Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer: What’s the Difference?

Do you know the differences between a programmer and a software engineer? Find out what separates these 2 tech professions here.

Updated 29 Jan 2020

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer - Feature-Image

With the term Industrial Revolution 4.0 flying about, it’s without a doubt that professions in tech are high in demand. While many use the terms “computer programmers” and “software engineers” interchangeably, in reality, both of these professionals have different functions and responsibilities within a tech team.

So, whether you’re contemplating to pursue a career in tech or simply confused, we’re here to help you get down to the key similarities and differences between these 2 tech professions!

#1. Roles and responsibilities

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer-Roles

A programmer’s main task is to write, modify and test computer code. They translate ideas and instructions from others and turn them into computer applications and software programmes through clean and efficient code.

A software engineer, on the hand, views things from a bigger picture. They need to ensure that the overall software system is designed and developed to meet business demands, ensuring the entire architecture and system is robust, especially for implementation on a large scale.

One way to think of it is that a programmer is like a cook in a professional kitchen, whereas a software engineer is the executive chef. The cook is responsible for following the chef’s recipes to create wonderful dishes, while the executive chef needs to ensure that everything prepared by the cooks work well together. And if the executive chef works in a large hotel with a central kitchen serving several restaurants, then the entire operations needs to be extremely systematic.

The same can be said about programmers and software engineers. Software engineers are the architects who design, build and maintain software systems with large-scale considerations while programmers build and construct ideas from software engineers to create functioning software.

Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU)

BSc (Hons) in Computer Science

Dual-award degree – one from De Montfort University (UK) and one from APU

#2. Skills and qualifications required

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer-Skills and qualifications

To become a programming expert, you must be well-versed in programming languages such as Java, JavaScript, C++, SQL and Python. You’re expected to be skilled in updating codes to determine and debug any errors within the application or software. Since you’ll be dealing with countless lines of codes, you should have eyes like a hawk!

Although a software engineer assigns a programmer what to code, they are also expected to have strong programming skills and extensive knowledge in handling computers and electronics (hardware and software). Employers also seek individuals with strong mathematical skills with some design knowledge to produce technical plans, blueprints and models.

While these tech careers demand excellent technical skills, there’s more than meets the eye. The industry also relies on tech experts with strong critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills to get things running. Being a part of collaborative work, it’s necessary to be comfortable working in a team.

Typically, employers look for software engineers with at least a Degree in Software Engineering, Computer Science or a related field. Meanwhile, a programmer should possess a similar background, although some companies are open to individuals who are well-versed in the technical skills and programming languages required for the job.

Apply for university with EduAdvisor

Secure scholarships and more when you apply to any of our 100+ partner universities.

Start now

#3. Working environment and job demands

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer-Work environment and job demands

Both computer programmers and software developers work in similar environments. Most tech professionals work in a comfortable office environment and spend most of their time facing computers. However, their tech-reliant work style allows them to work remotely as long as they’re connected and have access to their devices.

The work of a programmer can be tedious as you’re always poring over lines of codes; hence, it pays to have high attention to detail. Programmers generally work closely with software engineers, and sometimes their roles may overlap. In a smaller company, a software engineer could also be the programmer. As software engineers work in a deadline-driven environment, prioritisation is key as you’ll be required to manage multiple projects simultaneously.

#4. Job outlook and salary

Computer Programmer vs Software Engineer-Job outlook and salary

With the surge in demands in digital technology nationwide, the country is expecting a shortage of talent by the year 2020. Among the top trending digital tech fields include cybersecurity, big data analytics and financial technology (fintech). As such, pursuing a career in programming or software engineering will boost your employability in the near future.

Fresh graduates embarking in programming will typically see an average monthly salary of between RM2,200 to RM2,700. On the other hand, entry-level software engineers may expect to receive between RM3,200 to RM3,900 per month.

We hope this article has helped you distinguish these 2 tech-related careers. To sum it up, while both programmers and software engineers require coding skills, software engineers are deemed as the creative minds behind the software systems while programmers are those who carry out the coding to make magic happen.

Are you game to become an ingenious computer scientist? Our Computer Science course guide will take you there.

Find scholarships, discover programmes and connect with Malaysia's top institutions at the EduAdvisor Virtual Education Fair — happening this 27 May – 5 June 2024! Click here to register.

Speak to an advisor

We offer free advice, course recommendation and application service.

Name *
Mobile *
Email *
Nationality *
Field of Study

    Already have an account? Login

    Josephine Serena

    Josephine Serena

    Media studies and journalism graduate. Buy me coffee and I'll spill the beans. Also really tall.