Lots of people use the terms “web developer” and “software developer” interchangeably. However, they’re not actually synonyms.
Curious about the differences between a web developer and a software developer?
This guide breaks down the key distinctions everyone should know. You’ll also learn how to decide which one is right for your next project and how to find the best professional for the job.
What Is a Web Developer?
A web developer is responsible for building websites. They make sure the website looks good and is easy to navigate. They also ensure it runs as efficiently and reliably as possible.
The following are some of the most well-known types of web developers:
- Backend Developers: These professionals handle the website’s structure, including writing the code and verifying that it works.
- Frontend Developers: These professionals handle the visual elements of a website. They design each page’s layout and include graphics and other design elements.
- Full-Stack Developers: Full-stack developers handle both the front and backend of a website. They can build the entire website from start to finish.
- Webmasters: Webmasters are also known as website managers. They update the website and ensure all its links and applications work correctly.
Most web developers start as either backend or frontend developers. Over time, as they gain more experience and skills, they may progress to becoming full-stack developers or webmasters. They might also branch out into other related careers like project management or graphic design.
What Is a Software Developer?
A software developer is responsible for building computer programs. They may work on specific programs or apps, or they may assist with creating massive networks of systems that power many programs.
Software developers can be divided into two main categories:
- Applications Software Developers: These software developers design computer and mobile applications, primarily for consumers. They also monitor program performance and make adjustments as needed.
- Systems Software Developers: Systems software developers design solutions for larger organizations. They may build software solutions for medical, industrial, military, aerospace, or general computing companies.
Whether they work as an applications or systems software developer, people in both categories carry out similar responsibilities.
These developers analyze user needs, write code, and create and test software to address user needs. They also collaborate with other professionals, including computer specialists, to ensure the software works properly and doesn’t have any glitches.
Differences Between Web Developers and Software Developers
After reading through those two descriptions, you know some high-level differences between web developers and software developers. There’s more to the story, though.
Here are some of the most noteworthy distinctions between these types of developers:
The first difference between web and software developers has to do with their required skills. Both of these people are tech professionals, but there are some distinctions in the skills needed to do their jobs.
Web developers, at a minimum, must possess the following skills:
- Data Analysis
Software developers, on the other hand, typically need these skills:
There are more similarities between the two positions when it comes to “soft” skills.
For example, software developers and web developers must both be good problem-solvers and be able to work well with others. They should be effective planners and able to adapt to new technologies and techniques.
Another key difference between web development and software development has to do with architecture. “Architecture” refers to the way information is organized and prioritized.
Web developers consider the architecture from both the client side and the server side. “Client-side” is another term for “frontend,” or the part of the website that the user interacts with. “Server-side” is another term for “backend,” or the behind-the-scenes elements of the website that keep it running smoothly.
Software developers typically consider architecture from the client side only. They may spend more time than a web developer (primarily a backend web developer) considering the client’s needs and what they expect when viewing and interacting with a mobile, web, or desktop app.
Web developers typically use these programming languages when working on websites for clients:
- HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language): The standard language for documents designed for display on a web browser
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): Enables the separation of content and presentation — including layout, colors, and fonts — to improve content accessibility
Software developers, on the other hand, utilize the following programming languages:
- Java: A powerful, general-purpose programming language often used for desktop and mobile applications, big data processing, and embedded systems
- Python: A multi-purpose, high-level programming language that can be used to build software and websites, automate tasks, and conduct data analysis; it places a strong emphasis on code readability
- C++: A programming language often used for computer programs; it’s also the most frequently used language in video game development
Most professionals agree that the programming languages software developers have to be proficient in are more complex than those that web developers use. However, both professionals spend a lot of time honing their skills and learning the languages necessary to do their jobs well.
Software development is typically more straightforward and doesn’t involve as much design as web development.
Web developers — particularly frontend web developers — often spend more time working on website design elements to ensure the finished product is interactive, engaging, and user-friendly.
Cost to Hire
In addition to differences in their skill sets and areas of expertise, web developers and software developers may also charge different amounts for their services. The average web developer in the United States earns $66,593 per year, and the average software developer earns $92,218 per year.
Because of the differences in their salaries, web developers will likely charge a bit less for their services compared to software developers, whether they work as in-house developers at a larger company or independently as a freelancer.
Should You Hire a Web Developer or a Software Developer?
Put simply, it depends.
If you’re looking to create a new website for your business — or update an existing one — you should work with a web developer.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in creating a mobile or desktop application, you’re better off working with a software developer.
It’s true that there is some overlap in these professionals’ skills, and a software developer may be able to provide some valuable insight to someone building a website (and vice versa for web developers).
At the same time, though, if you want to see the best outcomes, you need to partner with someone who has invested time and resources in learning the skills that are relevant to your specific project.
Why Do Software Developers Charge More?
Software developers generally charge more for their services, in part, because their jobs are more complex. They’re required to learn more programming languages than the average web developer, and they typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in software development, computer science, or a related field.
Web developers must have education and experience, too. However, many web developers are self-taught or have learned their skills from a boot camp (a course that lasts around six months) rather than earning a college degree.
This isn’t to say that these professionals aren’t talented or haven’t worked hard — they’ve just developed their skills in different (and perhaps less time-consuming) ways.
What to Look for in a Web Developer or a Software Developer
If you’re going to spend money to hire a web or software developer, you want to know that you’re hiring the best person for the job, right?
