What are Programmers vs. Developers


Living in the modern world of technology, you've likely heard the terms Programmer and Developer in passing. Perhaps, you've more specifically heard them referred to as computer programmers and software developers. If you were to ask somebody without a background in the computer science field what they mean, they would probably tell you that they are about someone that does computer programming. This is a widespread misconception; while this isn't entirely wrong, it does imply that the terms are interchangeable.

But are they? What's the difference between them?

You wouldn't want a programmer in a developer's position, just like you wouldn't want a new hire in a manager's position. Knowing the difference will allow you to approach the field of computer science without confusion more confidently. This way, you can make sure you hire the right person to fill the role for the job you need doing.

If you are instead trying to decide upon a career path, knowing the difference between them can be valuable in determining which, if either, is the path you wish to pursue based on your values and preferences.

So with all that, let's get right into it. First things first, we need to know what a programmer is and what a developer is to begin the process of comparing the two and seeing the differences.

What is a programmer?

A programmer's primary job is writing the code for a project. Generally, programmers do not manage the project or decide its direction but instead follow instructions from their senior programmers or project managers. They often have a vast knowledge of many programming languages, allowing them to meet their client's requirements more efficiently and closely.

Programmers have less experience than developers in most cases, so rather than having a greater scope of tasks, they are assigned to just coding and often have little say in the direction of the project they are working on.

As they are usually lowered down in the business hierarchy, most of the code they create is not final and will be changed and modified by the developers. Due to this, the programmer's work will likely have lots of placeholders for functions and variables not yet created, similar to the pseudo-code for a profile sign-in below.

#function to verify username exists here
if username == true:
#function to verify password is valid here
if password == true:
#send to profile homepage
else: #display invalid password error message
else: #display invalid username message

While this code gets a general idea, it is not yet fully functional. It requires various function calls that are either not yet created or the programmer does not have access to, granted by their positions limited authority compared to a developer. This can occur for various reasons, but the primary one is the security of not giving a part-timer the ability to access private user information such as their passwords.

Since programmers are more geared towards following instructions and a specific plan, they tend to work alone most of the time, making it a good position for more independent people or those who don't like working in groups.

What is a developer?

developer is in charge of creating and designing applications (more often called apps) and software. Similar to programmers, their primary duty is to write code. The critical difference is that developers will also determine requirements for the program, design the overarching structure of the software, etc.

The developer has to essentially plan and structure the entire program while also coding along the way, while the programmer's sole duty is to code according to instructions. An easy way to remember this is that developers are in charge of the development process.

You can think of developers as more advanced programmers. Because they have more experience, and therefore more technical skills, they can take more creative liberties in structuring the programs and give their opinions on the project's direction.

Due to their more significant experience in the field and having more creative authority than programmers, developers are generally more likely to create the complex functions needed for the program and clean up the code they receive from programmers. If a developer received the pseudo-code snippet for a profile sign-in above, it might look like this after they are done with it:

validate_username(str.input(‘Username’)
if username == true:
validate_password(str.input(‘Password’),username)
if password == true:
redirect.homepage
else: error.pass
else: error.user

Compared to earlier, there are no placeholders, and the sign-in pseudo-code uses various function calls the programmer did not have access to or were not created yet. Had the programmer's code been messy, the developer could have taken the liberty to rewrite it or clean it up at their discretion thoroughly.

As mentioned earlier, developers are in charge of designing the overarching structure of the software or program. Things such as how a website is wireframed (How it is laid out), navigated, or anything else to do with the user experience directly are done by developers. If, for example, a team of programmers and developers were making a website, the programmers would be primarily responsible for making the code. The developers would be more accountable for creating and designing the website itself.

Because developers are granted more freedom in their choices, they usually work more cooperatively as a team to make decisions and propose ideas. In other words, it is a very team-oriented position, so developers need to be team players and willing to make compromises while working closely together.

Understanding the Difference

In particular, let's make this idea a bit more digestible by explaining it differently. To put this in a different perspective, let's use an analogy:

For the sake of explanation, let's pretend an IT business is instead a fast food restaurant. The programmers will be our "chefs" working in the kitchen to make the food according to the customers' specific orders. They only do something different if their manager tells them to.

The developers take the customer's orders and deliver them to the "chefs." These can be seen as the "managers" of this restaurant. They do not necessarily own the restaurant but are in charge of keeping everything in order.

The "managers" create the schedules for the programmers and decide how the food should look once it is prepared. If they aren't happy with the work the "chef" did, they can either have them remake it or do it from scratch based on the situation.

Earlier on, I mentioned that developers are chiefly in charge of the user experience. In this example, our "managers" would be the ones ensuring that every customer (or visitor to their website or program) has a good experience. They would design the menu easy to read and navigate and give customers benefits if their order is late, such as a free dessert.

If the restaurant were to get busy, the "managers" would come help in the kitchen to make the orders to ensure the "chefs" don't fall behind. So while they can and do cook in the kitchen, this is not their only duty or the primary focus of their jobs.

In this way, they are assuming just because the manager cooks in the kitchen sometimes makes them the same as the chef seems ridiculous. The same idea goes for comparing developers and programmers. While their jobs overlap, it does not mean they have the exact scope of duties or responsibilities, and thus are not the same thing.

Languages Used

Another notable difference between the roles of programmers and developers is in the various languages they specialize in. Generally, as programmers' primary duty is to write the code and functions for the application or software, they will need to know different languages than the developer, whose primary duty is to design and plan the website or user interface.

For example, the coding languages they know and use for a project will overlap, but there is variation in their primary area of expertise. This variation in coding skills is an essential deciding factor in what position they end up in, as different roles in a project may require other languages to be used to meet specific requirements.

HTML may sound familiar to you if you've ever skimmed the link to a webpage before, and this is because HTML is a language used very frequently to create and develop websites. Programmers usually work with languages like Java, C#, SQL, and JavaScript, while web designers and developers typically work with jQuery, HTML5, JavaScript and focus more on web development software. This makes it no surprise that a developer would have this language in their toolbelt while a programmer typically wouldn't.

In this way, it is also essential to recognize which languages you are seeking to learn if you are trying to decide on your career path. If you are looking for employees, it is essential to know so you can determine which languages you want to use in a project, allowing you to make the right calls confidently for your applications and software.

Summary

To summarize, while similar, programmers and web developers serve different purposes in their respective positions, ensuring you are aware of these differences will allow you to make the right choice when hiring to fill a position or deciding upon a future career to pursue.

If you prefer to have more creative liberties and freedom in your work and are very cooperative, becoming a developer may be more beneficial. But if you are instead somebody who prefers to follow a more specific work plan and prefers working alone, becoming a programmer may be better for you.

While less experienced than developers and limited to just coding, programmers are still in a critical position that does a lot of the heavy lifting on the coding end of the project. While developers can code and do so frequently, they will also help guide the project in a new direction and keep things orderly, meaning the range of tasks is greater than that of a programmer.

Hopefully, despite their various similarities, the distinction between programmers and developers has become more evident with all this. By understanding the key differences, deciding which you want to become or recruit should have been made a bit easier.


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