As technology continues transforming businesses, governments, and citizens’ lives, more students gravitate toward computer science, programming, and application development careers. According to the most recent National Center for Education Statistics data, the number of computer and information sciences degrees conferred increased by 50.7% between 2012 and 2017. However, the numerous technological career paths can make it difficult to narrow down employment options after graduation. Given that most computer programming roles have some overlap, it’s critical to understand the similarities and differences between tech occupations to make an informed career choice.
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The web developer vs. software developer comparison is particularly difficult for many students to understand. While those interested in these career fields frequently pursue similar degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems, the knowledge, and expertise they develop during their studies varies. Both roles entail writing code, designing client-side applications, and employing various programming languages, but the projects they work on are typically quite different. To help you understand the differences between web development and software development, let’s look at the responsibilities, job outlook, and core skills required in each popular tech job.
Web Developers vs. Software Developers
The primary distinction between web developers and software developers is in the programs they use and the products they try to create. Web developers are primarily concerned with websites and web applications that run in web browsers. In contrast, software developers are more concerned with computer programs that run on desktop and mobile devices.
Both require extensive programming experience, keen attention to detail, and a knack for problem-solving, but their workflows, maintenance requirements, and levels of complexity differ. Web developers, for example, frequently collaborate closely with business and marketing experts to ensure their company’s website is efficient, user-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, software developers typically collaborate with tech-savvy coworkers on large-scale software, operating system, and mobile application projects that do not necessitate input from other business units. Finally, the career path students choose should align with their professional goals and personal interests, which is why it’s critical to thoroughly research each role before devoting time and resources to it.
Becoming A Web Developer
Web developers are responsible for how a website or web application looks and functions, from the user interface and page layout to back-end data collection systems. They collaborate with leaders of organizations to create unique and engaging websites for businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and anyone looking to communicate more effectively online. Web developers are also responsible for the performance of the websites and applications they build, ensuring that users have a consistent and positive browsing experience. Common web developer job responsibilities, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, include:
- Collaborating with clients and business leaders to develop new web design projects.
- Developing and testing web applications and features.
- Integrating content such as graphics, written copy, videos, and audio into websites.
- Developing technical requirements to support the long-term functionality of websites.
- Creating security elements to safeguard user data and business assets.
- Keeping track of website traffic and performance.
A deeper exploration reveals that the web development field is divided into three specialized areas based on a candidate’s specific skill sets and professional interests: back-end developers, front-end developers, and full-stack developers. Each of these web design jobs has its own set of expectations and responsibilities:
- Back-End Web Developers work on the technical aspects of websites and web applications that support basic and advanced functionality. They primarily work on administrative components such as databases, website architecture, and application logic and develop new APIs and user interfaces based on predefined specifications. This type of developer is generally interested in the fundamentals of how websites and web-based applications work.
- Front-End Web Developers, also known as client-side developers, are in charge of how websites and applications appear and function from users’ perspectives. They make all online content simple to access, browse, and interact with, particularly for users with limited computer skills. To avoid display and functionality errors, front-end web developers must ensure that their websites are compatible with a wide range of operating systems, browsers, and devices.
Whatever web design positions you’re interested in, a bachelor’s degree in information systems or computer science can help you build the knowledge, skills, and experience you’ll need to get started. However, understanding which specific skill sets are in high demand is also important. This will inform your graduate studies and make you more competitive once you enter the labor market.
Key Web Developer Skills
- Detail-Oriented: Every new feature on a website or web application is tested several times to help eliminate errors and streamline the user experience. As a result, web developers must be capable of identifying and resolving issues with the code, layout, functionality, and overall design of online resources.
- Creativity: Web developers strive to find innovative solutions to design problems. Professionals in this field must balance functionality and aesthetics while remaining true to a company’s core brand identity to meet their clients’ expectations. Colors, fonts, and graphics must be chosen in accordance with corporate guidelines and existing marketing collateral.
- Websites and Web-Based Applications are only as useful as the content that users actively engage with. Publishing blog posts, videos, and other online materials are also necessary for ranking competitively in search engines. Web developers should have experience with content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal, and HubSpot.
Job Outlook and Compensation
Demand for talented web developers is increasing as more businesses look to build in-house IT teams capable of managing website operations from start to finish. According to the BLS, web developer employment is expected to grow by 13% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. One reason for this increase in employment is that e-commerce is becoming more popular, opening up new opportunities for businesses to profit. According to Shopify, a Canada-based e-commerce platform, online transactions generated approximately $3.5 trillion in sales in 2019, with that figure expected to rise to $4.9 trillion by 2021. Businesses not directly selling goods or services online are looking to improve their online presence because a functional website can help drive new sales leads, foster brand loyalty, and attract an international audience.
