Computer Programmer Vs. Software Engineer

The apps on your phone and the programs on your computer wouldn't exist without the work of computer programmers and software engineers. The engineers develop and oversee the creation of software, while programmers use coding languages to execute the work.

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Comparing Computer Programmers to Software Engineers

Computer programmers and software engineers both work in similar settings in the computer industry and have a strong grasp on the elements that make up successful software programs. While programmers build or rework programs using their knowledge of various programming languages, engineers take a larger view, managing the work of teams from software inception to execution. Other similarities and differences are explored below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Computer Programmer Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or a related field $82,240 (2017)* -7%
Software Engineer Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or a related field $83,044 (2018)** 24% (for all software developers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

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Responsibilities of Computer Programmers vs. Software Engineers

Computer programmers and software engineers sound like very similar positions and work within the same industry; however, their day-to-day responsibilities can be quite different. Engineers oversee software development. It is their responsibility to ensure that the teams that work on each stage of the process are executing work that will end up creating a piece of software that matches the initial goals of the product. Programmers use computer coding languages to craft computer software and applications. This could be done all alone from scratch or as part of a large team where they would work alongside software engineers and other programmers to develop new programs or improve pre-existing ones.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers take the plans developed by engineers and developers and create functioning computer programs and applications. These programs are built and edited using specific coding languages, such as Java, Python, and C++. Due to the complexities of these languages and ever-changing technology, programmers must remain studious in these areas in order to stay up to date. These programmers may build a new program, or they may test previously designed programs for any bugs or potential improvements. A bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field is generally required.

Job responsibilities of a computer programmer include:

  • Create diagrams and take notes during the programming process
  • Maintain open communication with developers and clients to achieve their ultimate goals
  • Use an integrated development environment to test codes
  • Mentor less experienced programmers on the team

Software Engineer

Software engineers work through the entire development of software, from the initial development stage to the execution by the computer programmers. When a program or a piece of software is initially designed and developed, the software engineer plots how the software will ultimately function and how teams will execute the project. The larger functions of the software are generally broken down into small pieces, which the engineer will oversee as they work with a team of programmers. A bachelor's degree in a field related to computer science is a common requirement.

Job responsibilities of a software engineer include:

  • Develop documentation and charts to clearly layout the process of software development
  • Test and debug software
  • Clearly define the expectations of the software
  • Be comfortable working with visual development environments

Related Careers

If you prefer being a little more hands-on when working in the science behind computers, you may want to learn more about becoming a computer hardware engineer. Similar to programmers and software engineers, network architects monitor, test, and debug software, though it's specifically related to networks in their case.

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