Coder or Software Developer?

What is the difference really?

• 2 minutes read Software developmentProgramming


I have been thinking about how I as someone who likes building software really identify myself.

Am I a Software developer? - Is that what I refer to myself as, or just what my employer told me that I am?

How you refer to yourself does make a difference when promoting yourself in the industry and wider community. It also affects your self image, your confidence, and career opportunities.

Title vs Role

There is a somewhat clear distinction between a title held by profession or earned by educational degree, and a "title" (Role) that comes with a job or role description formulated by your employer.

This article deals with the "title" you would describe yourself with within the industry.

Defining the terms

Let's start by sorting out the definitions.

Disclaimer: These are entirely my own - and you are free to argue! 😊

A "Coder" is someone who translates instructions into code. Their main task or interest is to write, debug, fix code. The focus is on code itself. One might think of a lone coder sitting at home in their parents' basement.

In essence, it's a cooler word for "Programmer".

A Software developer is a person who engages in the process of developing software applications and other components. The process involves steps like designing, programming, documenting, testing, and doing bug fixes. That means that there is a procedure for finding out what to build and verify its correctness. There are also tools to use. And Software development usually involves team work and communicating with stakeholders.

A characteristic of Software development is that only a fraction of the time goes to programming - since development is so much more than code.

Common types of developers are Web developers, App developers, and System developers. Each is usually specializing in some platform and framework. (See next section)

The latter might be seen as either a superset or, or a synonym for, a "coder", but as we will see, in reality the expectations on each are actually different.

<Favorite stack> developers

There are those who like to identify with their stack so much that it us in their title on LinkedIn: Java developer, Python developer etc. And it happens that employers also have those specific roles.

For simplicity's sake: Let's assume that they don't exist.

Although I would see myself as a .NET developer 😉

My experience

The line between what is a "Coder" and Software developer is usually contextual. Sometimes a Software developer is on a project in which producing code seems so be the main focus. The reality in many projects is that they are more driven by instructions in the form of requirements than actual development processes where developers are discovering what to build. It totally depends on the project setup and how empowered you and your teams are.

But what about Software engineers?

The title Software engineer is usually seen as a step above ordinary Software developers. Just like engineers of other disciplines, they claim they are using engineering practices. They carefully use these principles together with software design patterns when building software systems that often involve one or many complex domains. Focus is especially on finding out what is the best solution given a certain complex set of problems.

To be honest, the term Software engineer is also used quite freely as a title by employers since it gives the impression of prestige. I have had that title many times.

Where do I fall?

I'm basically a software developer who works with complex domains. I'm listening in on what the stakeholder wants, figuring out the details, building software using code and tools. I levitate towards using engineering practices and I understand the meaning of pragmatism.

I have no problems calling myself a Software engineer.

I would definitely not refer to myself as "just a programmer".

What do you think?

Do you agree with the definitions?

Some would argue that "coder" sounds cooler for someone who mainly deals with complex problems in code. It brings thoughts to "hacker", or that itself programming being some kind of art. Others some perhaps think that the term downplays the importance of their profession and work.

Do you consider yourself a Coder or a Software Developer? 😊

Marina Sundström

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