Main image of article Web Developer vs. Software Engineer: What's the Difference?

At first glance, the differences between a web developer and a software engineer seem obvious. But the more you think about it, the more the respective lines begin to blur. Many software engineers spend their time working on web-based software, for example—does that also make them web developers?

It’s an interesting question. Let’s dig into “web developer vs. software engineer,” defining how each are different—and how they’re more alike than some might realize.

What is a web developer?

In simplest terms, web developers build and maintain websites, web pages, and web applications. With the evolution of the web, however, the parameters of the job have radically expanded over the past decade, meaning that web developers may have to learn all kinds of new skills (such as blockchain).

Web development remains a lucrative profession. According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the median salary for web developers currently stands at $91,991. As you might expect, the profession is projected to grow 8.4 percent over the next 10 years, and current time needed to fill an open position stands at 40 days (which is relatively high for tech professions).

As with many other technology professional roles, web developers must boast a mix of “hard skills” (HTML/CSS, frameworks, etc.) and “soft skills” (empathy and communication), as they need to frequently secure buy-in from others throughout their organization. Ideal web developer resumes show how web developers have used all of their skills to move organizations’ web strategies forward.

What do you need to become a web developer?

While a formal education in web development certainly can’t hurt, many web developers are self-taught. The key is to build out a resume, portfolio, and online profiles that show off your web development projects in the best possible light; if you have that, you have a better chance of connecting with a hiring manager and/or recruiter (or a client, if you’re going the freelancing route). Racking up formal certifications can likewise help prove you have the necessary skills, although they’re not essential if you want to land a web developer position.

What is a software engineer?

Software engineers are often tasked with determining how to design and implement entire systems (whether that’s an app, a service, or something else involving software). Software engineers must not only understand the technical aspects of software—the best ones also have significant project management skills. (This stands in contrast to software developers, who are usually more focused on the technical implementation of software products.)

Lightcast places the median salary for a software engineer at $98,783 per year; Glassdoor, which likewise crowdsources salary data, puts the average software engineer salary at $90,321. According to, which crowdsources compensation data from technologists nationwide, adding cutting-edge specializations such as machine learning can boost software engineering salaries even higher—beyond $200,000 in many cases. Other in-demand skills for software engineers include  GitHubAmazon Web Services (AWS), the principles of test-driven development (TDD), JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), TypeScript, jQuery, and PostgreSQL.

What do you need to become a software engineer?

There are multiple tracks to becoming a software engineer. Many start out as software developers (with a much more tactical focus on coding software) before learning the project management skills that can allow them to move into a full-on software engineering role. As you can see from this software engineer resume template, the trick is to show that you have the necessary skills—and that you’ve used those skills to help previous employers successfully accomplish their most critical projects.

What’s the difference between a web developer and software engineer?

Web developers exclusively focus on web-based products, while software engineers necessarily work on all kinds of software projects, from the web to augmented reality (AR). While there is some potential overlap—many software projects are also web-focused—software engineering is generally much broader and more strategic than web development.

It’s also a matter of skills. Web developers can keep their skill set focused on what they need to build apps and services for the web, including HTML/CSS, JavaScript, and so on. Depending on their specialization, software engineers may need to master a much broader set of programming languages, frameworks, and tools.

Should I become a web developer or a software engineer?

That’s up to you! If you love everything about web development and want to pursue it as a career—and you’re less interested in a job centered on envisioning and building out systems—then a web developer career might be more to your liking. But if you’re intrigued by the idea of building out and maintaining significant pieces of software that potentially touch every part of a business, software engineering might be for you.


Related Web Developer Jobs Resources:

How to Become a Web Developer

Web Developer Interview Questions

Web Developer Resume Template

Web Developer Salary

Web Developer Skills

Web Development Certification

Web Development Training


Related Software Engineer Jobs Related:

How to Become a Software Engineer

Software Engineer Career Path

Software Engineer Degree

Software Engineer Interview Questions

Software Engineer Resume Template

Software Engineer Salary

Software Engineer Skills