A web developer and software engineer coding on their computer screens.

Web Developer vs Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

Software engineer and web developer are two of the most glamorous roles in tech, but for someone new to the industry, it can be difficult to know how they differ from one another and what role is best suited for you. As the typical starting point for someone exploring their coding bootcamp options, the web developer vs software engineer question is one worth pausing over. 

The main difference between web developer and software engineer jobs comes down to the projects they work on and the platforms they develop. However, there are further differences between these career paths that should be considered when pursuing a career in tech. Read on for an in-depth analysis of the similarities and differences between a software engineer or software developer and a web developer.

General Differences Between Web Developers and Software Engineers: Quick Look

Web Developers Software Engineers
Focus Create and maintain websites and web applications Create and maintain software systems, platforms, and applications
Skills Front end programming languages like HTML and JavaScript, and frameworks like React Programming languages like Java, C++, and Python, and other development tools
Scope Smaller-scale projects Large, complex projects
Testing         Manual and browser-based testing Automated testing tools and methodologies

The differences between the roles of software engineer vs web developer are actually quite stark when compared. The technical know-how differs not only in the type of skills needed but in managing project scope and demands. The following sections detail these roles further and share more insights into the skills required for each career, specialization options, and opportunities for professional collaboration. 

What Is a Software Engineer?

A software engineer is a technology professional that develops and maintains software systems, programs, and platforms. They are also responsible for designing new software and features for implementation. Their work is client-driven and involves collaboration with project managers, user experience designers, and software architects to ensure the finished product meets the client’s needs.

Software engineers, also called software developers, can be classified as front end engineers, backend engineers, or full stack engineers. A front end engineer focuses on the development of the user interface aspect of the software, while a backend software engineer focuses on the server side. A full stack software developer handles both aspects of software development.

Software engineers must have various technical skills in programming, database management, source control, data structures and algorithms, and debugging. Soft skills that are key to success as a software engineer include communication skills, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, accountability, time management, and teamwork.

What Is a Web Developer?

A web developer is a technology professional that develops and maintains websites and web applications. They use programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as frameworks like React, to create a website that meets a client’s needs. Depending on the size of the project and the needs of the client, a web developer may work closely with web designers, user experience designers, SEO specialists, or content designers. 

Like software developers, web developers specialize as front end developers, backend developers, or full stack developers. Front end web developers focus on developing the part of the website that the user interacts with. Backend web developers will work on the server side of the website, while a full stack web developer will perform both front end and backend tasks. 

Important web developer skills include technical skills in programming languages, responsive web design, testing and debugging, search engine optimization, and source control. They must also be equipped with soft skills such as collaboration, communication, attention to detail, and creativity. 

Web Developer vs Software Engineer: Responsibilities

A software engineer types code into a laptop surrounded by computer monitors at their work desk
The difference between a software engineer and a web developer goes beyond the code they produce.

Software developers and web developers share some responsibilities that any career in technology would require. One of the most important responsibilities of both a web developer and a software engineer is keeping up-to-date on the latest trends and technologies in their respective fields. Both roles are also responsible for collaborating with other professionals while working on projects.

Besides these, the responsibilities of a software engineer vs web developer differ based on the types of products they produce and the requirements these development processes entail. Below are the main responsibilities of a web developer:

  • Design and build websites and web applications using programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP
  • Test and debug code
  • Create and manage databases, content management systems, and other tools used in web development
  • Ensure websites and web applications are user-friendly, responsive, and accessible

Meanwhile, the main responsibilities of a software engineer require them to:

  • Design software solutions using programming languages and tools to meet user requirements
  • Test and debug software code 
  • Develop and maintain software documentation such as user manuals and system requirements documents
  • Ensure software is scalable, maintainable, and reliable

How to Become a Web Developer or Software Engineer

Becoming a software engineer or web developer involves a similar educational path. Both can pursue formal education through degrees from higher education or coding bootcamp programs, or they can choose to self-study through online resources such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). If you want to pursue a degree program, a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science is the most common route for both career paths. 

