“Software developer” and “web developer” tend to be used interchangeably, despite being different professions. It’s important to understand the difference, especially if you need to hire a developer for your business.
Software developers and web developers share many of the same skill sets. For example, both professionals must understand user behaviors, preferences, and intent in order to design solutions that meet an end user’s needs. In addition, both must be critical thinkers who can solve problems on-the-fly and explore alternative options when necessary.
Software developers and web developers may do similar work, but their overall roles and their purpose are quite different. Understanding the unique differences of each position is the key to learning which is the best fit for your company’s next big project.
What is a Software Developer?
A software developer creates the applications, or software, that many of us use daily on our computers. Software can be developed specifically for a single company, or it can be developed for anyone to use. Microsoft 365 is an example of the latter.
Software developers work on the entire life cycle of a program, from initial product conception and ideation to updates and upgrades. Software developers perform tasks such as:
- Programming and coding software
- Documenting application requirements based on end user or client needs
- Testing and debugging programs
- Adding new features
Returning to the example of Microsoft 365, software developers have been working on this office suite for more than 30 years! The first version came out in 1990.
What is a Web Developer?
A web developer builds and maintains websites. They often work closely with a web designer to make sure a website looks good and works correctly.
Web developers tend to specialize in one of three areas:
- Back-end development
- Front-end development
- Full-stack development
A back-end web developer focuses more on the technical side of a website or web-based application. They help design, develop, implement, and maintain advanced features and tools.
If web developers were home builders, think of back-end developers as those who make sure that the foundation of the home is stable and that the structure is as sound as possible.
A front-end web developer, on the other hand, would be more concerned with how that proverbial home looks. They’re in charge of the style of the site or web-based application. They also have to make sure that it functions the way it is supposed to for the end users.
Front-end web developers make sure that content on the site or in the app is easy to access, enjoyable to interact with, and engaging.
This is especially important because people with limited computer skills may be using the site or application. So even though the underlying architecture (or back-end) can be incredibly complicated, the facade of the site (or front-end) needs to be something anyone could use.
Full-stack developers can do both back-end and front-end development.
Regardless of specialty, web developers need to be adept at various programming languages to create and update websites. They also need a good understanding of client or end user needs.
Typical web development tasks include:
- Coding in HTML and CSS
- Writing server-side scripts
- Managing databases
- Troubleshooting problems
Whenever a company updates their website with new content or features, a web developer was involved.
What’s the Difference Between Software Developers and Web Developers?
There is a lot of overlap in the skills used by both web developers and software developers, but they also differ in a few specific ways.
For starters, the target platform of a software developer and a web developer is different. Software developers are focused on creating products intended to work on desktop and laptop computers. Web developers build sites and applications that are hardware agnostic. This means they are often accessed over the Internet and primarily exist there, not on your computer. No local installation is needed to get something to work.
As mentioned, there are some similarities between software developers and web developers. Each will have to excel at various types of programming and coding languages, for example. It’s just that the languages themselves will vary.
Both software developers and web developers will also need to be comfortable working as a part of a larger team. As is true with virtually anything having to do with computers, they also need to be okay with the idea of spending countless hours troubleshooting code in the projects they’re working on.
Should I Hire a Software Developer or a Web Developer?
The question of whether you should hire a software developer or a web developer depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Say you’re an entrepreneur who is opening a new business shortly. Naturally, you want to hit the ground running with a rock-solid digital presence. The cornerstone of that will be your website. In that case, you would hire a web developer.
On the other hand, say you’re a business owner who has been relying on the same piece of legacy software for years. For a long time, it served its purpose—but based on modern standards, the software doesn’t hold up. You need new custom software that integrates with your other programs. Here, you would hire a software developer.
In the end, software developers and web developers are two related positions with important differences. Both can be an asset to any business, albeit in unique ways. Software developers create complicated programs for computers and mobile devices, while web developers build sites, applications, and other tools that exist on the Internet.
Understanding how each job description varies is the key to hiring the right one for your next big project. If you’re still not sure what kind of developer to hire, we have a separate article comparing ten different types of developers.