Web developers are typically compensated based on their level of education, technical skills, and work experience. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for web developers was $69,430 in May 2018, with the top 10% earning more than $124,480. Starting salaries for entry-level positions are typically around $37,930, though some companies offer more competitive rates than others.
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Becoming a Software Developer
Software developers create, manage, and optimize computer programs on desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and other mobile devices. These computer science professionals write complex code that governs how desktop applications function using various programming languages such as Java, Python, C#, and SQL. Many software developers work for large technology companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, creating new products or improving existing ones. This includes fixing code bugs, updating user interfaces, developing new in-app tools, and a variety of other tasks. According to the BLS, software developers are responsible for some or all of the following tasks:
- Analyzing user requirements and developing software-based solutions.
- Software upgrades for existing computer programs and systems.
- Creating new applications for specific target audiences (consumers, enterprises, etc.).
- Making detailed models and diagrams outlining which software code is required.
- All aspects of the application and system design are documented for future reference.
- Code for new applications is tested to ensure consistency and efficiency.
- Assuring software compatibility with existing data management systems.
From the initial planning to the final rollout of new computer programs, software developers are heavily involved in every stage of the application design process. Professionals in this field, like web developers, are often divided into two categories based on their specializations: software applications developers and software systems developers.
- According to the National Center for O*NET Development, software application developers tend to focus on designing specific desktop and mobile applications, tools, and games for consumer audiences (NCOD). They frequently work on the same project for many years and are in charge of making sure their software is functional, engaging, and efficient.
- According to the NCOD, software systems, developers are primarily concerned with designing systems-level software for enterprise customers rather than the general public. They apply their extensive programming knowledge to develop computing applications for various industries, including manufacturing, aerospace, and others. They create software that manages corporate networking apps, database management systems, and other critical infrastructure.
- Every software development position has its responsibilities; some companies rely on developers to write code, while others delegate this routine work to dedicated programmers. Finally, the job openings that students apply for should reflect their interests and the hard skills they learned during their undergraduate studies. If you want a more hands-on position, prioritize openings that list coding as a core requirement.
Key Software Developer Skills
Many of the skills and characteristics required of web developers are also required of software developers, particularly those related to coding, programming languages, and user interface design. This is because professionals in this field must be capable of developing software solutions that solve specific problems. A software developer, for example, could create an application that collates large data sets in real-time if a company was having trouble managing and organizing its data. The projects in which developers would be involved are largely determined by the company for which they work, the clients to whom they are assigned, and the business challenges they are attempting to overcome. However, software developers frequently possess specific characteristics that make them well-suited to the demands of their job, such as:
- Analytical Abilities: Because user behaviors and preferences constantly change, it can be difficult to create desktop and mobile applications that stand the test of time. Software developers must be able to analyze user trends and make recommendations to support their users’ changing design, content, and management needs.
- Critical Thinking: Because each piece of software should solve a specific problem or need, developers must consider the advantages and disadvantages of alternative solutions. Finding the best solution to a given problem is at the heart of the software development profession, requiring a keen eye for detail and a willingness to make unconventional suggestions.
- While software developers do not work with as many stakeholders as web developers, they still rely on their communication and interpersonal skills when working on large projects. Pursuing this career will require you to collaborate closely with other software developers, computer science experts, and IT professionals. They may have very different perspectives on the applications you’re developing.
Job Outlook and Compensation
Software developer job growth projections are even more optimistic than those for web development roles. The BLS predicts that the employment of general software developers will grow by 21% between 2018 and 2028. However, this occupational growth is driven primarily by the high demand for software application developers; the BLS predicts that employment for this specialized profession will grow by 26%, compared to only 10% for systems developers. As a result, it’s critical to carefully consider your post-graduation career path and enroll in courses that will help you achieve your long-term goals. Education is extremely important in software development, and most employers will be looking for candidates with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information technology, computer science, or software engineering.
Aside from promising job growth, software developers earn more (on average) than professionals in other IT-related fields. In May 2018, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for general software developers was $103,620. The lowest 10% earned less than $61,660 annually, while the highest 10% earned more than $161,290. Software publishers, manufacturing companies, and financial institutions have the highest median pay.
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