Web developers and software engineers; what is the difference? As it turns out, quite a lot. Read on to find out more.
What does a web developer do?
A web developer builds and maintains websites. They tend to be focused on user experience, as well as meeting the needs of their clients.
By way of example, imagine a customer wants a new form to capture an end user's email address to request additional information, provide newsletters, or thank a customer for their service. This is the kind of thing that a web developer will build to order.
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Most web developers fall into one of two major camps:
- Server-side aka back-end development: These people work on the behind-the-scenes parts of the site, like database design and maintenance, PHP/ASP/Python coding of the site, etc.
However, as both of these fields work closely together, it is not unusual for web developers in either camp to have a lot of overlap. This is where the third flavor of web development, known as full-stack development, comes into play. These people have extensive knowledge of both back-end and front-end development processes.
Web development is typically project-focused and involves collaboration between team members in order to deliver a product that meets a client's specific needs. This means their work will tend to involve regular meetings with clients to ensure the project is on target.
Web developers will tend to construct the layout of the website too, create visually appealing landing pages (homepages), and ensure it is easy-to-use. They may even write content for the site, too. With a website up and running, web developers are also tasked with maintaining and monitoring its performance over time.
Key skills include an ability to communicate effectively, set goals, and meet deadlines.
What does a software developer do?
We have written in extensive detail about just this topic in previous articles, to sum up, a software developer tends to perform the following activities:
- Researching, designing, implementing, and managing software programs
- Testing and evaluating new programs
- Identifying areas for modification in existing programs and subsequently developing these modifications
- Writing and implementing efficient code
- Determining operational practicality
- Developing quality assurance procedures
- Deploying software tools, processes, and metrics
- Maintaining and upgrading existing systems
- Training users
- Working closely with other developers, UX designers, businesses, and systems analysts
Who earns more, a software developer, or a web developer?
If you are considering a career in either software development or web development, one main concern of yours might be the expected remuneration for your work. With that in mind, which one, if any, is likely to be more lucrative? Let's find out.
According to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for software developers is about $107,500. Payscale, on the other hand, estimates that the average software developer income is just over $71,500 a year. As with any profession, your actual income will vary depending on your level of experience, negotiating skills, and geographical location.
For example, incomes will be higher in the United States than, say, Turkey. That being said, living expenses and tax rates will vary from country to country, too, which can quickly eat away at a seemingly good income. As they say "it is not how much you earn, it is how much you keep!", after all.
Web developers, again according to the BLS, are on par with lower estimates of income from sites like Payscale, with an average expected annual income of almost $74,000. Again this depends on your level of experience, etc.
For the sake of fairness, Payscale estimates the average income for web developers to be around $60,000 per year. It's not to be sniffed at, but still considerably lower than for software developers. Payscale also indicates that salaries tend to peak at around $90,000 for web development. So who earns more? Based on just these two reputable sources, the clear winner is software development.
What is the difference between a web developer and a software developer?
While there is quite a bit of overlap between the professions, there are also some very important differences between them. For example, both tend to focus on different software programs and also create products with different functions in mind.
Web developers are primarily concerned with building websites and web applications that run on different web browsers. Software developers, on the other hand, are mainly focused on building programs that run on different desktop and mobile devices.
Both of these specialized fields tend to require extensive programming experience and knowledge and require practitioners to have strong attention to detail. They also need to be great at problem-solving (and even relish in it), be able to handle different workflows, be capable of handling complexity, and be well versed in the maintenance requirements of their products and services.
Web developers, in particular, often need to work closely with business and marketing experts to ensure any website they build is efficient, user friendly, and aesthetically pleasing. Software developers are slightly different. They tend to be more focused on collaboration with other tech-oriented co-workers to build large-scale software, operating systems, and mobile application projects. These may, or may not, require input from other business professionals.
If you feel it is a toss-up in terms of which of these two career paths you should pursue, you need to find which of them aligns best with your professional goals and personal interests. If you invest some time early on in weighing up which one fits you best, this will pay dividends in terms of saving time further down the line.
In either case, you can be assured your career will keep you very busy for many years to come.
What can web developers and software developers learn from one another?
So, bearing all this in mind, is there anything the two professions can learn from one another? It turns out, yes. From a technical point of view, a collaboration between web developers and software developers could prove fruitful for everyone concerned.
The main difference between the two is that software developers effectively create the tools that web developers use, thus, a collaboration between the professionals of both fields can be fruitful.
With a deeper understanding of the mechanics of a software language or program, web developers can gain an appreciation of the capabilities and limitations of a particular platform. This would come in handy for knowing whether any client requirements or the web developer's ambitions are realistic.
This may also enable web design teams to alter their plans for using a particular programming language. But this is not a one-way street. By knowing the wants and needs of end-users, like web developers, software developers can improve their software programs to make it possible. They may even be able to add new functions or capabilities of their products and services.
Professional cross-pollination, if you like. That aside, there are other major benefits for different professionals to collaborate and learn from one another.
According to various sources, some major benefits of cross-professional collaboration include:
- It empowers team members
- It helps close communication gaps
- It helps promote a team mentality
- It also helps to keep professionals end-user or client-focused
- Collaboration helps both parties to learn new things and break out of traditional industry ways of thinking
- It can help people get access to people who might not normally be easily contactable
- Collaboration often helps increase productivity by more effectively sharing tasks
- Professionals may be able to get access to new resources and develop new important skills in either field
- It can help build trust, and respect, between the collaborating fields
- It can help drive down production costs
- You may make some new life-long friends too
So, while web development and software development can be pigeonholed into the same box by non-experts, the two professions are actually quite different. That being said, there is a lot of overlap and shared interests between the two. For this reason, as we have touched on above, there are some tangible benefits for both to talk and collaborate.
If you are tossing up which career to pursue, we hope this brief overview helps make the decision that little bit easier. Whichever field you commit to, we wish you all the best of luck.