Web developer vs software engineer: Salaries, backgrounds, and responsibilities

Hi, I’m Brian, a former senior software engineer and now industry mentor at Pathrise. I have worked with hundreds of web developers and software engineers to help them land their dream jobs in tech. Check out my article where I compare web developer vs software engineer

If you have a programming and math background, you might be trying to decide if you should be looking at web developer or software engineer roles. One of the best ways to be efficient in your job search is to apply to the right position for your background, experience, and goals. To help you do this, we outlined the similarities and differences between software engineering and web development as well as included information about the skills, tools, and salaries for each role.

What is web development?

When you go online and interact with websites, you are likely looking at a web developer’s work. Often grouped by front-end, back-end, and full stack, web developers are responsible for writing the code and creating websites. Back-end web developers focus on the way the site or page functions while front-end web developers work on how the page looks. Oftentimes, they are working from designs created by UX/UI designers. Full stack developers do both the front-end and back-end work. Web developers also spend some time running QA and debugging problems that they see. Learn more about what web developers do in our article.

What is software engineering?

One of the most well known industries in tech, software engineering is similar to web development but often requires more responsibility and a deeper understanding of programming. Software engineers work closely with web developers, webmasters, product designers, product managers, project managers, and external stakeholders to code and create fully functional products, apps, and platforms. Learn more about what software engineers do in our article.

Similarities and differences between web developers and software engineers

Web development and software engineering are both technical fields that are currently in demand.

Similarities

  • Candidates looking to be successful in software engineering or web development need to have a strong background in programming.
  • Both fields are collaborative and require soft skills along with hard skills.
  • Web developers and software engineers should be analytical, enjoy problem-solving, and have some design sensibilities.

Differences

  • Web developers can focus on basic languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, while software engineers need to have more knowledge of advanced programming languages. For more information, review our list of the top programming languages for each role.
  • Software engineering focuses on building software, apps, and other products through code. Web developers work almost exclusively on websites.
  • Candidates looking for software engineering roles generally have more experience than those looking for web development roles.

Skills: Web developer vs software engineer

Recruiters and hiring managers are looking to make sure that new employees have the right skills to be successful in the role. If you carefully read the job description, you can determine exactly what they want to see. In general, web developers and software engineers should have the following skills in order to show that they will be an asset to the team.

Web developer skills

  • Fluency in HTML/CSS as well as JavaScript
  • High level of math knowledge
  • Some background in QA and debugging
  • Design sensibilities
  • Spatial awareness
  • Analytical thinking
  • Organization
  • Collaborative worker with strong interpersonal skills

Software engineering skills

  • Fluency in one or more programming language (such as Java, C++, C#, React, Angular)
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • High level of math education or knowledge
  • Analytical mindset
  • Outside the box thinker
  • Collaborative worker, typically with experience working on interdisciplinary teams
  • Ability to multitask, prioritize, and work on many different projects at once
  • Time management skills

Learn more about software engineering skills needed to land a great job in our article. 

Tools: Web developer vs software engineer

Both of these roles are technical and require knowledge of a variety of different tools. By having these tools on your resume, you can let recruiters and hiring managers know that you have the right knowledge for the role.

Web developer tools

  • Front-end development languages and frameworks like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, jQuery, React.js, C++, Flash, Bootstrap
  • Back-end development languages and frameworks like Python, PHP, Ruby on Rails, SQL, .NET, Node.JS, MySQL, Django, CakePHP, Apache, AWS, MongoDB, NGINX
  • Code and text editors like Sublime Text, Atom, Vim, Notepad++, Visual Code Studio
  • Git clients like GitHub, SourceTree, GitKraken, SmartGit, GitCola
  • Project management tools like Jira, Basecamp, Asana, Slack, Notion, Discourse 

Learn more about data science tools needed to land a great job [will link] in our article.

Software engineering tools

  • Programming languages like Java, C++, Javascript, HTML/CSS, C#, React, Angular
  • App engineering languages and frameworks like Swift, Java, Android Studio, Kotlin, C#, Appcelerator, Ionic, React Native, Ruby on Rails, Python
  • Systems engineering languages and frameworks like Rust, SQL, Azure, MongoDB, Nagios, ESX VMware, Amazon Web Services, Bash, PowerShell
  • Collaborative coding platforms like GitHub, Atom, Cloud 9, NetBeans, Node.js, Bitbucket
  • Agile project and product management tools like Basecamp, Jira, Asana, Notion, Slack, Discourse

Salaries: Web developer vs software engineer

In general, web developers need less prior experience than software engineers and some people move from web developer to software engineer after a few years. Many software engineers have bachelor’s degrees and, potentially, graduate school as well, so they typically make more money than web developers.

Average salary for web developers

According to Glassdoor, web developers can expect an average salary of $68,524. On AngelList, you can search by type of web developer. Back-end developers make an average of $91k, front-end developers make $83k, and full stack developers make $84k.

Average salary for software engineers

If you look on Glassdoor, the average compensation for software engineers is $92k. The low end of the spectrum is around $63k and the highest reported is $134k. On AngelList, the average salary for a software engineer is $91k. This includes startups, which makes it more well rounded, but neither account for geography, which can often alter compensation. Read our outline with important tips for negotiating your software engineering salary, which includes an email template you can use.

If you want even more support, Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With our tips and guidance, fellows in our program see 3x as many responses to their applications, interview scores that double, and a 10-20% increase in salary.

If you want to work with our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with any aspect of your job search, join Pathrise.

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