How Are Software Engineers Different From Software Architects?

TL;DR: The two professions are similar in that they both work to build software, but the distinction lies in their approach and varying skill sets.

By Julian Wallis
9 min read
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Find out the distinctions between a software engineer and a software architect, as these two positions play critical roles in any successful software project. So which one should you hire?

Introduction 🧐

Much has been discussed recently about the demand for software engineers and how it is becoming increasingly difficult to find excellent developers. And while that may be true, software architects have an even more pressing need. Whether you’re a business owner wanting to hire a software engineer or looking to become one, it’s essential to understand the difference between these two roles. 

From a bird’s eye view, software engineers write code, whereas software architects design and oversee the architecture of software systems.

If you’re looking for someone who can write code on-demand, you need a software engineer. However, if you want someone who can think critically about the structure and organisation of your system’s code, then you need a software architect.

software engineers vs software architects

A helpful analogy that can be used to find distinctions between Architecting and Engineering comes from the world of construction and civil engineering.

Here, the architect would work on the aesthetic aspects and design of the building, while the engineer’s efforts will be invested in the technical and structural side. This same difference holds in the world of software development as well.

Yet is this the only difference between these two professionals? Well, of course not! From roles and responsibilities to experience and expertise, more than a few categories divide these two domains, and we’ll break down all that and more in this article. 

What Does A Software Architect Do? 👨‍💻

A software architect is responsible for creating designs and drawing plans for digitising processes with suitable systems, automation, data and integrations. A software architect is the one in the development team creating the design and implementation plan of software systems. 

They work closely with developers to create high-level designs that can be easily translated into code. Software architects often collaborate with stakeholders, such as business analysts and project managers, to ensure that the software system meets the overarching organisational needs. 

Regarding technical knowledge, software architects must have a strong understanding of software development principles and methodologies. They should also be able to communicate their ideas to other development team members effectively. 

Those who are successful as software architects tend to be typically problem-solvers who can think outside the box, work well under pressure, and manage multiple commitments efficiently. 

Academically, software architects typically hold a Master’s or PhD degree in computer science or a related field. With that said, there could be some without formal high-level education but have built an extensive technical understanding of programming through years of hands-on experience. 

In short, software architects are responsible for designing and developing the software systems we rely on daily. They tend to be experienced creative thinking programming professionals with years of relevant experience.

As our world increasingly relies on software, the demand for skilled software architects will only grow as organisations continually look for these professionals to lead their software development projects successfully.

Then, What Is A Software Engineer? 👩‍💻

On the other end of this comparison, we have software engineers, who are typically responsible for developing and maintaining software applications. They work closely with internal and external stakeholders to understand the project needs and requirements and create software that meets these demands. 

Software engineers also test and debug applications and write code to ensure the final product is error-free and provides a seamless user experience. Some organisations can also involve software engineers in the product development process’s user experience and design side. 

To succeed as a software engineer, one must have strong technical skills and solve problems effectively. They must also communicate clearly and work well in teams.

As technology constantly evolves, software engineers must keep up to date with new trends and developments to create innovative applications and stay ahead of the curve. 

In terms of formal education, a software engineer typically has a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Still, there are also plenty of self-taught software engineers who have developed their skills on the job over time.

Those who enter this field can expect plenty of opportunities to use their skills and abilities, as the growth of the IT and technology sector doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. 

Hence, with proper training, experience, and the right attitude, a software engineer can find a rewarding career in this fast-growing field. And over-time, they may advance to management positions or even become self-employed consultants.

How Are They Different, Exactly? 🤔

As we’ve already established, the critical difference is that software architects focus more on designing the systems and processes. In contrast, software engineers are more interested in technical implementation.

Despite being slightly different in their roles and responsibilities, both professionals must work closely to ensure software projects are completed successfully on time and within budget.

Now that we have a clear picture of what these two roles do and how they occupy different positions in a software development process, let’s differentiate the two functions in greater detail, using the few key categories shown below.

Roles and Responsibilities 💼

Software architects create a plan with provisions for different business and project-specific technical requirements. Software engineers, on the other hand, interpret the said plan or the design and start implementing the programming language of choice most suitable to the project.

As software development has become increasingly complex, the roles of software engineers and software architects have begun to diverge. 

Experience Levels 📈

Since software engineers are primarily responsible for carrying out the plan set by architects, they tend to have less experience and expertise. As a result, software architects require a broader skill set than software engineers. 

Skills & Technical Knowledge 🧰

A comprehensive collection of hard and soft skills is required to be an excellent software architect, while the same may not be valid for software engineers.

Software engineers typically have a more technical background than software architects. They tend to be better at problem-solving and debugging and have a more robust understanding of the inner workings of programming languages and frameworks.

In contrast, software architects tend to have a more creative mindset, technical knowledge, and understanding. They are better at thinking outside the box and developing innovative solutions to problems. 

Communication Style & Skills 🗣️

In addition to being expert programmers, software architects must also be able to effectively communicate their vision to a team of developers and create detailed plans that can be efficiently executed. This level of communication ability may not always be required for software engineers.

Regarding communication style, software engineers tend to be more direct, focusing on facts and figures. In contrast, software architects tend to be more indirect, using metaphors and analogies to explain their ideas. 

While both software engineers and software architects are important positions within a software development team, it is clear that these two roles are very different.

Who Should You Hire? 📋

In a software development project, software engineers and software architects are two key roles essential to your project’s success. Both positions are crucial, but each brings some similar and many different skills to the table. So, which one should you hire? Or, perhaps you need both?

The answer depends on the specific needs of your project, organisation, and workforce. It also depends on where the identified gaps and vacancies are in your team. If you need someone to focus on the actual coding and implementation of the software, then you should hire a software engineer. 

There are many different types of software engineers. Some specialise in coding, while others focus on testing or designing. You’ll also find generalist software engineers capable of doing everything at an acceptable level. But at the end of the day, choosing over generalists or specialist software engineers will depend on the maturity and experience of your organisation and development team.

On the other hand, if you need someone to focus on the big picture and take the reins of a software project, you should hire a software architect.

These individuals can be the masterminds behind your software project’s overall design and structure. They think long-term and will be able to create software development plans that envision how the software will evolve. 

Which One Is the Ideal Career Choice? 👨‍💼👩‍💼

When deciding between becoming a software engineer or software architect, the obvious factor is your experience level in the field. If you are just starting, you may want to become a software engineer to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. 

Once you have worked as a software engineer for a few years and developed the necessary technical and non-technical skills, you can move to the software architect’s position. 

Another factor to consider is the size of the company you want to work for. If you want to work for a large company, you will likely get the opportunity to become a software architect. However, suppose you are interested in working for a smaller company. In that case, you may be able to do so as a software engineer, as smaller companies don’t typically deal with high-scope projects that warrant such a distinction in their development team structure. 

Lastly, let’s take compensation as an influencing factor. In general, software architects earn higher salaries than software engineers, but this is not always the case in every company, and you should research salaries in your area before making a decision. 

Ultimately, deciding whether to become a software engineer or architect depends on your individual goals and preferences.

Conclusion 🌟

With software development rapidly changing, ensuring you have the right people to design and oversee your systems is more critical than ever. 

If you’re looking for someone with the skillset to write code on-demand, then a software engineer may be the right fit. But, if you want someone who can think critically about system design, architecture and organisation, you need a software architect.

We hope this article has helped clarify some of the differences between these two roles and given you a better understanding of what each entails.

If you’d like to learn more or discuss your specific needs, don’t hesitate to book a discovery chat with us today. We would be more than happy to talk with you!

Published on July 11, 2022

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