What's the difference?

Coders, Programmers, and Developers
© Conrad Weisert, Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago
1 January, 2016

NOTE: This document may be circulated or quoted from freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.
Note the important difference between the terms coding and programming. Programming denotes the entire process of implemeting a computer solution to a problem, and includes at a minimum program design, coding, and unit testing.


A programmer who specializes in low-level coding. Today the position is nearly obsolete.

Before the introduction of structured programming in the early 1970s, some organizations tried to develop massive amounts of application software by parceling extremely detailed assignments to large numbers of semiskilled coders, who had little input to the creative process. That approach demanded that systems analysts develop detailed flowcharts, record layouts, and so on, and rarely led to high-quality results. The acceptance of structured design, the chief programmer team, and other modern approaches has led enlightened organizations to abandon totally the use of pure coders to develop software.

Computer Programmer's Dictionary, Que Publishing, 1993, ISBN 1-56529-125-5, p. 73

Terminology confusion

The coder role may have been "'nearly obsolete" two-dozen years ago, but it stubbornly keeps reappearing in articles, textbooks, and, worse, course material. Note that it's not the term that's obsolete; it's the role. Writing executable program code is a small part of the problem-solving process. Understanding the requirements, conceiving the algorithm, choosing the data representations, selecting the tools, and validating the implementation are all essential aspects of what a professional programmer does.

We've already noted the misleading, unnecessary, and often harmful developer designation. Despite its growing use we're unsure exactly what that term is supposed to mean. Some versions try to combine the separate roles of programmer and systems analyst. Others naïvely assume that systems analysis, in the sense of determining and documenting application requirements, doesn't need to be done at all!

A depressing 2016 example

We recently heard about a trade school that specializes in preparing women to be coders! The school may have good intentions, but in addition to their unenlighted use of that term, they:

Young (or not so young) women interested in a career in software development will be better served by established universities or inexpensive community colleges in their area. And let's hope they don't aspire to become coders.

Last modified 1 January 2016

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