Coding bootcamp programs offer a less costly and more intensive route to tech employment for prospective software engineers and web developers. Coding bootcamps such as General Assembly and Hack Reactor offer software engineering bootcamps that can be completed in under 20 weeks. Ironhack and Nucamp offer popular web development bootcamp programs lasting up to 22 weeks.

For people who prefer to self-study, MOOCs such as Coursera and Udemy offer hundreds of courses relating to various aspects of web development or software engineering. Some courses even cover everything you need to know to join the industry. Career changers can also seek education in software engineering or web development through free coding resources like freeCodeCamp and even YouTube.

Web Development vs Software Engineering: Job Outlook

Quick Facts*
Software Engineer Web Developer
projected jobs increase (2021-31)
projected jobs increase (2021-31)
new jobs (2021 – 2031)
new jobs (2021 – 2031)

*Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The field of software engineering is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 370,600 jobs will be added from 2021 to 2031, a 26 percent increase from today. This robust job outlook means someone looking to become a software engineer will be met with plenty of opportunities to begin their career. This increase also means there will be career growth opportunities available as well. 

Web developers can also look forward to steady growth in the number of jobs, with a 30 percent increase projected by BLS over the next decade. This increase will result in 28,900 more jobs, from entry-level to senior web development roles. 

Software Development vs Web Development: Salaries

Quick Facts*
Software Engineer Web Developer
average annual salary
average annual salary
average annual salary, entry-level
average annual salary, entry-level
average annual salary, top 10%
average annual salary, top 10%

*Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

When it comes to salaries, software engineers earn more annually, on average, than web developers. The average annual salary for software engineers is $120,730, according to BLS, with the top 10 percent earning $168,570 a year. Entry-level or junior software engineers earn an average of $65,397 per year, according to PayScale.  

Web developers earn an average annual salary of $77,030 per year, according to BLS. The top 10 percent of web developers earn $129,760 on average per year. PayScale reports that junior web developers entering the field earn an average of $52,173 per year.

The difference in salaries between the two careers can be attributed to the differing responsibilities and depth of skills required for the more complex projects that software engineers work on. The high demand for these professionals also means that they can demand a higher salary when negotiating the terms of a position with a company.

Web Development vs Software Engineering: Which Should I Choose?

Deciding between a career in web development vs software engineering comes down to your personal preferences with respect to the kind of work you enjoy and are skilled at. If you prefer large-scale, more complex projects, then working in software engineering may be more suitable for you. People who prefer smaller, more nimble projects should consider working as a web developer. 

Some industries are also hiring more web developers vs software engineers, and vice versa. For example, there’s a higher demand in ecommerce and digital marketing for web developers, while industries like artificial intelligence, big data, and gaming have a high need for software engineers now and in the future. The earning potential is also different and could be a factor you choose to consider. 

Web Developer vs Software Engineer FAQ

Can I become a web developer without a degree?

You can become a web developer without a degree by attending a coding bootcamp. Coding bootcamps offer short-duration, intensive programs to get students prepared for a career change into various tech roles. Many coding bootcamps have industry partners who help connect bootcamp grads with job opportunities after program completion. 

Can I become a software engineer without a degree? 

Yes, it is possible to become a software engineer without a degree. Anyone interested in a career change but doesn’t want to make the four-year, high tuition commitment of a formal degree can pursue a software engineering education through coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps are a fraction of the cost of a degree and can be finished in mere months instead of years. 

What makes a good software engineer?

While a good software engineer needs to be proficient in various programming languages, data structures, and source control, among other things, their soft skills will help them stand out. These skills include interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork, and collaboration. They must also have a keen attention to detail, an affinity for problem-solving, and a love of learning to continually evolve in their careers.

What is the difference between computer science and software engineering?

Computer science and software engineering are related fields but have their distinctions. Computer science is an academic discipline that mostly focuses on the theory of computing, including fundamental principles and mathematical foundations. There is typically a major emphasis on algorithms and data structures. 

Software engineering is a more practical discipline that applies engineering principles to the development process. The focus of this discipline is more on the design, development, deployment, and testing of projects using software engineering methodologies, tools, and techniques.

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