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Web developer vs software developer: it’s not the name of the latest, hottest crossover movie coming summer 2024. While these jobs are similar, there are quite a few differences you should be aware of. But which career should you pursue? How can you choose? And is coding even for you?

Spoiler: coding is definitely for you. The work is rewarding and stable. In fact, when you learn tech skills, you become eminently employable. Hear that? Eminently!

So let’s get into it. Here’s everything you need to know about web development and software development so you can figure out which new career is right for you.

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

Here’s the tl;dr: the focus is different. Web developers concentrate on the web. Software developers are less specific. 

As a web developer, you tend to use languages such as HTML/CSS and JavaScript. And as a software engineer, your scope is much broader. While you might also use these programming languages, you may also end up working on systems that require more in-depth knowledge of other tools. 

Developing for the web? That’s the domain of the web developer. Developing software in a more general sense? That’s the domain of the software developer.

Responsibilities

Software developer responsibilities

There’s no one way to be a software developer, so your responsibilities can also be quite diverse. Front end? Back end? Full stack? Your focus will shape your work. But here are some overarching responsibilities you’ll encounter in software engineering:

  • Nail down requirements
    So you’re going to make some software. What’s it supposed to do? Software developers figure out what’s needed by talking to stakeholders. This is the stage at which coders hammer out just what the code’s going to make the computer do.
  • Design the approach
    Now that we know what we’re going to be making, it’s time to start getting more technical. In comes system design. Here, software developers outline the architecture and structure for the software.
  • Write code
    You knew this was coming. After all the prep, coders code. They write the digital instructions that build whatever they set out to make. New user interface? New e-commerce platform? This is where they’re born.
  • Collaborate
    After the code is written, software devs send it to quality assurance experts to make sure it’s ready for release. And this is just one way devs link up with tech experts in other fields, so collaboration is key. Who knows; you might even dip your toes into data science and help write machine learning solutions.
  • Maintain software
    Software development isn’t a one-time thing. As tech advances and the software is used in the real world, it will need tending to. Patches, updates, and optimization will make sure the tech stays robust.

Web developer responsibilities

As this field is more specific, we can get a little more precise about what responsibilities you can expect from a career in web development. Let’s dive in.

  • Develop the front-end
    In a sentence, the front-end is what a user sees when they navigate to a site — the buttons, the aesthetics, the layout. Web developers use HTML/CSS and JavaScript to make their web design shine.
  • Optimize
    Have you ever clicked away from a site because it took too long to load? That’s what optimization fights. Web applications need to be speedy, so web developers reduce load time and cut down on server requests.
  • Ensure compatibility
    People access the web in myriad ways — from different browsers and even from different mobile devices. Your site has to look good and function on all of them, so you’ll spend time ensuring your site excels in numerous settings.
  • Work with content management systems
    Often, instead of making a site from scratch, companies will use systems like WordPress. That means that web developers can often find themselves honing and adding to what these platforms can do.
  • Maintain and upgrade
    This is just as important in web development as it is for software development. Sites have to be debugged, and security patches have to be applied. Software and sites alike need to be proactively maintained and upgraded to stay secure and useful.

Key skills

Key software developer skills

Software development is a huge field, which means that you might see tons of different computer science skills when you look at job descriptions online. But we’ll cut through the noise for you. Here are some key skills we’ve found make for successful software developers. (And by the way, a bachelor of science degree doesn’t necessarily give you all of them):

  • Logical thinking
    Huge programs are built out of several smaller components. To be successful in software development, you’re going to need to know how to break a big program into separate little tasks.
  • Programming know-how
    Obviously, if you don’t know how your chosen language works, it doesn’t matter how creative or logical you are. Tech runs on code, so you need to know how to write it. 
  • Version control
    Most likely, after you finish your tech studies (maybe even at one of the better bootcamps), you’ll land in a team of fellow techies. And in this team, you’re going to have to be familiar with how to track the changes in the code. This is where skills in version control systems like Git come in. They make collaboration collaborative.
  • Communication
    If you can get your ideas across to your colleagues, things work smoothly. And if you start branching out into, say, data analytics or project management, you can combine your tech and soft skills and supercharge them. Maybe you could even become a team lead. Maybe a CTO. (Maybe even a CEO?)

Key web developer skills

Like with the web developer responsibilities above, we can get more specific thanks to the narrower focus of web development. Here are the top skills that will help you thrive as a web developer:

  • Coding in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
    Programming in web development tends to focus on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. That’s because by using just these three languages, you can tackle nearly any web dev coding task that comes your way.
  • Designing the user experience and user interface
    User experience and user interface (UX/UI) design is a collaborative effort between web devs and designers. In short, these two approaches make sure the sites you build are attractive, functional, and easy to use.
  • Applying web development tools
    If you can use tools like npm or webpack, you can more efficiently carry out the responsibilities described above. They’ll help you optimize your web projects, check compatibility, and write code.
  • Staying up-to-date on security recommendations
    If you’re going to be working on a site that will handle personal data, you’re going to have to protect it against bad actors. That means that skills in the latest security techniques will be vital.
  • Communication
    Web development isn’t all about tech. Soft skills are equally as important. Clarifying goals, collaborating with designers, presenting your work — it all relies on communication. But skills here can also bring you inspiration. Take Hulya KarakayaMastering a New Syntax and a New Vocation: Hulya Karakaya’s TripleTen Story, for example. This TripleTen grad is now working on the front end and finding new avenues for discovery in her conversations with mentors and colleagues.

Salaries by state for software developers

Here are the five states with the highest salaries for software developers according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • California – $182,570
    Unsurprisingly, this state also tops the list for software developer employment.
  • Washington – $152,010
    This state also has the highest concentration of software developers — 26.78 devs per thousand jobs.
  • Rhode Island – $147,030
    Somewhat of an unexpected entry, but the wages might be explained by the high concentration of universities and fintech companies in this small state.
  • New York – $141,130
    The salary for software developers in the New York City metropolitan area is the highest in the US and even higher than that for the state — $142,830.
  • Alaska – $137,940
    Just as the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the New York City metropolitan area as the one with the highest salary, Alaska has the highest salary among nonmetropolitan areas.

Salaries by state for web developers

Once again, we turn to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to bring you the five states with the highest salaries for web developers.

  • Washington – $135,490
    The nonmetropolitan area with the highest web developer salaries in the US is Eastern Washington.
  • Delaware – $109,720
    Groups other than white men make up 52% of the tech workforce in Delaware, meaning it’s comparatively more diverse, too.
  • District of Columbia – $109,350
    DC also places fifth on the list of employment per thousand jobs, meaning there’s a higher concentration of web developers here.
  • California – $104,370
    Perhaps unsurprising once again, but California has the highest employment level for web developers.
  • Maryland – $104,130
    Thanks in part to the innovation center of the University of Maryland, this state has consistently ranked as a great place for tech workers.

Web developer vs software developer: find your place

So after reading all this, where do you see yourself? Are you the person who is going to help build the next popular website? Or maybe the person who is going to work on the next big app? Maybe you still don’t know — not to worry.

Take this quick quiz to see what path fits you best and kickstart your career today.

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