Coder vs Programmer: Determining Which Best Fits Your Needs

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Rafael Timbó
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Rafael Timbó
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Chief Technology Officer
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The terms "coder" and "programmer" may be used interchangeably outside the tech world, but inside the industry, they mean very different things. Here's how they stack up and how you can find the right role for your development team.
Published on
March 3, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

Every industry has its jargon, and the tech sector is no exception. Bugs, cookies, and sprints have very different meanings in tech than outside the industry.  "Coder" and "programmer" are terms that carry important nuance that few non-techies grasp. That's a problem for managers who aren't familiar with the development world because if they miss the differences, they may hire the wrong employee for the job.

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but the most general difference is that programmers concern themselves first with logic and project mapping, while coders specialize in converting that logic into a script that a processor can read. One is more advanced than the other, and they contribute to the team in different ways, but plenty of overlap exists between the two — both are essential to a successful product design.

So what are coders and programmers exactly, and how do they each contribute to software development teams? This comprehensive guide will look into what separates coders from programmers, how to choose which one you need, and where you can find the best talent available for both. Let's go!

Programmer vs Coder: What are the Differences

If you're going to hire the right coder or programmer for your development team, you need to know the role and skills each have and how they differ.

One of the most important differences between a coder and a programmer is the scope of practice. Coding involves translating programming languages into robust, efficient, error-free code to complete specific tasks, but programming considers the code's design, logic, and flow. That makes coding a subset of programming, so you might say that all coding is a part of programming, but not all programming is a part of coding.,

Coders write code. Without concerning themselves about the broader product design, the job of the coder is to input scripts of code into a product, so that the processor performs the required commands.

It takes fluency in programming languages to be a coder. Whether it's functional languages like SQL or object-oriented languages like Python, coders need to know the ins and outs of at least one language. That includes knowledge of syntax, commands, classes, and the basic logic of the language among other components, and their duties include:

  • Testing
  • Debugging
  • Quality analysis
  • Code optimization
  • Uploading code from existing language libraries to avoid re-coding the wheel

Many coders are experts in only one language, but because they can be so similar, some are well-versed in several. There are plenty of coding assessment tools that you can use to test how well an applicant knows their language, so take advantage of them and make sure you only hire talent that writes top-quality code.

What Is a Programmer?  

While the job description of a coder is confined to translating natural language into binary that a processor can understand, a programmer's knowledge of logic allows them to expand their scope.

A programmer typically has some training in software development — though they're not necessarily a developer (more on those later). Sometimes called computer programmers or software programmers, these tech strategists' increased technical knowledge and planning abilities enable them to think through the abstract requirements of a product's design. Some of their responsibilities include project mapping and developing the logical frameworks of a product's workflow, and they often have experience with the following:

  • Basic algorithms
  • Probability and statistics
  • Discrete math
  • Neural networks

Because their work often involves a product's design rather than the input of actual code, it's possible that a programmer may not have any knowledge of coding at all. However, because they typically have more experience and training than a coder, a quality programmer will likely be proficient with at least one coding language — and often two or three.

Key Differences Between a Coder vs Programmer

If coders write code and programmers plan products, it may seem surprising that there's any confusion between the two, but a great deal of overlap does exist. For example, coders and programmers need to know enough about a language's logic to ensure the final codes can be tested or debugged. Coders must have language fluency and programmers often do too. The fact that the title "professional coder" has long since been replaced by "junior programmer" or "junior developer" only adds to the confusion.

The best way to clear away the confusion on the difference between coding and programming is to break it down into five different categories: purpose, skills, tools, approach, and end result. Let's compare the two.

The Purpose

The primary difference between coding and programming is the purpose, as programmers are the planners and coders are the doers.

Programmers

The purpose of a programmer is to plan out all the needed functionalities and frameworks within a product's design. Eventually, they may write some code, but before that can ever happen, the product's logic and features have to be laid out.

