engineers are programmers. They require the same skills as a programmer with additional responsibilities like project management, team leading, and client-facing communication. But make no mistake, there is contrast. In the section below, we’ll define key distinctions between the job functions to help you decide which path suits you best.

  • Skills

    • Software Engineer: A software engineer has extensive knowledge in advanced logic and abstract thinking, a strong background in programming, the ability to communicate comfortably with clients, and project management skills.
    • Programmer: A programmer should be fluent in several programming languages and be able to comprehend and write algorithms for computer programs.
  • Responsibilities

    • Software Engineer: A software engineer conceptualizes a software system with the necessary blueprints, while assessing client/company needs as well as user requirements. Responsibilities also include maintaining and testing the system.
    • Programmer: A programmer is responsible for translating specific instructions into lines of code that computers can understand. A programmer also identifies and fixes bugs in the system.
  • Roles

    • Software Engineer: A software engineer works as a part of a whole team of engineers and oversees each phase in development.
    • Programmer: A programmer often works independently, but receives project guidelines from developers. Their involvement is typically limited to one stage of development.
  • Approach

    • Software Engineer: A software engineer uses engineering principles to create best practices and efficient workflows so the software can thrive in a given environment. Analytical in nature, they consider the entire system and take into account its interdependencies.
    • Programmer: A programmer operates methodically, writing code with infinite attention to detail along the way. They analyze individual programs and monitor them to ensure each is functional, user-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing.

Why Kenzie Academy Is Right for You

When considering a career change or looking to grow your knowledge of all things tech, you may be uncertain about what specialty you’d like to pursue. At Kenzie Academy, you can learn to write code, create computer software, or design websites. We’ll help prepare you for a job as a software engineer, software developer, programmer, or whatever tech-centric position you’re interested in. Take the first step and apply today or fill out the information form below and our admissions team will reach out!


Software Engineering Program Information

  • By submitting this form, I agree to receive emails, phone calls, and SMS/Text Messages from Kenzie Academy from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) at the numbers I provided (land and/or wireless), including calls or texts made using automated technology or prerecorded voice messages. This consent is not required to purchase services, you may also call SNHU at (317) 644-4973. Terms and Conditions apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Ready to Discuss Your Future In Tech?

Click the button below to apply today!

Apply Now

Related Reading