Both computer programmers and software engineers are integral to the development of new video games, phone apps and computer programs. However, while software engineers may sometimes program, the job requirements are distinct from each other. Software engineers and developers design new applications, and programmers write the code that allows these programs to properly function.
Software engineers, also called software developers, do the creative design work necessary for the development of new games and systems. They decide what businesses and individuals need or want, and design games and programs with those needs in mind. Software engineers decide what games and applications should do and how they should look. Some software engineers, called systems software engineers, design the operating systems that control how computers, smartphones, video game consoles and other devices function.
Computer programmers take the basic designs of software engineers and turn them into reality by writing computer code that makes applications and operating systems function. Programmers work with a variety of computer languages, such as Java, C++, Lua and Python. Programmers often specialize in one type of computer programming. For example, tools programmers write algorithms that make the work of other programs much easier. Artificial intelligence programmers write code that determines how non-playable characters in video games will behave.
Differences in Pay
While both computer programmers and software engineers tend to be highly paid, software engineers tend to pull down higher salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that computer programmers made an average of $37.63 an hour and $78,260 a year in 2012. Applications software engineers reported an average wage of $44.85 and salary of $93,280, while systems software engineers averaged $49.30 an hour and $102,550 a year.
Both computer programmers and software engineers are more employable when they have knowledge of the most up-to-date computer languages and programming tools. However, software engineers are currently in higher demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of all jobs in the United States is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2010 and 2020. Jobs for programmers are expected to grow at a slightly slower rate of 12 percent. By comparison, jobs for applications software engineers are projected to grow by 28 percent, while jobs for systems software engineers will grow by an estimated 32 percent.