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DevOps / Platform Engineering / Software Development

Platform Engineer vs Software Engineer

In this article, we will look at some of the key differentiators between the roles of platform engineers and software engineers.
Jan 5th, 2023 3:00am by
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The technology industry has been at a boom in the last couple of decades. This has created numerous career opportunities in the field of engineering, specifically on the software side. Within this segment, there have been a plethora of opportunities created both as a software engineer as well as a platform engineer. While a career in these areas does sound extremely lucrative and rewarding, it does have its own set of challenges.

A critical element for both software engineer and platform engineer profiles is the requirement of specific skills and educational background. Though they may sound similar, there are a few differences to be noted. This article will address both platform engineer and software engineer profiles and their differences.

What Is a Platform Engineer?

A critical element of software is the technical infrastructure on which the software is built. This technical infrastructure is called a platform, and the person who designs and develops the platform is a platform engineer. A platform engineer creates components like a web platform, creates the database architecture, and builds the server infrastructure.

A prerequisite to becoming a platform engineer is the knowledge of both software engineering and systems engineering. Their skillset demands creating systems that are robust, scalable, reliable, and secure. Furthermore, platform engineers have to work in sync with the software developers. Their job is to ensure that the applications created by these developers can be integrated seamlessly into the platform.

What Is a Software Engineer?

Comparatively, the role of a software engineer is rather limited. A software engineer is responsible for creating, i.e., designing, developing, and testing software programs. These software engineers work in multiple industry verticals such as finance, healthcare, banking, manufacturing, and many more. Usually, they are seen working in close collaboration with other software engineers and developers to build new applications. While they primarily work in creating new applications, another key responsibility area for software engineers is to enhance existing software programs.

Software engineers rely on different types of programming languages, the foundation of any software program. Furthermore, they also work on various to test the software codes that are written using programming languages. Finally, it is not just about creating applications but also about maintaining them. Software engineers have to provide the necessary support to users who are using the applications created by providing the right kind of support.

Platform Engineer vs. Software Engineer

Now that we have gone through an explanation of a platform engineer and a software engineer, let us look at the differences between the two profiles.

  • Work environment

By default, a software engineer works within his or her office infrastructure. However, there are occasions when a software engineer will travel to the client’s location. Most of their time is spent in front of a computer and writing multiple lines of code to design software programs.

Platform engineers work in a rather larger setup where they have to work on physical machines. In emergency situations, program engineers are on call 24 hours, providing maintenance and emergency repairs. A platform engineer will also travel to client locations to provide support and also conduct inspections on the hardware used.

  • Skill set

One common factor between the two is that both platform engineers and software engineers require technical skill sets to perform their duties. This may include, and is not limited to, programming languages, coding skills, debugging skills, and even troubleshooting.

Platform engineers are responsible for creating and maintaining the system on which software programs run effectively; for instance, operating systems, cloud-based platforms, and even virtualization software. Platform engineers need to have a good understanding of how these systems operate, and they should be able to configure the platform to suit the requirement of the software application.

Software engineers primarily focus on developing the application that will be used by users. This includes applications that work on web platforms, mobile applications, and even desktop-based applications. A key aspect that software engineers need to look into is the understanding of user experience and the design of applications that users can easily operate.

A key factor between both platform engineers and software engineers is that they both have technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills. They are used to finding innovative ways to solve problems.

  • Job duties

A common duty between a platform engineer and a software engineer is that both have to perform tasks such as research, analysis, and planning. After conducting the initial research, they analyze the data and identify areas where improvements or enhancements are to be made.

A key difference between the two is that a software engineer is more focused on creating new systems, whereas a platform engineer is focused on maintaining the existing systems. Another difference in job duties is that a software engineer has to perform purely a technical job, whereas a platform engineer has a managerial aspect to his or her duty along with technical elements.

Platform Engineering vs. DevOps

Another area that has observed a comparison is between platform engineers and DevOps engineers. While there is quite a bit of similarity between the two, the start of DevOps happens in platform engineering. For instance, if there is a team that has planned to host a new website, then it would reach out to the DevOps team to coordinate and get the job done. However, in the case of platform engineers, they create systems on which other teams may develop applications. To further expand this scenario, if there is a precise team that has the systems in place, then technically, they won’t require to coordinate with other teams.

As it is noticeable, while there are few similarities between a platform engineer and a software engineer, there is a line of difference that clearly demarcates the role of each of them. Furthermore, if we look at the monetary compensation between a platform engineer and a software engineer, a platform engineer earns, on average, $25,000 to $30,000 more than a software engineer.

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