The terms engineer, developer and programmer are used interchangeably on tech articles at best online punch clock and even job vacancies. Sometimes this is fine: some jobs can be done by a variety of roles, but other times the terms are mixed up because some responsibilities are similar but differ slightly, and other times the terms are just used carelessly by HR people.

It’s very common for “developer” and “programmer” to trade places. However, there is far less reason for the terms ‘software engineer’ and ‘software developer’ to be used interchangeably—replacing one with the other is almost always wrong.

Therefore, problems arise for business owners or entrepreneurs who are looking for IT services, yet don’t have any prior knowledge to know which specific service they should be looking for. For anyone who finds themselves in this situation, this article will clarify what skills and tasks are specific to each role.

Definitions: Software Engineers vs Software Developers

A software engineer is defined as someone who applies software engineering principles to design, development, maintenance, testing and computer software evaluations.

A software developer is defined as the person who is in charge of the entire development process of a piece of software and is the individual who will build it.

The difference we can understand here is that a software engineer’s role is more broad. The software engineer deals with multiple aspects of a project and will have input in all of them, while a software developer is limited to development.

The Expertise Of An Expert Software Engineer

To help you understand whether you need to hire an engineer, these are the common capabilities or qualifications of a software engineer.

1. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Software Development

A software engineer should have a relevant degree that proves that all base knowledge is covered. More than anything, a degree teaches you the methodology of engineering, and how to apply that to other areas. Work experience tends to be more important than professional qualifications, but the skill set gained in tertiary institutions cannot be overlooked.

2. Programming Skills

An expert software engineer will ideally have at least 2 years’ coding experience languages like C, Python or Ruby. There are PHP and JavaScript developers who only read and write a single language, but an engineer tends to have a broader and more fundamental toolkit.

3. Software Development

A software engineer should have a rich portfolio of completed development projects. The best software engineers have done more than just small tasks within the development process and would have been an instrumental part of entire projects. Software development is just one part of the overall expertise of a software engineer.

4. Completed Project Launches

Expert software engineers are involved in all parts of a project and see it through to product launch. Examples of this should be evident in their portfolio, or available upon request.

5. Testing, Debugging and Troubleshooting

An engineer’s expertise goes well beyond coding—they should also be accustomed to testing and debugging. Debugging is what allows software engineers to become familiar with the codebase and provide solutions to complex problems.

6. Team Management

Software engineers both manage a team and make individual contributions to their team. They are responsible for upskilling programmers for task requirements and ensuring task deadlines are met. Thanks to a software engineer, the entire team should work efficiently without treading on each other’s toes.

7. Some Experience in Coaching

A veteran software engineer may have run coaching sessions for junior programmers. This experience helps them during team management.

8. Strong Communication Skills

Communication skills are arguably just as important as technical ones. Clients require an engineer to be able to accurately receive information as well as provide clear project suggestions and feedback. This needs to be evident in verbal form during meetings and written form when sending project tasks or updates over email.

Strong communication skills also refer to the way in which a software engineer is able to explain complex tasks to their team. They should be able to breakdown tasks into easily understandable segments.

9. Document Creation

Expert software engineers are able to write instructions or guides for complex tasks for their team. Ideally a software engineer should have some form of writing experience where they’ve contributed to a blog, whether it be a company blog or blogging platform such as Medium.

The Most Important Difference Between A Software Engineer and Software Developer

The difference is simple. A software developer’s responsibility is to write code. They are primarily focused on their own work, ensuring that multiple components of a piece of software work with each other. A software engineer’s responsibility involves writing code but also extends to the entirety of the project. A software engineer has to ensure that the entire project is progressing by simplifying code, documenting code and writing tests. An engineer must view a project from two sides: the progression of the overall project and the individual tasks needed to move a project forward.

Should You Hire A Software Engineer or Software Developer?

This depends on a few factors. What skills does your project need? Do you need to hire multiple people? What hiring options do development companies offer? Is it more cost-effective to hire an engineer or a developer?

If your project requires a wider range of expertise, then you should hire either a software engineer or a dedicated development team. A development team effectively splits the role of a software engineer between multiple individuals, i.e project manager, developer, designer, tester and support technician. Surprisingly, hiring an entire team can actually be more affordable than a software engineer and tasks are done more efficiently.

If your project only needs development work, then you should hire a developer or development team; a development team will be much faster.

Where Should You Hire From?

If you’d prefer to only hire a software engineer, I suggest you look on freelance sites like Upwork. When hiring from freelance sites you will find some temptingly cheap options. It’s recommended to not go too cheap: this usually results in unsatisfactory work that either requires you to hire somebody else to fix it, or a complete project restart, costing you more in the long run. Always check their job success rate and pay close attention to any reviews that previous clients have left.

If hiring a software developer or a development team sounds better, hire from offshore development companies like CodeClouds. I’ve chosen this company because they offer developer packages that allow you to get everything a software engineer offers and more at a monthly fixed price. They’re a development company based in India, which is one of the most cost-effective countries to hire offshore developers from. If you think your project will benefit more from expert dedicated offshore developers, they’re a recommended choice.

If you only want a single developer, you could hire from a freelancing website or a development company. Both options are great, just be sure that the freelancer or company you choose are reputable! A great place to look for a single software developer is right next door to you- your local coworking spaces. These days, a lot of freelance developers rely on these spaces to work and network with other professionals.

Finally, whether you choose to work with a software engineer, software developer or dedicated development team, you need to ensure you’re organized and ready to explain the vision for your project clearly. To get the most out of any on-site or hired relationship, read this article on better managing productivity with developers.