A rose by any other name

Developer, Coder, or Engineer: What’s your preferred job title?

Jane Elizabeth
© Shutterstock / Zoran Milic

What’s in a name? Nomenclature wars sound a little medieval for tech and yet… is there really a difference between coder, developer, software engineer, or programmer? It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another new job we’re all supposed to be doing. Code Architect? Software Gardener? Programming Ninja? I wasn’t trained for this!

Job titles are important. They tell people what you do and make your resume look real spiffy. But in the iconoclastic world of tech, things have gotten a little out of hand. From the original “computer” girls to programmers and software engineers, the field has a surplus of titles for what is essentially the same job. But is there an actual difference between the titles?

Well, no. It’s distinction without much difference, really.

The differences between software engineer and programmer are more of a circle than a Venn diagram. Same with coder, architect, developer, and all the other crazy names out there.

The influx of names can be tied directly to start-up culture: in their effort to show how cool and different this new disrupter is, they give their staff fun names and go with it. This is why we can find people with Node Badass or Digital Prophet on their LinkedIn page.

SEE MORE: Coder, developer, programmer, software engineer: What’s the difference?


However, there are some perceived differences between some of these titles. (No one has explained what an Innovation Sherpa does. Haul new ideas up Mt. Everest?) Let’s go over some of them.

Scott Hanselman has come up with some pretty useful distinctions between the amorphous abilities that all computer people have to do. Here are the differences, according to Hanselman:

  • Coders – Can pretty much figure out it. It’ll work, but it won’t be pretty.
  • Hackers – usually low level folks, skillful, with detailed understanding of some area deeply, often scarily deeply.
  • Programmer – Write code and understand algorithms. Often work alone and well.
  • Developer – Are the best generalists, can use lots of different systems and languages and get them to talk to each other. Are true and broad professionals, work with people, and communicate well.
  • Computer Scientist – Need to be able to prove how computers work, at a theoretical level. Are usually math people also.

He’s even got a nifty Venn Diagram.


Original can be found here.


So, which one are you? Tag yourself; I’m a Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence.

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is an assistant editor for

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