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What Is the Difference Between a Computer Programmer & a Software Developer?

Sep 30, 2019

Creating effective computer programs requires work from both computer programmers and software developers. But while computer programmers write program code, software developers design the actual programs. This article spotlights the duties of these fields.

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Comparing Computer Programmers to Software Developers

While computer programmers and software developers both help develop applications and programs for cell phones, tablets, and computers, they play different roles in the process. Software developers design the original applications and systems for computers to perform specific tasks. Computer programmers then take these designs and translate them into code that computers can understand and follow. This article takes a look at other ways these jobs differ.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Computer Programmer Bachelor's Degree $84,280 -7%
Software Developer Bachelor's Degree $105,590 21%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Computer Programmers vs Software Developers

Computer programmers and software developers both possess expertise in computer science as well as an ability to communicate their ideas to develop efficient programs and applications. While their job responsibilities can overlap, software developers spend most of their time analyzing the needs of computer users and developing software to meet those needs. Computer programmers use their analytical skills to write, test, and correct code for programs. Although increasing demand for cell phone, appliance, and security software has led to high job growth for software developers, many companies outsource the coding responsibilities to other countries outside the U.S., leading to a reduction in computer programmer job growth.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers write and test the code that lets applications and software programs work properly. Their job usually requires them to specialize in a few programming languages and take continuing education classes to keep abreast of changing technology. Computer programmers tend to be detail-oriented, enabling them to spot and fix errors in computer code. Most programmers work full time and can usually work anywhere. Depending on their interest and expertise, some computer programmers eventually become software developers.

Job responsibilities of a Computer Programmer include:

  • Working with software developers to communicate how to write software code
  • Updating existing programs to keep them up-to-date
  • Troubleshooting applications and programs
  • Designing original computer programs

Software Developer

Software developers analyze the needs of computer users and use that understanding to create applications to help people perform specific tasks such as word processing. Some software developers design underlying systems like operating systems for computers. Good communication skills are typically required, as software developers must communicate with other computer specialists to recommend software upgrades and show the type of software code needed for a computer application. In addition to designing new applications, software developers help maintain and test software to ensure a computer program functions smoothly.

Job responsibilities of a software developer include:

  • Creating databases for organizations
  • Keeping detailed records of the workings of an application or system to aid in later maintenance and upgrades
  • Supervising a software project from planning to implementation
  • Developing customized software for individuals

Related Careers

If you would like a job as a computer programmer, you may also be interested in working as a web developer, since both careers require knowledge of programming languages. If the challenges of a software developer intrigue you, you might want to look into a career as a computer systems analyst, which requires you to study and improve the effectiveness of an organization's computer systems.

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