There are two types of people in this world: those who care about job titles and those who don’t. All joking aside, what you refer to your potential and current employees as can make a difference. For example, if you’re writing a job posting for an open role on your team, the job title is a huge factor in who applies. The terms “developer”, “programmer”, and “engineer” are often used interchangeably to describe the same type of employee, but do they really all mean the same thing?
We asked programmers around the world what they thought about developer job titles through our annual user survey. 72% preferred the term Developer, followed by 60% favoring Programmer and 42% calling themselves an Engineer. (Respondents were allowed to pick more than one response.)
Additionally, we asked a handful of Developers/Programmers/Engineers (see what we did there?) to offer their personal opinions on the matter.
Ryan Whitacker of DecisionData offered unique insights on the link between job titles and the industry as a whole. “In all cases, I think we've seen some title inflation in the industry. A quick search on job sites showed me lots of engineer-titled jobs that I'd consider developer jobs. There are also developer jobs that look like programmer jobs, but I can't blame either employer or candidate for avoiding that title. [For example], in my area I found 47 programmer jobs, 350 developer jobs, and 280 engineer jobs.”
Andrew Benton, Software Engineer at Charge, describes his employees as a “team of software engineers, not programmers”. Benton says, “Engineer is the best choice since it implies more leadership and autonomy. Programmer is far too narrow. It doesn't accurately reflect what goes into proper software development, which is only 50% programming.”
Alex Padgett, Developer at Gaslight, had a varying set of answers depending on who he is communicating with. “Programmer is the term I tell people who I don’t think will understand what a Developer or Software Engineer does. I hate the term, though, because it insinuates that I have no part in anything other than implementing someone else’s idea.”
“Between Developer and Engineer, I think it depends on your company’s culture. Software Engineer seems to be really popular with product companies and startups, which I guess makes sense because you’re actively engineering one thing. I work at a software development consultancy now, and here I prefer Developer/Software Consultant because it fits more what I do on a day-to-day basis.”
“Software Engineer seems like someone who wants to be called an engineer really badly but didn’t go into traditional engineering fields. I always think to myself, 'If a professional in a different field asked me if I considered myself an engineer, I would always say no.'”
While you certainly can’t please everyone with which term you choose (as you saw above, developers had varying opinions on the terms they prefer to be called), you can keep it in the back of your mind when crafting your job listings and recruiting emails.