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Mechanical Engineer vs. Software Engineer: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

There are many different types of engineers, each with their own unique skills and responsibilities. Two common engineering roles are that of a mechanical engineer and a software engineer. Though both positions require a high level of technical expertise, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between a mechanical engineer and a software engineer, and we provide additional engineering professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical Engineers design, develop, test and oversee the production of mechanical devices, including tools, engines and machines. They use principles of physics, engineering and materials science to achieve their goals. Mechanical Engineers typically specialize in one of several areas, such as thermal engineering, manufacturing engineering or design engineering. They use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create models and prototypes of their products. Mechanical Engineers also test their products to ensure they meet safety and performance standards.

What is a Software Engineer?

Software Engineers design, develop and test software programs. They work in a variety of industries, including computer systems design, manufacturing, finance and healthcare. Software Engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. They use their knowledge of programming languages and software development tools to write code for new software applications. They also test and debug software programs to ensure they are free of errors and meet the needs of the user. In some cases, Software Engineers may also be responsible for training users on how to use new software applications.

Mechanical Engineer vs. Software Engineer

Here are the main differences between a mechanical engineer and a software engineer.

Job Duties

Mechanical and software engineers share some job duties, such as researching new technologies and designing products. However, their job duties differ in scope. Mechanical engineers focus more on the overall design of a product, while software engineers concentrate on the programming necessary for a device to function properly.

Another key difference is that mechanical engineers often work closely with other engineering disciplines, such as electrical and civil. In contrast, software engineers typically work only with computer programmers. While both positions require engineers to collaborate with other professionals, the collaboration opportunities for mechanical and software engineers differ because of their differing responsibilities.

Job Requirements

Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field. They might also pursue a master’s degree to gain more advanced knowledge in the field. Some employers prefer candidates who have experience working with the software and tools that mechanical engineers use on the job, such as computer-aided design (CAD) software.

Software engineers usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. They might also pursue a master’s degree to gain more advanced knowledge in the field. Many software engineers start their careers by interning at a software development company. This can give them the opportunity to learn about the software development process and the tools that software engineers use on the job.

Work Environment

Mechanical engineers and software engineers work in different environments. Mechanical engineers typically work in manufacturing or construction settings, where they may be exposed to loud noises and machinery. They also spend time working on projects outside of the office, such as at a construction site or factory floor.

Software engineers usually work in an office setting, but they may travel to meet with clients or attend conferences. Software engineers often work long hours during project deadlines, so they may work overtime regularly.


Both mechanical engineers and software engineers use problem-solving skills in their jobs. For mechanical engineers, they typically design products that will solve a problem or address a need facing individuals, families and business owners. For software engineers, one of their primary duties is responding to calls from customers about issues with their software applications.

A mechanical engineer needs technical skills to perform their job, including circuit design, advanced mathematics, linear systems and analysis and electrical schematics. A software engineer also needs technical knowledge, but they need to know more basic information about how software applications work. Both of these professionals need to have the ability to follow safety protocols because they are often working with dangerous materials.

While a mechanical engineer uses communication skills when they are creating reports of their research, corresponding with other engineers and colleagues and developing blueprints for their products, they are not necessarily going to be interacting with customers directly. A software engineer is going to need interpersonal skills because they will most likely be interacting with people on a daily basis while they assist customers with solving software issues.


Mechanical engineers earn an average salary of $91,492 per year, while software engineers earn an average salary of $106,619 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the size of the company you work for, your location and your level of experience.


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