Programmer vs. Engineer

Sometimes, the work of software engineers and computer programmers overlaps.
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Programmers and engineers play key roles in the development of computer systems software and applications. Although both programmers and engineers use computer-programming languages, applications and technology platforms, each uses specific skills in different disciplines of information technology. Programmers and engineers often work closely together to develop software systems and applications.


    Engineers in the information technology field are also referred to as software developers. Engineers design computer systems software and applications to meet the needs of future users. They use specific processes to document the design and create flow charts to show how the software will function. After designing the software, engineers often oversee the development process from conception to completion.


    Once the software design is complete, a programmer, using the engineer’s flow charts, writes the computer code that turns program designs created by the engineers into instructions that a computer can follow. Programmers often work closely with engineers to ensure the code is written correctly. After the code is written, programmers test the software and fix errors in the code until the software is functioning properly.

Education and Skills

    Typically, a software engineer has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, as well as strong computer-programming skills. A computer programmer generally has a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related subject; however, some employers will hire programmers who have an associate’s degree. Certification in specific programming languages or vendor-specific programming products is a plus for programmers in the job market.


    Salaries vary for these occupations. Those skilled using the latest technologies to develop software often earn higher wages than programmers. Computer software engineers generally work in one discipline of software development: systems software or applications software. System software engineers earned an average salary of $100,420 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011. Applications software engineers earned an average salary of $92,080 per year. Programmers earned an average salary of $76,010 per year.

Career Outlook

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects growth for engineers and programmers between 2010 and 2020. Employers will use more technology to stay competitive, including new technologies, increasing the demand for these professionals. Internet security will also play a key role in the demand engineers and programmers.

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