Coding vs. programming: What is the difference?

web designer drawing website development wireframe

It seems that the whole world has decided to start developing apps, web pages and web apps. The Apple App Store and Google Play Store house millions of apps, and the number continues to grow. On top of that, more than 250,000 new websites come on the internet every day.

Each new page, app or web app can involve developers, designers, programmers and coders. While many people quickly switch back and forth between these terms to describe the same features, they actually have clear differences.

So what is the difference between coding vs. programming? Between working with web developers and web designers? As a very simple analogy, consider the construction of a new office building. The codes, programmers, developers and designers ensure that the “building” is well designed and works as intended.

Understanding of key tasks within application and website development

Designers: The Architects

Designers are the idea people for the project. Just as an architect determines what a building should look like and its general purpose, designers are responsible for the overall user interface and user experience of an application or web page, including its feel and function.

But the designer’s responsibility goes much deeper than the surface appearance and general functionality of an application. They are closely involved in selecting features and clarifying how the individual parts of an app work together. Consider this the interior layout of the building: how do people and services move between different areas?

Designers also work closely with other development team members to ensure that the final product meets specifications. Together with others, they make sure that the application’s “punch list” is filled out.

Designers may or may not be responsible for the more practical aspects of app creation, which include workflow creation and coding. Although designers usually do not code, they can create websites and web applications using drag-and-drop tools for low code or code-free, even with a little knowledge or experience in programming or coding.

Developers: The system engineers

The word developer encompasses a wide range of responsibilities, especially because it is often not used alone. For example, there are system developers, software developers, app developers, web developers, front-end developers, back-end developers and more. Each profession has its own set of skills and specialties. And there is an equally wide range of definitions for these different developers.

Consider the definition of a web developer from Techopedia that links web development to backend development: “A web developer usually deals with the back end or programming aspect of creating a website or web application and should not be confused with a web designer who only deals with the aesthetics of a website or application, even though many professionals have both skill sets.”

In contrast, Upwork, a well-known freelance design, development and coding service provider, binds web developers to both front-end and back-end development. Some go even further and merge web design and development, making developers responsible for an end-to-end application.

Backend developers work as the building’s systems engineers, but instead of designing electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, they create the internal structures that make the application work. Similarly, front-end developers take visual mock-ups and transform them into functional specifications. Developers are also responsible for designing and updating applications as needed.

Developers must have a broad skill base that includes knowledge of the primary web programming languages ​​(HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.), basic graphic design, database programming and management, and working with libraries and frameworks.

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Programmers: The main contractors

Now we come to the point where the boundaries between functions really start to blur (ie the common question: What is the difference between coding vs. programming?) Programmers have many of the same functions as developers, and programmers are also often skilled coders with a broad knowledge of programming languages. Programming and coding are probably the most fluently used of our expressions. But programming is less about the details of coding than logical flows. As such, it sits at a higher level in the development process than coding.

From the 30,000-foot view, programmers build the decision trees and logical structures, which encoders then implement. They are familiar with the full spectrum of how logic is translated into program structures, whether in object-oriented programming regimes or other programming systems. Programmers are the problem solvers who act as the functional intermediaries between high-level design and the detailed code.

Programmers need many of the same skills as developers and coders, though programmers do not need to know how to code from a purely theoretical perspective. But from a more practical point of view, programmers are invariably skilled coders and are often one and the same in the development process.

Coders: The skilled craftsmen

In our analogy, coders serve the function of skilled craftsmen. Like electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists who take the drawings and system designers and install all the services needed to make the building work, coders make specifications a workable product.

Encoders, however, do not just write code, hand it in, and walk away. Instead, they work hard to optimize the code. For example, instead of creating code from scratch, coders will determine which existing libraries and modules they can use to minimize the time they need to spend on a given project.

Effective coders also know that the size and speed of an application can be crucial factors in whether consumers want to use it. As an example, Internet users are fanatical about the website’s loading speed – if a mobile page takes longer than three seconds to load, more than half of the visitors will leave it. Application size can affect the application speed, so coders work hard to optimize the structure of their code.

Encoders are also the primary quality control personnel in application development. They correct and test code as they type, ensuring that the application works as intended. Therefore, they must be familiar with both black box (external focus) and white box (internal focus) test processes and tools such as SAST, DAST and IAST.

Encoders may also be responsible for implementing key compliance features (such as data protection and cybersecurity) in an application. They must be familiar with privacy by design and security by design principles, which are increasingly important concepts for application development.

Use the right people for the right jobs

Just as main contractors can also be skilled electricians, and architects can be systems engineers, the features of web development overlap. So when people wonder what the difference is between coding vs. programming, for example, is the truth that developers and programmers can also be designers or coders, and vice versa. Although developers typically have skills that cover all features, this does not mean that these terms should be used interchangeably.

Precision in language is important, as is precision in coding, programming and development. The more precisely you define the features, the better you can understand the overall app development process.

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