Web Development or Software Engineering: What is the Difference?

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  • Sometimes, the lines between web developer and software engineering jobs blur.
  • Web developers and software engineers use similar tools and skills.
  • The long-term career outlook for both fields is strong.

If you're a web developer or software developer, you'll have about 1.8 million U.S. colleagues.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. had 197,000 web developer jobs in 2021. That same year, more than 1.6 million people worked as software developers, according to the BLS. Nearly every organization employs web developers and software engineers, either directly or indirectly. And everyone benefits from their work.

But often, people in these roles collaborate instead of working strictly from a web developer vs. software engineer perspective. Their focus and responsibilities may overlap. They may have similar big-picture goals despite different job titles. And in smaller organizations, one person may handle both roles.

Software engineers and web developers use the same digital programming and coding languages. And they use many of the same skills — problem-solving, creativity, and communication. Sometimes the lines between the two roles blur.

So what exactly is the difference? What does a web developer do? And what is a software engineer focused on? Keep reading to learn more about web development and software engineering. We'll also highlight how these roles fit into the technology job landscape.

What Is a Web Developer?

Web developers design, create, and maintain websites or web apps.

You may work on the front end, the back end or both sides of web development, called full-stack development. People who do this work are responsible for developing websites from start to finish. You might work solo or as part of a large team. You'll use several popular programming and coding languages in your daily work.

You'll use computer languages to write code that allows websites and apps to function. To excel at this career, you'll use creativity, communication and problem-solving skills. If you want to know what is a web developer and what they do, your responsibilities may include:

  • Monitoring and analyzing website traffic information
  • Working with clients and other tech professionals to create or update websites
  • Creating a site or app's UX/UI interface
  • Identifying and fixing website or app-related performance issues
  • Developing, testing, and launching new website or app features
  • Maintaining a website's security

What Is a Software Engineer?

Software engineers may develop application software, systems software, or both. People in this role may also have the job title of software developer. Regardless of the job title, this kind of work focuses on applying engineering principles to software design, testing and maintenance. Software engineers tend to work more on back-end projects.

As a software engineer, you'll work with clients or team members in your organization to write and test code. You'll also develop new software features in response to client needs or changing industry standards. The software you create may power anything from critical network infrastructure and hardware to a game. If you've ever wondered what is a software engineer, here are some typical job responsibilities:

  • Analyzing current software systems
  • Designing software or app-based solutions that meet client needs
  • Modifying existing software
  • Monitoring system performance and responding to security threats
  • Creating technical documentation

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

People understandably confuse web development and software engineering. Paul Dessert, a senior web developer with 15 years of experience, asserts, "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."

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. Whereas a software developer will concentrate on creating software for the underlying operating system, network, or platform."

— Paul Dessert, senior web developer

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"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."

Dessert explains that software engineers typically work in technical departments, which 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 than 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 grows, companies invest in more software security, and society's reliance on smart devices increases.

The BLS projects that employment for both web developers & digital designers and software developers will grow significantly.

Web Developer & Digital Designer
Projected Employment Growth

+23% | 2021-2031

Software Developers
Projected Employment Growth

+25% | 2021-2031



Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

"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 Developer & Digital Designer
Median Salary

$78,300 | 2021

Software Developers
Median Salary

$109,020 | 2021



Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 people see when visiting a site.

"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 depend 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."

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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.

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" for web developers, 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."

Frequently Asked Questions About Web Development vs. Software Engineering

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 $97,430 in 2021. Software engineers often earn more than web developers.

Can a web developer become a software engineer?

Yes. As a web developer gains professional experience, they may pursue other positions, like working as a software engineer. Web developers and software engineers often have similar skills and knowledge that apply to either career field. Your responsibilities will shift if you choose to move from web development to software engineering.

Feature Image: shironosov / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images