Difference between a Computer Programmer and a Software Engineer

Published on October 21, 2015

Contrary to popular belief, a computer programmer and a software engineer are actually NOT interchangeable. Many may argue that they both do the same tasks such as coding, decoding, and designing, but their job descriptions are different. It may be not much of a difference, but that difference will have a huge impact in regards to employment.


Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer
A software engineer writing a code for the Wikimedia Foundation

Computer Programmer

A computer programmer writes/codes the computer software. A programmer can also be referred to as your developer, coder, or software engineer, depending on their specialty.

A programmer is a person who writes, tests out, debugs, and maintains detailed instructions called applications or computer programs. These programs will then be performed by a computer according to its function. Not only that, but a programmer can also conceive, design and test logical structures in solving problems with a computer. To put it simply, a programmer is capable of coding programs, and in regards to their specialty can be referred to as a developer, a software engineer, coder, web developer, programmer analyst, computer scientist, or software analyst.

A programmer, depending on his/her specialty can have a salary ranging from $31,148 – $76,270.

Software Engineer

A software engineer also does some coding, but his/her basic role is to apply the principles of software engineering, which are basically a software’s design, development, maintenance and testing. The scope of his/her responsibilities also includes the evaluation and troubleshooting of a coded software, and of course of other systems that may need software programming.

In the mid-1960’s, software engineers also called themselves computer programmers or software developers. While these terms may mean almost the same thing, a specialty in a field may mean that a person can be more of an engineer if he/she designs, plans and analyzes the needs of a software program and tests it in the end. That being said, a software engineer will be the one who gives out instructions to programmers who will then write the codes.

A software engineer can have a salary ranging from $54,300 – $121,697.

Comparison Chart

Computer ProgrammerSoftware Engineer
Usually paid less (will depend on location)Usually paid more (will depend on location)
Writes codes for a software/programPlans/Designs a code for a software/program
May have different specializationsSpecialized in planning and designing programs

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer

What’s the difference between a computer programmer and a software engineer? The main differences would be their specialization. If you do plan on becoming either of the two, salary would also have a huge impact on their differences. A computer programmer in the U.S. can earn as much as $31,148 – $76,270, while a software engineer can earn $54,300 – $121,697. Take note, salaries vary depending on your location.

The term “programmer” can also be referred to as a software developer, web developer, applications developer, or software engineer. While software engineers can also be called programmers, they are specialized in designing and planning how programs will function. In addition to that, they will also be responsible for testing the software out to ensure quality. That would now mean that all software engineers are also programmers; however, not all programmers are software engineers, but simply write codes for the software to run smoothly.


You can refer to the video below for more information on the career of software engineering.