Programmer vs. Developer: What’s the Difference?

A programmer is a professional who writes software code for computer applications and software programs according to a software developer’s specifications. 

A software developer (or software engineer) also writes code, but in addition, they are in charge of software requirements, design, and release and deployment processes.

What Does a Computer Programmer Do?

Programmer learning about Python.
Programmers spend extensive time learning about new programming languages. Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels.

People often confuse computer programmers with software developers, but the two are quite different. Software developers are involved in the full project scope, whereas programmers are generally limited to coding.

A computer programmer develops programs and software by translating the software developer’s instructions into code. Their main job is to write, evaluate, and edit lines of code. They concentrate on one component of the software development lifecycle at a time. 

Programmers also review old code to update or simplify it, remove errors, and ensure it’s easier to work with. They may specialize in system programming, application programming, game programming, artificial intelligence, or machine learning.

It’s common for programmers to have expertise in multiple fields like web development, front-end development, back-end development, mobile development, and database development. They also have a strong background in coding and use programming languages such as SQL, C++, Java, Microsoft C#, and Python.

What Does a Software Developer Do?

Software developers conceive of, design, and build computer programs and applications. They create programs and applications that run on computers and other electronic devices. Working with user experience (UX) and user-interface (UI) teams, developers learn about the needs end-users have for the program under construction, then build software that’s easy to use.

Developers often have a strong background in coding because they need to solve software design and functionality issues. They are responsible for front-end and back-end software design. In large organizations and application/software development companies, a software developer may lead a team of UX and UI designers, programmers, and even graphic designers. In smaller organizations, developers may also write their own code and determine program functions. 

Code of Ethics and Licenses

Computer programmers and software developers must act in the best interest of their clients, the company, and the public. They must ensure their products and related modifications meet the highest professional standards possible.

As a result, many computer programmers will acquire programming certifications, like the Microsoft Certified Professional Developer, as well as language- or system-specific certifications or licensures.

How to Become a Computer Programmer

Some computer programmers are self-taught, but almost all hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering. Some may even have an associate’s degree or a certificate in programming.

A computer science degree deals with the theoretical foundations of information and computation. A bachelor’s degree can be earned in a variety of disciplines. Generally, it takes four years to earn a bachelor of computer science in the U.S. Coursework for a bachelor’s degree include:

  • Computer programming
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Automata theory
  • Assembly language programs
  • Hardware and software
  • Principles of operating systems

Too, the programmer must be conversant with programming languages and must stay up to date with technological changes, emerging platforms, and advances in both existing and new programming languages.

How to Become a Software Developer

Most software developers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering along with some coding experience. Those who choose to specialize in a specific industry (i.e., healthcare or fintech), may pursue coursework in business, finance, or data science.

A bachelor of science degree in software engineering takes about four years to complete. The courses focus on virtually every aspect of computing and include:

  • Programming
  • Data Structures
  • Operating Systems
  • Computer Architecture
  • Programming Languages
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Database Design
Alice Musyoka
Alice Musyoka
Alice Musyoka is a B2B Content Strategist, Copywriter, and Children’s Author. She’s been writing professionally for over 9 years and has worked with some of the world’s top brands. Her superpower is writing compelling content that resonates with readers and ranks on search engines. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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