Systems Analyst vs. Software Developer: Complementary Technical Experts

As you are evaluating your college plans, you know you want to pursue or advance a career that is computer related. You love working with existing software, creating new software, and keeping up with rapidly changing technology. You may wonder what the difference is between a systems analyst and a software developer, and want to make sure you choose the best possible educational path for your interests and skills.

While both careers focus on computer systems, there are some differences. A systems analyst works with existing systems and software to make improvements. On the other hand, a software developer creates new software from initial concept, often to meet a specific need for a business or company.

Both potential academic paths provide the opportunity to work closely with computer software in a number of diverse settings. A solid foundation in computers, earned through a bachelor’s degree, can serve as an entry point to either field.

software developer coding new application

Systems Analyst Overview

Systems analysts work with an organization’s existing computer systems to troubleshoot and optimize efficiency and safety. They may introduce new technologies and systems as necessary, tweak the role of technology in an organization, and present new ways of doing business to the overall team. For example, they may use existing data in billing software to recommend and implement a new program that will allow for faster processing of payments. This software integration requires an understanding of the data itself, as well as the ability to communicate the information and find creative solutions.

Systems analysts need strong analytical skills to effectively serve their organizations. They tend to work in computer and IT industries, but may also perform in the financial industry or for government agencies. To step into this role, aspiring systems analysts typically earn at least a bachelor’s degree and gain ample hands-on experience working with software in a variety of contexts.

Systems Analyst Salaries and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a systems analyst in 2018 was $88,740. New hires can expect to begin earning approximately $57,000 per year, with room to grow. This salary range can vary based on experience, degrees, geographic location, and more.

If you are interested in becoming a systems analyst, you’re entering a growing field. The BLS indicates the 10-year outlook for this job is robust, with projected growth of about 9% between 2018 and 2028. This is above the average growth rate for all jobs.

Software Developer Overview

Where systems analysts primarily work with existing systems, software developers create new applications. These systems improve the overall efficiency of an organization and its ability to tackle problems head-on. Software developers follow a process to accomplish their goals. First, they determine the software needs of an individual or organization by analyzing what is currently in place and where it falls short. From there, they create new software designed to address these deficiencies. Then, they introduce the software to the individual or organization and provide training as necessary. Finally, they offer ongoing support as they roll out the software.

This role typically requires either an advanced degree or ample hands-on experience. Software developers come from all walks of life, but they share a true passion for the development of efficient systems. Many earn a bachelor’s degree in a general computer science field, then go on to earn a master’s degree that is specific to software development. For example, at Maryville University, students who have earned a bachelor’s degree may choose to continue on to earn an online master’s in software development.

Software Developer Salaries and Job Outlook

The BLS cites the median salary for a software developer in 2018 at $105,590. This may vary depending on the level of education and experience. In addition, different industries may offer different rates of pay. For example, the private sector typically pays higher than the nonprofit sector.

Software development remains a booming field. From 2018 to 2028, the need for software developers is expected to grow by about 21%, which is much faster than the average for all jobs.

According to the BLS, 35% of software developers work in computer systems design, but they can also work in finance, insurance, or manufacturing.

Similarities Between Systems Analyst and Software Developer

Systems analysts and software developers both work with computers and software technology. Both careers also require at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs — such as Maryville University’s online bachelor’s degree in management information systems — as well as technical expertise in the specific field.

In terms of desired skills, both professions require motivated problem solvers, and both careers can involve client relations and require strong interpersonal skills.

Differences Between Systems Analyst and Software Developer

A variety of differences exist between these two professional fields. This includes the skills that are required, the day-to-day responsibilities, and even the path to landing a position.

The Careers Themselves

Software developers tend to create software through all key stages of its development. They can work in a wide spectrum of areas due to the wide variety of software applications and systems used by business, industry, government, and other organizations.

Conversely, systems analysts know software, but their jobs focus on taking an organization’s existing computer and information systems and maximizing their efficiency. They need to know more about hardware and software interaction, and can oversee the development and upgrading of entire systems.

Typical Path

Both career paths benefit from a deep understanding of computers and software. However, beyond this foundational work, the paths diverge. Software developers enter a highly technical field. As such, they tend to spend more time gaining knowledge of specific coding languages and may seek an advanced degree in the topic. Alternatively, they may spend time gaining hands-on experience by developing their own programs and building a personal portfolio of software.

Systems analysts, on the other hand, may focus their education more substantially on a core understanding of business. Since their primary job involves ensuring the effectiveness of existing software, they must understand how software and business work together. Because of this, systems analysts may seek to earn a business minor or a degree in management information systems, which concentrates on bridging the gap between technology and business.

Salary and Demand

While both careers pay well and are in high demand, BLS shows software developers may earn roughly $17,000 more a year than systems analysts, depending on experience. The field of software development will also likely see substantially more growth, with an expected increase of 21% through 2028, as opposed to 9% for systems analysts.

Systems Analyst vs. Software Developer: Which Is Right for You?

It can be difficult to choose between a future as a systems analyst or a software developer. As you explore your options, consider whether you prefer working with existing systems and improving efficiencies, or stretching your creative muscles to develop software. As an undergraduate, you can pursue either of these fields through Maryville University’s online bachelor’s degree in management information systems. Learn more about how your work with software can help organizations of all types succeed.

Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s Degree in Management Information Systems
Maryville University, Online Master’s Degree in Software Development
Maryville University, “How to Become a Systems Analyst”
Medium, “What Skills Does a Software Developer Need in 2018?”
Plural Sight, “14 Developer Certifications That Will Give You an Edge”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Computer Systems Analysts”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Software Developers”
Techopedia, “Systems Analyst

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