Technical Consultant vs. Software Engineer: Difference? - Tech With Tech

Technical Consultant vs. Software Engineer: Difference?

Here’s the difference between a technical consultant and a software engineer:

These are wildly different fields.

Software engineers plan and execute strategies to build, test, and maintain software from scratch.

Technical consultants provide professional advice to clients on topics that can range from basic IT recommendations to detailed infrastructure planning and everything in between.

So if you want to learn all about what a technical consultant and a software engineer do exactly, then this article is for you.

Let’s dive into it!

Technical Consultant vs. Software Engineer: Difference?

What Is a Technical Consultant?

engineers meeting in technology research laboratory

The easiest way to understand the differences between a technical consultant and a software engineer is to take a deeper look at what each job entails.

A technical consultant is a broad category that can apply to a lot of situations.

You could have a technical consultant who specifically works with software engineers on software designs.

You can also have technical consultants who work in networking, cybersecurity, document management, and anything else related to technology.

You also have consultants who do it all.

Regardless of the specifics, the consultant is doing what the name implies.

They are giving advice.

The goal of the consultant is to provide options and opportunities for a client.

The consultant won’t necessarily carry out that advice.

It really depends on the business relationship, but it’s not uncommon for a consultant to give out their tips and then leave the client to do the rest.

What Are Common Things Done by a Technical Consultant? (4 Services)

design team working at the office

In the effort to consult, a person in this field has to do more than just make recommendations.

Those recommendations need to be built on a real understanding of the challenges at hand.

And in addition to making recommendations, consultants often offer services that help clients carry out advice and succeed.

#1 Audits

IT professional with digital tablet monitoring system performance of database network servers

A major aspect of technical consulting is figuring out what the client needs.

In order to do that, audits are an indispensable tool. Audits come in all shapes and sizes too.

Technical consultants might audit the IT infrastructure.

They could look at how IT resources are organized and used.

The audit could look at the software used by a client to see how effective it is or if there are areas for improvement.

Audits can cover any aspect of technical consulting.

It really just depends on the consultant’s skill sets and areas of expertise.

But, an audit is usually one of the first steps in a consultation.

After the audit is conducted, the findings inform any recommendations that come after.

#2 Training

colleagues in training session

In some cases, an IT consultant will recommend training and training resources to a client.

They won’t handle it directly.

In many other cases, the consulting team will include training as part of their services.

This training again can range in function and scope.

In plenty of cases, IT consultants will train clients on technology aspects to help them understand what the technology can accomplish and how.

They might offer more extensive training to help client staff members assimilate new tools or methods put in place.

As an example, an IT consulting firm might train the staff of a bank on how to use a new password manager that was installed on all of the workstations.

#3 Strategy

IT professional doing intensive research and analysis at night

This is the bulk of what people expect from a technical consultant.

The consultant helps build a strategy around the client’s goals.

So, if a business wants a way to process receipts for accounting that can save time and money, the consultant will do more than just recommend a new app.

They will build a strategy around how to source the app, install it on devices that are expected to use it, train staff on its implementation, and manage the new app moving forward.

And, this is just one specific example.

Technical consultant strategies are usually overarching strategies that cover every aspect of IT for a business.

These strategies cover a lot of ground.

#4 Vendor Management

male IT professional calling clients from the office

An often overlooked aspect of technical consulting is vendor assistance.

Some consultants will offer vendor management services.

That would involve contacting vendors and negotiating deals on behalf of clients.

Some consultants are a little less direct.

Instead of negotiating on behalf of their clients, they will make vendor recommendations.

Consultants are often able to cultivate good vendor relationships, and through this, they can sometimes help clients get discounts or good deals on vendor contracts.

It’s a specialized way that consultants can provide value to their clients that isn’t always obvious to the outside observer.

What Is a Software Engineer?

female software engineer writing a code on desktop computer

A software engineer is a person who designs software.

It’s important to understand that this is not the same as a person who programs software.

In general, programmers work for software engineers.

The engineer is the architect of the whole thing.

They have the master vision, and they are responsible for bringing the vision into reality.

In more complicated scenarios, you can have senior and junior engineers.

In such a case, the senior engineers have the grand vision, and the junior engineers will have delegated responsibilities. 

A clear example of this is that a senior engineer might be tasked with designing a word processing program.

They might put one junior engineer in charge of software design while the other is in charge of testing.

There are countless other ways you could organize a team of engineers.

The point is that software engineers are looking at the zoomed-out picture.

What Do Software Engineers Usually Do? (5 Tasks)

development engineer working on computer with a colleague

In the scope of software engineering are plenty of different tasks and skills.

To be the head of software design, a person has to do a bunch of things.

They have to figure out what software is needed in the first place.

They then have to envision the software and how it might work.

From there, they form a detailed plan to execute the tasks and actually make the thing, and that’s still not the end.

The engineer also has to test the software before it is released.

After release, they are responsible for maintaining it.

That’s a lot to cover and the specific skills listed below help to clarify what is expected of software engineers.

