Coder, developer, engineer: All the things I've called myself over the years and why

I have written code for a couple of decades now and have been called a lot of things during that time. Sometimes my title made sense, sometimes not so much. And sometimes that mattered, and sometimes it felt like it didn't.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://triplebyte.com/blog/programmer-developer-engineer-all-the-things-called-myself

Software engineer? Coder? Programmer? Developer? Architect? I’d love to get a read on what everyone thinks of titles in the software-maker world. What do they mean to you and why? Leave a comment below!

I make software and I love to code, but I’m a Computer Scientist; I believe understanding what you’re doing is more important than doing it fast (and wrong).

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I basically do the same thing that gets called different things by the company I’m in (or not in).
At Cisco, everyone’s an Engineer, so I was a Software Engineer III.
At other places, just a Programmer, which kind of ignores the architecting and UX/UI design (and frontend/backend partitioning) that I was also doing.
Nobody refers to programs as “programs” anymore, but “App Writer” sounds a bit clunky.

At the very bottom of the nomenclature problem, though, is that fact that this business, critical as it is to modern culture and economy, has no independent standards ascertaining and licensing organization, such a Law or Medical License, with certified grades of competency and appropriate name suffixes. The closest we get is … a badge from Triplebyte.

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The most important purpose of a title is to communicate your role. It isn’t to stroke your ego, or to tell people what you aspire to be, or how you personally view yourself outside of your job.

Since communication is context sensitive, not everyone’s definition will apply to you. However, in my corner of the united states, I and my peers generally perceive coder or programmer as a relatively straightforward general software writer, without worrying about much else. On the other hand, a full stack software developer implies they contribute to every aspect of getting the problem solved from a technical front. A computer scientist is mostly dealing with research, and generally isn’t production using anything. A frontend engineer is supposed to be very efficient at getting the data into a great UI quick, but isn’t expected to be as good at backend performance or networking. Engineer in general has a very different meaning outside the US, but again in my corner it’s more an emphasis on technical mastery than developer (who might have more meetings and glue work to do with the business and stakeholders).

People can be good or bad at a number of things, so just like music genres, a good title tells you what they’re probably not doing, and what they’re probably doing.

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I have always strongly preferred “Software Developer”. Does what it says, says what it does.
Engineer seems presumptuous, and as a previous commenter noted, there aren’t standards to which we can adhere to earn that title.
Programmer sounds a little too basic, like you’re just inputting something into the computer without the work of design/conceptualization.

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As an actual Engineer, I like and usually use “Software Engineer” to describe myself ;^)

I’m not a big fan of seeing this term being used by people who do not have an Engineering degree, but nowadays I think it is mostly used to describe a role, so I don’t usually make much of it.

That said, sometimes I feel that the way I approach problems is a bit different than other people in my area - mostly frameworks/integration/tooling. It seems that all the lab hours I’ve done during graduation left some marks…

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