For example, a data-mining app might be designed to scrape the web for certain statistics and sort them into specified categories. Before ever opening their laptop, a programmer might sketch out a neural network designed to send their data into separate repositories, with an action to be performed on the data from there. That requires some knowledge of coding, but the first purpose of the programmer is to plan out how the product will work.

Coders

You can plan out a product as thoroughly as you want, but eventually, you have to input the code. A coder's purpose on a project is to handle the nuts and bolts of a product by inputting the actual code into the given language. Their role is the what, not the why or how.

For example, after the data-mining app in question has been mapped out — and at several points along the way — the coders' job is to input the script to make it run. They might compile their own code or borrow a module from their language library that would do the job, and they would test and debug the code as they wrote it. The coders' purpose is so focused on the compilation of the machine code that they may not even know the function of the snippet they're writing; it's just their role to code.                  

The Skills Needed

Because they have different purposes, coders and programmers also must possess unique skills. Some of those skills pertain to training, but others are as simple as different patterns of thought.

Programmers’ Skills

With planning as their primary purpose, a programmer's skills pertain mostly to logic and design, with some emphasis on UI/UX. Programmers usually have a working knowledge of algorithms and discrete math, which helps them develop decision trees, truth tables, and workflows that serve as the backbone of the product. Knowledge of the code specifics is secondary to a strategic, thoughtful design, which is why many programming courses focus on honing these skills before they ever give you a single snippet of code.

Coders’ Skills

Since a coder's purpose is to write the script that makes a product run, their skill set has less to do with design and more to do with language expertise. A coder should be fluent in the language they compile, knowing all the commands, keywords, strings, functions, and logic needed to make the product work.

A skilled programmer should be able to write clean, simple, robust code. They should also be proficient in testing and debugging their code and should know where to find templates from libraries and coding communities so that they can complete their coding faster. Other skills include code optimization and arrangement, and soft skills like organization and attention to detail can go a long way.

The Tools Used

Having distinct purposes and skills means that coders and programmers also use different tools for the job — though some of them are the same.

Programmers’ Tools

Since programmers must be skilled in laying out the framework of their product, they need tools that can help them implement the workflows they devise. Some of the most common tools that programmers use are:

  • Text editors
  • Agile development frameworks
  • Wireframing tools
  • Productivity trackers
  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) apps
  • Databases
  • Much more

Their proficiency with languages means that they will use some of the same tools as coders, but programmers' tools mostly consist of apps that help them plot out and track their product along the design journey, rather than execute any code.

Coders’ Tools

Since coders are responsible for compiling quality scripts, their tools are focused primarily on helping them translate commands correctly and efficiently. A few of the tools that coders use are:

  • Source code editors
  • Compilers
  • Interpreters
  • Debuggers
  • Profilers
  • Libraries
  • Online communities
  • Coding automation solutions
  • Low-code/no-code platforms

Efficient task management is an important part of the coder's job as well as the programmer's, so they may take advantage of productivity trackers and agile development frameworks too. However, most of the software tools that coders are equipped with are those that help them write clean, quick code.

Coder vs. Programmer: The Approach They Have

In addition to their unique skill sets, coders and programmer also bring a different approach to the table, as one is more systematic and the other is more trial-and-error.

Programmers’ Approach

Programmers have a strategic, logical mind so their approach is more methodical than coders'. Before they ever begin to code, the programmer will spend considerable time thinking through the feedback loops and processes behind their product and will work to map them out as succinctly and efficiently as possible. Programmers look before they leap.

Coders’ Approach

Coders aren't charged with laying the framework for a product; it's their job just to implement the script. That allows them to use a more straightforward method than programmers, sometimes even resorting to trial and error. As long as the code is optimal, the coder is satisfied.  

The Result

With so many differences in their purposes, skills, and approaches, it's to be expected that coders and programmers will yield very different deliverables. The end result for one is often much more comprehensive than the other — even if it builds on the other's work.

