A collegue of mine mentioned a problem he was having when he told people he was a web developer. The problem is that he is a software engineer that happens to work with web technology, he doesn’t build “websites”, he builds web applications and I think this difference is lost on a lot of people. As it turns out, I have had exactly the same problem, I just couldn’t seem to put my finger on it.

I think the main issue is that, as the web has grown, the terminology has not grown with it. In the beginning, we had html files, images and web masters / web designers. Then came perl, PHP, JavaScript and CMSs and so did the term : Web Developer. Some of the most complex software in existence runs on the “web” and shares just minor aspects of its technology stack with say, a restaurant’s beautifully designed website, or brochure in html form. The problem is, that html brochure took one person maybe a couple weeks to a couple months to develop, but something like Facebook, or Google has taken hundreds of (very smart) people years to develop. However, both types of projects require the same title “Web Developer”.

It seems that every time I need to prove my abilities to some new company, some of the questions are just ludicrously simple, like how would you sort a list of items or how would you design a system of shapes in an object oriented fashion. I can only assume that these questions need to be asked because the people looking for a web development job, wander into interviews for software engineers.

I have always thought of myself as a web developer, it communicated to people what I did and the technologies that I worked with (how convienient!). Now, it seems that term has picked up an awful lot of extra baggage or, maybe it lost some weight. OR  I just made the mistake of saying hey, I work with the Internets, I develop software on them, I must be a web developer!

It has become somewhat of a shock to me recently to meet some of the people I share the same title with. Of course, I don’t mean to bad mouth people who design/develop websites for people and call themselves web developers. Those people have just as much a right to use the term as I do (probably more so), it just happens that the projects that they want to work on, and the projects I want to work on are wildly different types of work. I would imaging employers and employees both have trouble finding which type of web developer they are looking for,

  1. Type A: software engineers that use php/javascript and html to develop applications
  2. Type B: designer/developers (Build, modify and apply themes for CMSs)
  3. Type C: spiders (I  doubt there is much issue confusing this one with the other two, except maybe in Spiderman’s case)
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a solution to this issue. It’s just something I noticed and felt the need to write about.

However, I think I am going to go back to calling myself a software engineer.


2 Thoughts on “Web Developers vs. Software Engineers (working with web technologies)

  1. It was worth a rank. I deal with this every day and it is real. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Oops. Rant, not rank.

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