If you know what to look for when you start your search, you’ll have an easier time narrowing down your options, vetting candidates, and making an informed decision.
Below, you’ll learn all of the most important factors to consider when considering a web or software developer. Some of the search guidelines are the same for both web and software developers, and others are unique to each profession.
When hiring a web developer, consider the following:
- Responsive mobile design: Remember that over 60 percent of online searches take place from a mobile device, so your developer should know how to design mobile-friendly websites
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): To improve your website’s search engine ranking and ensure people can find it when looking for products or services like yours
- Data analysis: To evaluate website performance, get to know your target audience better, and help you make informed decisions about how to improve your website
- Photoshop: Many web developers are familiar with Photoshop and use it to create sites that look great, stand out, and perform better and faster than others
- WordPress: 35 percent of the internet’s websites function on WordPress alone, so it makes sense to look for a web developer who’s experienced with WordPress, although it’s not an absolute necessity
When hiring a software developer, look for these skills:
- Cloud computing skills: Amazon Web Service (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or Microsoft Azure
- Data structure and algorithms: A data structure is a location used to store and organize data; an algorithm is a collection of steps taken to solve a problem.
- git and GitHub: git is a local software that lets developers save snapshots of projects; GitHub is a web-based platform that helps developers collaborate using git
Whether you’re hiring a software developer or a web developer, consider the skills and other important factors discussed below:
The best web and software developers have solid interpersonal skills. In other words, they know how to communicate with others — both their fellow team members and colleagues.
If someone has strong interpersonal skills, they’re particularly good at listening and sharing their thoughts in clear and effective ways. They’re able to regulate their motions easily, too, and respond appropriately to various situations — including those that are stressful or challenging.
How can you tell if someone is a good communicator? Communicate with them.
Reach out via phone or email and evaluate their response. Do they get back to you quickly? Do they answer your questions clearly? Are they polite and enthusiastic?
Critical Thinking Skills
Good web and software developers are good critical thinkers.
Critical thinkers don’t just jump to conclusions. They evaluate an issue from multiple angles and analyze the facts before making a judgment.
Critical thinking is, well, critical for developers.
These professionals consistently find themselves in situations where they have to decide between multiple options. If they can’t evaluate the options objectively and choose the best one for their clients’ needs, they’ll struggle to do their jobs well.
Time Management Skills
Web developers and software developers rarely work on one project at a time. They often have multiple projects going at once.
Because developers regularly work on many projects simultaneously, they have to manage their time well to ensure they meet deadlines and follow up with clients consistently.
If a developer isn’t good at managing their time, you might end up nagging them often to get updates on your project or find out when it’ll be completed. That creates a lot of frustration for you and could end up costing you a lot of money.
Commitment to Continuing Education
The worlds of web development and software development are constantly changing.
New technologies are regularly introduced, and the best developers are eager to stay on top of them. They want to be informed about the latest updates in their field and are committed to continuing education.
When vetting candidates, talk to them about their approach to continuing education. For example, do they regularly participate in courses or boot camps to develop their skills?
If someone doesn’t value continuing education or regularly expand their knowledge base, they might use outdated methods when working on your project, resulting in a subpar finished product.
Of course, you must consider a software or web developer’s rates before you make a final decision.
Don’t just ask how much they charge for a website development or software development project. Ask for a detailed quote to find out what you get in exchange for that rate and the estimated turnaround time for the project.
You should also ask about financing. Many developers and development agencies offer financing options (many with zero percent or very low interest rates) to make projects more affordable.
Ask about the developer’s process, too. What steps do they go through to ensure they’re creating a high-quality website or software solution for you?
Do they conduct research to learn more about your target audience? Will they create prototypes for you to approve before moving forward with the project? What does their quality assurance strategy entail?
If the developer can give you a detailed breakdown of their process, that’s a good sign. It indicates they’ve spent a lot of time honing their skills and developing an approach that consistently yields good results.
Don’t forget to read reviews for developers or development agencies as well. Check out third-party reviews or ask for references from the developers directly.
In either case, take note of what people liked and didn’t like about the developer or development agency before making your final decision.
Did they enjoy collaborating with them throughout the development process? Are they happy with the finished product? Would they work with them again?
When vetting candidates, it’s helpful to review their portfolios and check out their previous work. How can you tell if they’re truly skilled, though?
If you’re thinking about hiring a particular web developer, look at their work and ask yourself if it contains the following elements:
- Clear purpose
- Easy-to-read content
- Easy-to-navigate layout
- Streamlined, visually pleasing appearance
- Fast load times
- No broken links
For those looking to hire a software developer, you should also examine their portfolio and explore some of their past projects. You can spot quality software development by looking for the following characteristics:
- Clear purpose
- Ease of use
- Simple navigation
- Robust security measures
Consider the maintainability and scalability of the software, too. Can it be updated and adapted to meet different needs and goals?
Partner with a Skilled Web or Software Developer Today
Do you need help with a web development or software development project? If so, remember the guidelines discussed above so you can understand the difference and choose the best professional for the job.
If you’re looking for a skilled developer who can assist with all aspects of your project, we’re here to help at Alpha Bravo Development.
Our team offers a wide range of development services, including app, software, and web development, as well as web design, UI/UX design, and app management. Reach out and get a free quote for your next project today.