Web Developer or Designer? Software Developer or Engineer? What do these terms means and which path is right for you?

Written by Emilie Brunet

Web Developer or Designer? Software Engineer or Developer? What the heck do all of these terms mean?

There are endless ways to break into programming nowadays, but when trying to pick a career path it can be hard to discern what the differences between all these roles even are.

Here are just a few of the main titles you can see when scrolling through job listings:

So what do these all mean?

Web Designer

The Web Designer’s primary focus is… you guessed it, the design of a website! They are in charge of the layout, usability and overall look and feel of the website.

Web Designers usually work on websites that don’t require complex interaction or functionality. Their role is more visual based. Web designers require a creative eye as they are more focused on the aesthetics of a functioning website.

The role of a web designer is creative and while some designers work with more complex systems, most of them work with a CMS (content management systems) such as WordPress, WebFlow, etc and often build websites with very little coding.

While most Web Designers know basic front-end code such as HTML and CSS, they aren’t required to know complex systems or languages.

Education: A lot of Web Designers are self-taught however there are plenty of courses in the form of bootcamps and otherwise that exist out there on UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) that allow designers to expand their skills. There are also Web Designers who focus and excel specifically at one CMS (“Wordpress Designers”).

Web Developer / Full-Stack Developer

While Web Designers create the designs of the website, the Developer uses code to build, maintain and debug websites.

Their primarily role is ensuring the highest level of functioning for the website or application.

Front End vs Back End

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant you’ll know the terms “front of the house” and “back of the house.”

The “front of house” refers to everyone in the restaurant who works directly with the customers (servers, hosts and bartenders). While the “back of house” refers to the entire kitchen staff (line cooks, dishwashers, fryers, etc).

Similarly, in web development, we’ve got “Front End” which encompasses all aspects of the website with which the user (or customer) interacts.

While “Back End” refers to all aspects that are behind-the-scenes that improve the user experience — like collecting, storing and managing data as well as building the code on which the website lives.

Note: A front-end developer has a very similar role to a web designer, however the designer is more focused on the visual elements whereas the developer works on the functional elements.

Full-Stack Development

Full-Stack refers simply as both the back-end and front-end. Someone who is trained in full-stack development is capable of building both.

The advantage of being trained in Full-Stack Development means that you can see a website more holistically and understand the functionality and usability of a website from both sides.

Education: While some web developers are self-taught and others have taken a Computer Engineering degrees, a lot of Web Developers take bootcamp courses (like ours!) to break into the industry. With basic languages under their belt, developers can excel in the industry through practice and experience.

Software Developer vs. Engineer

As the name implies, software developers are primarily in charge of developing software as opposed to websites. This software could include apps (although web developers work on those as well) but primarily involve more complex systems and programs.

Their roles usually require a deeper understanding of the business they are working with so that the software that is developed is in alignment with the needs of the business.

Depending on who you talk to, Software Engineers and Software Developers are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably.

However, traditionally, Software Engineers have more experience and work on more complex systems than Software Developers.

In the workforce, Engineers are usually working with both the technical team and other teams simultaneously to create softwares that encompass a holistic approach to  work on software that require complex knowledge.

Education: A lot of software developers and engineers have a degree or in Computer Engineering or Computer Science because their understanding needs to be more complex. However it’s not uncommon for someone to start off as a Web Developer and move into the realm of software engineering with experience, skill development and hard work.

TL;DR — Consider this analogy:

The Web Designer is the architect for the building

The Web Developer builds the building.

The Software Developer designs and builds the city block.

The Software Engineer is the architect and builder for the whole city.

Do you have a better analogy? Let us know!

About the author

Hey, I'm Emilie 👋🏻

I'm the People & Culture Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.

Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!

My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.