The line between web-based and on-premises software has blurred considerably in recent years. Virtually every app and software-based service seems to need a web connection. Has that eliminated most of the differences between a web developer and a software developer?
There are still crucial differentiators between these roles. Let’s explore how web developers match up against software developers, and how both these roles compare to software engineers. Recognizing these differences can help you focus your tech education and career aspirations.
What is a web developer?
More than a decade ago, the web expanded from a paradigm centered largely around the desktop to one built on mobile, requiring web developers to rapidly acquire a familiarity with mobile platforms such as iOS and Android (along with their built-in browsers, etc.). If Silicon Valley’s rosiest predictions about “web3” come to pass, web developers will need to master a new generation of concepts such as blockchain, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR).
In exchange for learning all of these skills (and more), web development remains a lucrative profession. According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the median salary for web developers currently stands at $91,991. The profession is projected to grow a very solid 8.4 percent over the next 10 years, and current time needed to fill an open position stands at 40 days (which is relatively high for tech professions).
What is a software developer?
Software developers are ultimately focused on the tactical implementation of a software product, whether that’s an app or a cloud-service or something entirely different. On a day-to-day basis, they’re the ones writing and testing code, squashing bugs, and iterating on current versions in order to deliver a polished product to users.
Software development might involve web-based technologies, depending on the project, but it doesn’t necessarily need to touch on the web in any way. Lightcast estimates the median software developer salary at $98,728 per year, rising even more with the right mix of experience and skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for software developers is $110,140, making it one of the higher-paying roles in tech.
How are software developers like web developers?
Both types of roles depend heavily on coding, which means mastering programming languages, APIs, and frameworks. In addition to technical skills, both web developers and software developers must possess “soft skills” (empathy and communication) in order to update team members and managers, as well as secure buy-in and resources from other stakeholders throughout their organization.
How are software developers different from web developers?
Depending on their chosen specialization, software developers might focus on a completely different set of technologies than web developers. For example, many software developers choose to focus on building and improving machine-learning models, which might not involve the web at all. Other software developers might devote their efforts to apps that never involve a web browser.
How are software developers and web developers different from software engineers?
It’s worth noting that a software developer and a web developer differ considerably from a software engineer, who generally works at a broader scale—their job usually consists of designing and implementing entire systems, such as a service or network. Although all of these roles require soft skills and communication, software engineering usually requires pretty robust project management abilities.
Depending on the project, software engineers may actually have to build the tools and frameworks that teams will subsequently use to build the necessary software product. That’s different from web developers and software developers, who usually rely on tools, frameworks, and languages created by others. Whereas web developers and software developers may rise to more senior positions, software engineers with the right mix of experience and skills also have the ability to migrate into completely different roles, including project manager, system architect, VP of engineering, or even CTO.