App developer or software developer? Here’s the key skills, career paths, and current demand

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In the tech industry, the roles of app developers and software developers are often confused.

But, writes Carlene Handley, senior principal consultant at STEM recruiters Computer Futures, application development and software development encompass distinct responsibilities, skills, and career paths for their freelance practitioners.

What job does an app developer do?

App Developers focus primarily on creating applications for devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Whether you want to be full-time, or contract, the key skills required for app developers include:

  • Proficiency in mobile-specific languages: Knowledge of Swift or Objective-C for iOS apps, and Java or Kotlin for Android apps.

  • Understanding of mobile ecosystems: Familiarity with the development environment and user interface guidelines of iOS and Android platforms.

  • Cross-platform development tools: Skills in tools like Flutter or React Native, which allow for the development of apps across different platforms using a single codebase.

What job does a software developer do?

Software Developers have a broader scope.

They design, code, and deploy software that could run on any kind of device or platform, from personal computers to network servers.

Whether you want to be full-time, or contract, the key skills for software development include:

  • Strong programming skills in multiple languages: Such as C++, Java, Python, and others depending on the project requirements.

  • System architecture and design: Understanding how to structure a software system for reliability, efficiency, and scalability.

  • Problem-solving skills: Ability to design algorithms and solve complex computing problems.

Career paths for app/software developers in 2024 be like…

For App Developers, the career typically starts with a focus on a specific platform (iOS or Android), before expanding to other platforms or moving into lead development roles.

Many freelance app developers also specialise in types of apps, such as games or productivity tools.

Software Developers often begin their careers in junior programming roles before advancing to senior developer opportunities, project management, or even into specialised fields such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Data Analysis. The career path for a freelance software developer can vary widely depending on the industry and type of software being developed.

What educational background do you need for software/app development?

Both development fields require a strong foundation in computer science, which is typically obtained through a degree in computer science or a related field.

However, many successful developers are also self-taught or have completed coding bootcamps, especially in app development, where practical, hands-on experience is valuable.

In-demand skills? Absolutely

In 2024-25, the demand for both app developers and software developers is robust.

App development has seen growth over the past decade with the proliferation of mobile technology. As companies increase their need for mobile interfaces, the demand for skilled app developers on a contract basis continues to rise.

Software development, being broader, is in demand across virtually all sectors, including finance, healthcare, retail, and technology. As every industry goes through digital transformation, the need for custom software solutions increases, driving demand for skilled software developers.

App Developer Vs Software Developer: in review

While there are overlaps in the skill sets required for app and software developers, the specific focus on platforms and technologies can vary significantly.

Both these tech careers offer a multitude of opportunities and paths, particularly on a freelance or contract basis, and this is underpinned by strong demand in the UK labour market. Aspiring developers (of either hue) should focus on building a solid foundation in coding and development principles, while also staying updated on the latest technologies and tools in their chosen field.

Written by

Carlene Handley


With a robust career spanning over a decade in recruitment, Carlene has an unwavering commitment to excellence in the STEM recruitment sector. Based in Leeds, she is a senior principal consultant at SThree’s specialist IT recruitment business Computer Futures. Prior to her current role, she had a significant tenure at SThree’s Real Staffing business, joining in November 2013. Throughout her career, Carlene has developed a deep understanding of the tech sector and in navigating the complexities of recruitment to drive organisational success and growth. In her current role at Computer Futures, Carlene continues to leverage her extensive network and profound industry knowledge to enhance recruitment strategies and deliver results.

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