Programmers

Because they're tasked more with layout and design, you can expect the end result of a programmer's work to be a well-planned product that works according to spec. The final outcome should be ready for use with no further work needed except ongoing maintenance or refinement. Programmers deliver polished products.

Coders

The job of the coder is sometimes so specialized that they don't even complete all the code in a product; they may just write a snippet. A coder may also only be tasked with testing or debugging, so it isn't necessary for them to deliver complete software programs as their final work. Whether it's a portion of a script or a subsystem within an app, the deliverable you can expect to receive from a coder is just high-quality code.

The Importance of Each in Software Development

Their distinct purpose, skillset, and approach means that both coders and programmers are essential parts of the software development process. Without programmers, coders would lack the frameworks on which to build their code and products would have no logical flow or design. Without coders, programmers would have to spend their time inputting text than building out the algorithms that power a product, and the design process would get weighed down.

You might be able to get by with hiring a programmer since they're likely skilled in multiple languages, but forcing them to translate code might not be the best use of their talents. That's why many companies use junior programmers for the labor of writing actual code and leave the design work to more seasoned programmers. Whichever model you choose, someone on your team should be responsible for planning out the product, and someone will need to type out the actual code — and you'll likely need multiple members for each.

Coding vs. Programming vs Development

There's a third class of tech talent that we haven't mentioned yet: Developers.

They typically don't have as much technical knowledge or experience as software architects or engineers, but a software developer oversees the creation of the product from start to finish. There's an overlap between the terms "programmer" and "developer" too. Still, a developer has much of the same knowledge of the coding process that programmers do, with a more advanced understanding of systems and the product life cycle as a whole. The extra term can muddy the waters even more, so a summary of the differences between coding, programming, and development is:

  • Coders are responsible for translating natural commands into those that a processor can understand. Their work entails compiling, running, testing, debugging, optimizing, and arranging their code, they have less training and are likely experienced in only one language.
  • Programmers are responsible for putting forth the frameworks and logic that make a product function as intended. Their work requires more planning, strategizing and management, though they may also have proficiency in at least one language.
  • Developers are responsible for the entire product design journey, including researching, prototyping, troubleshooting, documenting, re-engineering, maintenance, and even marketing. They typically have more experience and training than coders or programmers, and they oversee the product from cradle to grave.

As with "coder" and "programmer", the term "developer" is sometimes used interchangeably with "programmer" and you might see some job descriptions that use either one to describe the same role. The extra depth and breadth of a developer make them a bit more suited to long-term product oversight, so consider that when you decide who best to hire.

Deciding Which One You Need for Your Projects

Coder, programmer, developer — how do you know which one you need for your project? Zippia cites estimates from the Department of Labor which show that the cost of hiring the wrong employee as being 30% of their annual salary (possibly higher), so avoiding the wrong applicants can be a significant revenue-saver. Some questions that can help you find the right talent for your project are:

  • Skills. Your new hire won't be much help without the competency needed to pull the project off, so test their skills to see what they've got.
  • Scope. Do you need a coder to input or test raw script, a programmer to plan out how your app will work, or a developer to oversee the entire operation? Determining what you need will make the hiring process smoother.
  • Tools. Which tools do your new hire need to be proficient in to work with your current tech stack? Base your hire on their experience with the tools they'll be using every day to help them succeed.

Experience, technical training, and certifications can also be helpful ways to determine which candidates are best for your project, so give them a look to see which applicant stands out.

Hire Programmers and Coders with Revelo

The tech industry is complex and ever-evolving, and understanding the right terms to help you make a hire can sometimes be a challenge — let alone finding the right fit. Revelo's talent marketplace exists to cut through all those nuances and match you with the tech talent you need to bring your product to life. If you'd like to be matched up with some of the premier coders, programmers, and developers that Latin America can offer, contact us today, and see how we can help.

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