Engineer vs. Programmer—What’s in a job title?

 Computer engineering tools

April 11, 2016

As I apply for my first real-life, full-time position, I’m finding that many job titles do not seem to line up with the position’s qualifications and responsibilities. I see this often in job titles for engineers and programmers.

It seems the lines dividing what is considered an engineer and what is considered a programmer are blurring. For current college students looking for jobs and high school seniors deciding on a major, this can really confuse things. So where exactly is the line between being an engineer and being a programmer?

A formal definition of an engineer is a person that has scientific training and designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems, and structures. While this definition can be interpreted in a few different ways, I believe it is referring to a more physical systems rather than computer software related fields.

A programmer is often referred to as someone that creates instructions to run computer programs or software. Programmers are generally trained with extensive knowledge of coding language and are integral to the development of computers. More specifically, programmers often receive specifications from software engineers in order to write the code the computer follows.

Defined this way, the differences seem clear, and yet you’ll find as many varying definitions as you will job descriptions in the professional world. So, when it comes down to it, what’s in a name? Does the job title matter?

A bit, but I find the job title that is posted, or what people call themselves only scratches the surface. The skills each individual possesses are what matter when considering these closely related fields. Your qualifications need to match up with what the company needs. Instead of looking at job titles to tell the whole story, applicants and future students really need to dig into the job description to determine if they are qualified or if it’s right fit for them. As a Syracuse University student, I can earn these qualifications within the College of Engineering and Computer Science AND many other Colleges and disciplines across campus.

In the end, being qualified for a position is only the beginning. Regardless of titles and core responsibilities, it is the problem-solving skills, character, and work ethic you bring to the table that will truly determine your success in a position and in your career—no matter what you call yourself.

Emma Brewer ’17 is a civil engineering major with a minor in geography. Within the College, she is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a Pathfinder for first-year students. She is also involved with the SU Club Ski Team and a member of Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority. Initially, Brewer chose to become a civil engineering major because of her interest in green buildings and infrastructure, but over the past few years that interest has broadened to include planning and development of sites, especially in urban areas. In the near future she hopes to secure an internship for summer 2016 to gain experience within her field. Her passions outside of engineering include playing soccer, hiking, watching the Mets, and skiing.