Web Development vs. Software Engineering

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By Nalea Ko

Published on July 30, 2021

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The bootcamp industry started in the early 2010s to address a skills gap in the tech industry — the number of tech jobs exceeded the number of qualified applicants. Bootcamps even partnered with the federal government in 2015 to help fill 120,000 vacant tech jobs through the TechHire initiative.

Coding bootcamps continue to grow in popularity, mirroring the demand for tech jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs in computer and information technology will continue to expand between 2019 and 2029 — by 11%, which is much faster than the average growth rate (4%) projected across all U.S. occupations.

The tech industry includes many different occupations, but a couple of the most popular positions include web developer and software engineer. People new to the tech industry may get confused about the difference between web development vs. software engineering, and for good reason. The lines between the two professions often seem blurred. But what is the difference?

As Paul Dessert, a senior web developer with 15 years of experience, explains later in this guide, individuals interested in web development and software engineering both study system relationships, programming, and databases. That said, web developers and software engineers put their skills into practice in different ways. Not only that, but their salaries and career outlooks also differ.

Continue reading to learn more about the differences between web development vs. software engineering, including information about how to get started in one of these professions.

Web Development vs. Software Engineering: What's the Difference?

People understandably confuse web development and software engineering. Individuals employed in these occupations often have similar responsibilities, but they may work in different areas and their day-to-day assignments may vary in complexity.

Software engineers use their computer science background to create software products, including web-based software as well as software designed for operating systems.

Web developers and software engineers both study programming and learn to write code. However, software engineers tend to hold a bachelor's degree in computer science, whereas web developers often get by with an associate degree">. Additionally, many web developers are self-taught or learned web development at a bootcamp.

Software engineers use their computer science background to create software products, including web-based software as well as software designed for operating systems. Web developers focus solely on building websites and other web applications.

"The main difference is the type of projects you might get to work on. A web developer specializes in web-based applications such as websites, e-commerce, and mobile development," Dessert explains. "Whereas a software developer will concentrate on creating software for the underlying operating system, network, or platform."

A web developer specializes in web-based applications such as websites, e-commerce, and mobile development.

Dessert explains that software engineers typically work in technical departments, and their work may involve research and development, data science, and machine learning. Software engineers typically master multiple programming languages and know the latest trends in programming.

Web developers may work in IT or marketing departments and may need to know JavaScript, CSS, and HTML to create visually appealing, user-friendly websites. Dessert explains that web developers may work on shorter and more varied projects compared to software engineers, who usually work on larger long-term assignments. Those who enjoy ever-changing work environments, Dessert says, typically prefer web development.

Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: Career Outlook

Employers will likely continue to need employees trained in web development and software engineering as e-commerce continues to grow, companies invest in more software security, and society's reliance on smart devices increases.

The BLS projects that employment for web developers and digital designers will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029, and jobs for software developers are projected to grow even faster — 22% in the same period.

"The great thing about web development and software engineering is that there is such a huge demand across almost all industries," Dessert says, "You don't need to move to Silicon Valley to find work. There are thousands of different positions. You get to pick the job that interests you the most."

Web developers and software engineers who know multiple programming languages may find better employment opportunities in this competitive industry. While senior developer positions may be harder to get straight out of bootcamp, bootcamp grads without previous tech experience can still find junior developer positions.

Both occupations offer high salaries. Web developers made a median annual salary of $73,760 in 2019, according to the BLS, while software developers earned an annual median wage of $107,510.

Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: How To Choose?

If you're interested in pursuing a tech career, you might be wondering how to choose between web development and software engineering. First, consider the skills required for each trade.

"Web developers tend to enjoy technical and creative disciplines," Dessert says, while software engineers enjoy problem-solving and have a mathematical aptitude.

He adds that web developers may specialize in either front-end or back-end development, depending on their skills and job title. In front-end development, web developers create the client side of a website. This includes the visual and interactive elements that people see when visiting a site.

In front-end development, web developers create the client side of a website. The back-end developer deals with business logic and database development.

"The back-end developer deals with business logic and database development," Dessert says. Because web developers deal with the functionality and capacity of a website, they also need to monitor web traffic and troubleshoot website issues.

The exact languages needed for each occupation depends on the project and company. Web developers may use HTML, CSS, PHP, JQuery, and JavaScript in their daily work. Software engineers often know C++, Java, and Python.

"Each job will require something different. I recommend learning one language to begin with," Dessert says. While Dessert recommends that beginners master JavaScript first, he also advises: "Learn the core principles of programming and don't stress over all the options. As your career progresses, you'll find that you'll need to learn a new language or framework."

Both occupations simply require, in Dessert's words, "a true passion for learning and discovery."

Getting Started as a Web Developer or Software Engineer

Coding bootcamps train future web developers and software engineers, and they also help them build the portfolios needed to get hired by employers. Web developers may only need a high school diploma, although many have an associate degree or bachelor's degree. Software engineers often earn a bachelor's in computer science or software engineering.

Coding bootcamps train future web developers and software engineers, and they also help them build the portfolios needed to get hired by employers.

Dessert explains that bootcamps often teach programming and markup languages; frameworks; and libraries, including React and Angular. Students may strengthen their visual design skills using programs such as Sketch, Figma, and Adobe Creative Suite.

"You'll also venture into databases. Most web and mobile applications need a place to store data, and this can be part of a web developer's job. Understanding database design, data storage, and data retrieval is very important," he says.

Software engineers gain greater technical skills in bootcamps. "You'll learn general computer engineering, math, algorithms, and other technical topics," Dessert says. "Some classes might begin to introduce you to machine learning and artificial intelligence. You can also expect to spend a lot of time exploring theory."

