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Coder vs. programmer: How to tell the difference for recruitment

Coder vs. programmer: How to tell the difference for recruitment

IT recruitment
Coder vs. programmer: How to tell the difference for recruitment

When you look at a computer coder vs. programmer, can you tell which one is which? It can often be rather difficult. After all, they both write computer code and produce technical output. But is everybody who writes computer code the same? Absolutely not and when hiring a coder vs. programmer, getting the wrong one will land you in a major pickle.

Why you need to know the difference between a coder vs. programmer

Probably the most important situation in which you need to be able to tell the difference between a coder vs. programmer is when you are trying to fill a position on a software development team.  Not only do you need to fill the position with the right type of technical hire, you need to be able to understand your candidate’s history to see if they have the right experience. What does it mean when you see coder vs. programmer?

It’s hard to say, especially because it’s not entirely clear whether these titles are actually two different positions. Some commentators even consider them to essentially be different terms for the same position. While that might be true for some people, the vast majority of people see a very clear difference between a coder and a programmer which is important for you to know.

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What is a coder?

Before you can compare a coder vs. programmer you need to ask “what is a coder?” Simply put, a coder is a person who can write code. Often on technical people will stop there and refer to all techies as coders. If that seems like a pretty all-encompassing definition, that is because it is. But it’s important to remember that people who can do other things like plan and design programs in addition to writing code tend to identify themselves in different ways.

Think of it this way. Have you ever cooked food out of the cookbook? Of course, you have. Even if you sometimes burn water, you can probably follow the instructions to make a few basic items. Now, it is true the results may not be pretty, and you may not be able to go too far from the recipe without courting disaster. But if you are careful about following the instructions, you have something that you have made and can eat. In this way, you’re so very similar to a coder.

As Mike Jackson puts it, a coder is,

Anyone who can write some code that compiles and runs, which will do something they want when it’s given the right inputs.

Have you ever written a website? Done any raw HTML? Congratulations! You’re technically a coder as HTML is still technically computer code even if it isn’t a programming language.

Of course, the title doesn’t define what type of code the coder writes. This could be as simple as implementing a library or it could be a more complex algorithm. Generally, to be a coder, someone has to have a basic understanding of the language they are writing in.

That’s usually where their independent knowledge ends. As Nirmala Reddy puts it, a coder will probably still need to be instructed on what to do or what’s intended to be accomplished, implemented, debug, tested, and checked for quality assurance. Oftentimes, the coder won’t even participate in writing a program. Instead, they simply write simple scripts to automate certain tasks.

If this description seems to be describing a person with pretty basic knowledge, it’s because it is. But once a coder learns how to do a little more, they become a computer programmer.

What is a computer programmer?

Coder vs. programmer the programmer's life

Image credit: Jokejive

After asking “what is a coder”, you have to ask “what is a computer programmer?” If a coder is somebody blindly following a recipe to make a basic meal, a computer programmer is like a reasonably competent cook. While they do sometimes read some recipes, they’re not stuck with only following other people’s instructions. Oftentimes, before cooking they will sit back and decide on what they want to make, what ingredients they want to use, and how they want to put them together.

The thing is that programming involves more than just coding. Jonah Bitautas puts this very succinctly saying,

Being a programmer means actively thinking about abstract solutions to a problem before you are even touching code or opening up your favorite code editor.

Sure, programmers write computer code but it’s usually the last thing that they do. First, they need to think about what they’re doing, what they want to create, and how they’re going to create it. They then make a plan of the tools and resources that they’re going to use and only then do they start coding. This means that when comparing a programmer vs coder, the skills a programmer uses are an evolution of the skills that a coder uses. As Tom Fordham and puts it,

Programming is creating the logic, coding is translating that logic into code. Many students come into class able to code, but almost none come in able to program–that is, create the logic,

unlike a coder who is happy to just happy to put some code into their computer to perform a  function, a programmer is expected to produce code which is clean and robust. If you think that these are the most basic set of skills you would need to get hired, it’s because they are. Even if somebody starts their career as a coder, their first paying job is probably going to be as a junior programmer.

Check out different types of programmers.

What is the difference between seeing coder vs. programmer on a CV?

Coder vs. programmer how to tell the difference on CV

Image credit: Wow Reads

This will make your head explode. You can’t actually make this comparison as coder doesn’t really exist anymore as a position. It used to be that coder would be someone who translates very detailed design to C, C++, or some other language. In the old IBM days, it was someone who did the bidding of the chief programmer who ran the development team. But those days are long gone and it’s unheard of to see coder as a paying technical position.

If you do see coder, it is probably going to be a medical coder which represents a completely separate position and set of skills.  Alex Rogachevsky goes as far as to say that he doesn’t know anyone with coder as their job title in tech.

But if you do see programmer, you know that this person is capable of writing complete and reasonably competent programs in a certain tech stack. Of course, it is still a good idea to give them a work sample test to see how advanced their skills are.

What positions can do more than a programmer? Developers and engineers

As we said, when you compare a programmer vs coder, a programmer is the competent chef who doesn’t need to rely on recipes. But if you want a chef who can cook truly amazing food or run a kitchen at a top restaurant, you will need someone who can do a lot more. In the same way, you will need a software developer, engineer, or architect to create truly great software.

This begs comparisons between a coder vs developer and coder vs engineer. The title coder, programmer, developer, and engineer are often used interchangeably but form many differences persist. Unlike coders, developers and engineers deal with the entire development process starting with talking to stakeholders, architecting the application, deploying it, fixing Buggs, and iterating based on feedback.

To find out if your candidate has the skills of a coder vs. programmer, check out our coding tests catalog.

Before you go

Check out our other comprehensive resources devoted to differences between various job positions:

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