Is it a coder or a software developer that you need to add to your team? How can you tell? What is the difference between a developer and a coder (if there is one at all)?
What distinguishing characteristics can you use for telling the difference between a coder and a software developer? Distinguishing “marks” that would also point out to you the role that you need to hire for...
Let me give you some clues here:
1. But First, Let's Define “Coder”: Who Is a Coder? What Are Coders?
A coder is someone who... writes code, right? Someone who masters the “art of writing code”, we might say, and thus counterbalance the pejorative meaning that this term has unjustly acquired.
In your development team's hierarchy of roles, the coder would usually:
- receive all the needed technical documentation and specifications
- code the needed functions according to those requirements
He would turn concepts/detailed design into functional reality, we might say.
Note: it's not a coder's job to check whether those requirements are correct, nor to carry out the tasks that designers or/and analysts should focus on. His unique role is to write clean, (hopefully) beautiful code in line with the given documentation.
2. And What Does a Software Developer Do?
All developers are coders, but not we can't call all coders “software developers”.
Let me detail a bit, by outlining the main operations in a software development process that a developer's responsible for:
- he documents the client's requirements and identifies his/her needs regarding the software product to be developed: what should the software do, more precisely?
- he figures out what features and functionalities need to be implemented, how they work and interact with one another
- he creates a design that would address those needs
- he then implements it
- he keeps the code bug-free and updated
- he (often) delivers the software, as well
In short: writing code is but one step of the whole process of developing a software product.
And probably the most succinct and accurate phase to define the very essence of a developer's work would be:
He solves problems.
- adding, removing features so that the product should meet the client's requirements (unexpected changes of scope) entirely
- adjusting the design and functionalities to the client's needs and preferences
- fixing bugs
… a software developer would get involved in all the phases of the software development cycle.
Tip: another crucial difference between a developer and a coder is that for the former teamwork is essential. If a coder can “afford” the luxury of isolating himself in an “abstract world” made of lines of code, a software developer should have stellar collaborative skills!
He'd be architecting systems putting together both his and other developers' software components.
So, you get the point: teamwork in software development is as important as collaboration in a beehive.
3. Socio-Technical Skills: Key Difference Between a Developer and a Coder
And it's this type of skills that draw the “demarcation line” between lines-of-code writers and software product creators.
Now, let me give you some examples of sociotechnical skills that any developer should have:
- submitting the right questions, collecting/selecting answers
- looking up various sources (e.g. StackOverflow) for the needed information
- submitting code changes
- reviewing specific changes applied to code
- debating (with arguments) with other developers over those changes
- contributing to the repository
Remember: teamwork is essential in software development, as previously stated! The whole process is more of a collaborative group effort, a social activity, than an act of writing code.
Having these skills, knowing how to communicate with your fellow developers — how to ask for and manage information — is more important when working on a software project than... being proficient in a certain coding language.
These skills are, without question, the biggest difference between coding and development.
4. Software Development Requires Some Non-Coding Skills, Too
In other words, a software developer knows how to code, but his skill set goes beyond that. He would need to engage in various non-coding activities, as well.
Another major difference between a developer and a coder...
And, implicitly, to broaden his knowledge in using certain technologies and tools, in addition to the programming language that the software product's code is written in.
Let me give you a few examples of such non-coding skills:
- having a hands-on experience with CSS, for web developers
- knowing SQL, in case of database developers
- mathematical and statistical skills are crucial for big data and AI developers
- knowing how to handle graphics is a must-have for game, web and mobile developers
And so on... The toolbox of a software developer could get as heavy as his/her determination to aim for the most-wanted title, that of a “full-stack developer”.