Visit these pages to learn more about software engineering bootcamps vs. web development bootcamps.

Interview With an Expert in Web Development and Software Engineering

Paul Dessert is a senior web developer with over 15 years of experience. He has worked for companies such as Airbus Defense and Space, Motorola Solutions, and Allstate. He also operates ResumeBeacon.com in his spare time.

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him

How are the fields of web development and software engineering similar?

Both roles seem similar. But, in practice, they are quite different. Both fields require a deep technical foundation involving system relationships, programming, and databases, but the similarities will end there.

What are the main differences between these two subject areas?

The main difference is the type of projects you might get to work on. A web developer specializes in web-based applications such as websites, e-commerce, and mobile development. Whereas a software developer will concentrate on creating software for the underlying operating system, network, or platform. On a day-to-day basis, web developers tend to work on a larger array of projects. Software engineers spend longer amounts of time on a single project. If you're the type of person who likes constant change, you might thrive in web development.

Another key difference is the environments they operate within. Software engineers almost always work in highly technical departments such as R&D, engineering, data science, or machine learning. A web developer usually works in IT, marketing, or independently.

What skills are taught in web development bootcamps, classes, or courses?

You'll learn different programming and markup languages, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and Python. Most courses will also start to teach frameworks and libraries, such as React and Angular.

You'll also venture into databases. Most web and mobile applications need a place to store data and this can be part of a web developers job. Understanding database design, data storage, and data retrieval is very important.

Some schools will also teach you about visual design and introduce you to software such as Sketch, Figma, and the Adobe Creative Suite. I highly recommend finding a school that teaches technical and creative skills. This introduces you to more opportunities and makes you a more rounded web developer.

What skills are taught in software engineering bootcamps, classes, or courses?

Software engineering classes tend to be more technical. You'll learn general computer engineering, math, algorithms, and other technical topics. You'll be introduced to various programming languages such as Java and C. Some classes might begin to introduce you to machine learning and artificial intelligence. You can also expect to spend a lot of time exploring theory.

What kind of individuals are best suited to study web development? Why?

Web developers tend to enjoy technical and creative disciplines. A web developer can choose between front-end design and development or back-end development. Front-end development focuses on the visuals and interactions of the website. The back-end developer deals with business logic and database development.

What kind of individuals are best suited to study software engineering? Why?

Typically, software engineers enjoy more technical aspects and problem-solving. They thrive when someone asks them to solve a complicated problem. They are driven by their desire to optimize and build efficient systems. If you enjoy math, puzzles, and problem-solving, software engineering might be the perfect fit for you.

What industries and jobs align with these fields of study?

The great thing about web development and software engineering is that there is such a huge demand across almost all industries. You don't need to move to Silicon Valley to find work. There are thousands of different positions. You get to pick the job that interests you the most.

What is the breadth of knowledge required to enter into these careers?

A true passion for learning and discovery is essential to really thrive. You can enter either career by attending a bootcamp, but if you don't truly have a passion, you'll quickly burn out. They are both very technical careers so you must have a broad range of technical skills to land a job.

What programming languages do individuals need to learn for each of these fields?

This is a very hard question to answer. Each job will require something different. I recommend learning one language to begin with. Learn the core principles of programming and don't stress over all the options. As your career progresses, you'll find that you'll need to learn a new language or framework. You will always be learning, so pace yourself.

Every developer has an opinion about the "best" or "most popular" language. The debates will never go away. It seems to be worse in the web development world. Don't get caught up in the hype. For those who are new to programming and are unsure where to start, I'd recommend learning JavaScript. It's a relatively easy language to learn and it is extremely popular. A lot of the popular web development libraries are based on JavaScript. If you understand JavaScript, you'll have a much easier time learning in the future.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in web development?

Understand this is a constantly changing field. If you don't like change, you might want to look elsewhere. But, that's also part of what makes it great. There is always something new to learn.

I would also recommend learning about marketing and business. Years ago, websites were controlled by the IT department. Today, they tend to be controlled by marketing departments. IT and marketing have very different goals. If you understand how to help achieve those goals, you'll provide much more value.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing a degree in software engineering?

People skills are as valuable as technical skills. The quicker you learn this, the better off you'll be. As technical people, we tend to want to keep our heads buried in screens and avoid socialization. This will make your journey much harder.

Specialize once you have some industry experience. Your first job might be a software engineer, but use that time to explore all angles. You'll be exposed to different languages, systems, processes, etc. Specialize once you find something you really enjoy. As a specialist, you'll be in demand and highly paid.

Is there anything else you would like to add regarding web development vs. software engineering/development?

Both professions can be extremely rewarding and highly paid. If you're the type of person who loves to learn and be challenged, either profession is the perfect choice. You'll be faced with challenges on a daily basis and will rarely be bored. There are plenty of opportunities out there.

Frequently Asked Questions About Web Development and Software Engineering Jobs

What is the difference between web development vs. software engineering?

The biggest difference between web developers and software engineers comes down to their work. Software engineers focus on creating programs for operating systems, while web developers specialize in creating websites and web applications. As the tech industry continues to change, the differences between these roles may blur and job responsibilities often overlap.

Is web development easier than software engineering?

It depends on your strengths and previous experience. If you enjoy using scientific analysis and mathematical models, you may thrive in software engineering. Software engineers often have a deeper knowledge of computer science, while web developers may flex their creativity more during the website design process.

Do web developers and software engineers get paid well?

Yes. Both web developers and software engineers receive generous compensation for their work. In fact, according to the BLS, those employed in computer and IT occupations made a median annual salary of $88,240 in 2019. Software engineers often earn more than web developers.

Additional Resources

Web Development Career Track Software Engineering Career Track Web Development Bootcamps Software Engineering Bootcamps