#1 Strategize

engineers and developers gather around an illuminated table

Software design starts with a strategy session.

Frequently, this involves meeting with clients who will ultimately use the new software.

So, if the engineer is making a program that will help school teachers create digital lectures that students can review at home, the software engineer is going to start by meeting with teachers.

In these meetings, the engineer’s goal is to get a better understanding of what the problem is and what solutions would prove valuable to the teachers.

Once that information is processed, strategizing is not finished. The engineer then has to make a holistic plan that will map out the entire software development process.

They might even have to pitch this strategy before the project can really get started.

#2 Organize

male programmer with glasses hands on chin in deep thought while looking at codes on screen

The software engineer is the person who creates the grand software vision.

They’re in charge of the project (or at least a section of the project if they aren’t a senior engineer).

The primary role of the engineer is to organize whatever resources are at their disposal in order to build the software at hand.

They have to figure out who is responsible for what tasks, how those various tasks will fit together, and how to make this complicated machine of software function in the end.

#3 Leadership

IT team discussing a project

Since the engineer is in charge of organizing resources, that also means that they will be in a leadership role.

It’s common for a software engineer to have a team of programmers working for them. 

The engineer organizes the programmers according to their tasks.

In order to do this, the engineer has to already have the design plan mapped out (which is why strategy is so important).

But, they also have to get the programmers to successfully build their elements of the software.

This often comes down to pure leadership, and it’s an important quality in a software engineer.

#4 Testing

IT team analyzing, focusing on computer screen

Once the programmers write all of the lines of code, the software engineer’s job is far from done.

Software is complicated.

If you’ve ever used a computer, you know that bugs are a thing, and the software engineer is responsible for ensuring that their programs work successfully.

That requires hours upon hours of testing.

The engineer isn’t just running the code to see what breaks.

They have to design tests that will specifically probe for problems according to the software’s design.

Test design can be just as complicated and taxing as software design, but it’s essential to the process.

#5 Coding

programmer typing software code at modern workplace station

A software engineering position is not the same as a programming position.

The programmer will spend a greater portion of their time writing code, and that’s by design.

The engineer is responsible for more than just the lines of code, as I’ve outlined in the previous section.

Despite all of that, software engineering often involves writing code.

It’s an inevitable part of the job, and even when the engineer isn’t writing code, they are reviewing it.

A software engineer is going to spend many hours staring at lines of code, and it’s definitely not something that a lot of technical consultants do.

What Are the Primary Differences Between Software Engineers and Technical Consultants? (3 Things)

male hands typing writing a code on desktop computer

I’ve taken you deep into the jobs of software engineering and technical consulting.

Already, you have some clear ideas as to the differences between these two areas of work.

But, there are some differences that might not be clear just from seeing what the jobs entail.

So, I’m going to take you through a few key differences to really emphasize what it takes to work in one versus the other.

#1 Scope

young female programmer working while standing in office

The scope of software engineering can be rather vast.

As an engineer, you are responsible for the design, testing, maintenance, leadership, analysis, and more.

On top of that, the engineer has to get pretty deep into the vertical industry related to their software.

Using a previous example, a software engineer building a tool for teachers is going to have to expand their understanding of teaching and education in order to succeed in the task.

This vertical knowledge requirement dramatically expands the scope of software engineering.

Even considering all of that, the scope of technical consulting is much wider.

Technical consultants need just as much vertical knowledge in their client’s industries.

But, technical consulting is such a broad concept.

It involves recommending software, installing the software, and potentially training people on the software.

It also involves hardware recommendations, vendor relationships, IT strategy, and so much more.

IT consulting is vast.

#2 Hands-on

professional collaboration and strategy on computer software technology and planning in modern office

The application of the job is another major difference.

A consultant can get as hands-on as they see fit in a lot of cases.

So, if they want to recommend and then install IT solutions, they can.

But, in a lot of scenarios, a consultant chooses that title to remain hands-off.

They will make recommendations, but then they will leave the implementation up to the client.

Software engineering is entirely hands-on.

Engineers might not write every line of code in their software, but they work directly with the programmers who do.

On top of that, the engineer is deeply involved in the execution of the software design strategy. 

#3 Background

young male programmer working in front of a window with bright city night lights

This might be the largest difference between these two types of jobs.

The path to becoming a software engineer is not really close to the path to becoming a technical consultant.

For software engineering, you need a lot of experience with writing code.

Many software engineers start off as programmers and move their way up.

It also helps a ton to have an appropriate degree.

Most software engineers have degrees in software engineering or computer science.

Some other engineering degrees (such as electrical engineering) can also be applicable.

Technical consultants do not have to work as programmers (unless they specialize in software development consultation).

In fact, many technical consultants never write code at all.

Instead, they usually have a strong and diverse background in IT.

Many technical consultants have worked as network administrators, help desk support, and IT managers.

Degree paths for technical consultants are less rigid.

Many will have a degree in IT or a related field, but it’s feasible to be a successful technical consultant without any degree at all.

As long as you can demonstrate expertise and a history of success, clients will hire you.