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Principal Software Engineer vs Architect: What’s the Difference?

The role of a principal software engineer has always been ambiguous (and sometimes controversial), and often blank stares result if someone is asked to define what a Principal Software Developer or Principal Software Engineer actually is.

In this article, we are going to compare principal software engineer vs Architect, their roles in solving various software development challenges, and where they differ from a typical SW Development Engineer role. We will also demonstrate the Principal Programmer salary in various countries.
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Engineering can be loosely defined as the creative application of mathematical methods, science and empirical evidence when designing a structure or system. In other words, it’s the solving of a problem using innovative solutions.

Development, on the other hand, is the systematic utilization of different coding technologies to accomplish pre-determined objects in the software environment. In relation to software development, it’s the combination and use of different techniques to accomplish a specific goal. In comparing Principal Software Engineer vs Architect, it’s crucial to recognize the specialized roles within specific ecosystems. For example, the decision to hire Salesforce Architect, who possesses expertise in designing scalable and efficient Salesforce solutions, exemplifies the strategic and high-level planning aspects that distinguish an architect’s role in technology projects.

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Principal Software Engineer vs Senior Software Engineer

Principal Engineer and Principal IT Architect are two entirely different titles.

The main responsibilities of a Principal IT Architect include checking the intersystem interaction, their structure and technologies used for a service. They also document, analyze and plan on a day-to-day basis. 

A Senior Engineer, on the other hand, focuses on implementation and bug fixing within a new system or one that already exists. They usually have 5+ years of experience and are able to undertake complex tasks.

Interestingly, many senior engineers reach title inflation once they hit over 7 years of experience. At this point, they acquire the Principal Engineer title.

Despite this title inflation, they often operate in the same way as most directors, with the same impact, autonomy, compensation and reporting structure.

Principal Developer Skills

There are various skills that a Principal Developer or Architect needs to have, ranging from specific technical knowledge to desirable soft skills.

They include:

  • Deep knowledge and ability to build high performing, scalable and reliable services
  • Proven record of building software components and multi-threaded services
  • Ability to quickly learn techniques as well as upgraded versions of old ones
  • Leadership skills to manage and organize either in-house or virtual development teams to deliver world-class scalable services
  • Solid knowledge of storage systems
  • Prolific software writing skills
  • Vast data integration knowledge
  • Strong knowledge of different testing tools, libraries and databases
  • Testing and debugging skills
  • Working knowledge of Identity Server 3 and 4, Azure Active Directory and OpenID Connect

Principal Software Engineer Responsibilities

Among many other duties, the Principal or Lead Software Engineer is in charge of the following:

principal software engineer responsibilities

Development Process Optimization Skills

A Principal or Lead Software Engineer should be able to identify opportunities for business and service improvements. They should be able to analyze, identify, prioritize and implement efficiencies which help the company derive the highest possible value from their services. This may be in the form of automation of processes, managing changes or even identifying other cost benefits of new approaches.

Modern Standards Approach

A principal developer and principal IT architect should also be able to identify the best new approaches for the organization and take the responsibility of training each new SW developer on how to implement them.

Capacity Management

The Principal Software Engineer or Technical Lead should have the skills to troubleshoot all weak points of the available services and improve them. They should also be able to control and manage service components like hardware, software and network resources.


Although the Principal Software Architect or Principal Engineer doesn’t do much code writing, they should have practical knowledge in programming to help dictate the security standards, design specifications, checking compliance and maintaining technical responsibility in all the development stages and to operate in the role of Solution or Software Architect if needed.

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Systems Design

A Senior Principal Software Engineerhelps provide the design specification of a service to meet business needs. Working with a variety of technologies and stakeholders, a Technical Lead or Principal Engineer is able to assist in tackling a problem that an organization is experiencing, visualizing the ideal user service and developing a design to address these issues.

Systems Integration

When applying for a major software engineering job, it is necessary for the SW Engineer to possess the expertise necessary to integrate and test the many components of a system in order to produce the best possible operational service. Additionally, the Lead or Principal Engineer should assist in defining the integration implementation strategy and coordinating build activities.

The Average Principal Software Engineer Salary in Different Countries

The pay for a  Principal Software Engineer differs between countries.  Using different salary calculators, we have identified the countries that pay the highest salary to Principal Software Engineers and Software Developer Architects.

According to PayScale, the average salary of a principal engineer in the US is around $149,743 per year, which is the highest rate for a middle developer.In the UK, labor costs are also quite high. The average salary of a principal embedded software engineer is around $88,994.

In Germany, a person in this position earns approximately $62,603. Ukrainian developers happen to be the lowest paid in Europe with an annual income of $40,000*.

principal software engineer salary

*Ukrainian salaries are provided based on Mobilunity’s Recruitment Team research on the local job markets. All salaries are net and do not include the service fee (in case of hiring on a dedicated team model). Salaries are provided for comparison purposes and are subject to fluctuation. Contact us to find the exact cost of hiring a developer corresponding to your required parameters.

How to Manage Remote Teams of Software Developers and Engineers?

Hiring dedicated development teams has become a normal modern practice in a business environment. However, quite often companies experience failures as they lack knowledge about how to manage an offshore software development team. We distinguish three main approached:

  1. Handle everything yourself. You will have to oversee the entire recruitment process and all the work. This can be enormously taxing and, whether you’re a CEO or solo entrepreneur, risky if you lack the requisite technical knowledge.
  2. Use an outsourcing model. Outsourcing vendors with extensive experience in handling collaboration with development teams helps mitigate certain risks when seeking assistance in SW engineering.
  3. Hire a CTO. CEOs or project managers do not always possess an immense technical background, and thus the work might face pitfalls. However, by using powerful best time management software, they can streamline workflows and ensure that their teams meet deadlines. The CTO will take care of the technical requirements and partially cover the role of a Team Manager.

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Yes, it might seem like the Software Engineer and Architect Engineer positions are synonymous and can be interchangeably used. However, once you dig into the details, you will realize that one is much broader than the other. The SW Development Engineer can easily take up the role of a Software Developer whereas the vice versa is rarely feasible. This is because the SW Developer’s position requires in-depth knowledge and practical experience to execute their tasks. Additionally, they also report to senior management which is not the case when it comes to Architects.

The Architect, on the other hand, has to deal with multiple engineering projects concurrently, which demands that they should be able to multitask. With that said, Engineers can work in offices although may be occasionally required to physically work on the project. With all these attributes, they do qualify to occupy the position of a Principal Software Engineer. A smart entrepreneur may choose to hire virtual reality developer that possesses up-to-date VR skills and qualifications to increase the user experience of customers.

If you are looking to hire Test Automation Architects or a Technical Lead or even outsource your principal marketing services, Mobilunity is an IT outsourcing company based in Ukraine that can help you get an experienced Principal Engineer to do just that. Our team of engineers has worked with different companies in building reliable software components and multi-threaded services.

Contact us to build the strongest team of Principal Software Engineers! We guarantee fast recruitment and world-class development services.

All salaries and prices mentioned within the article are approximate NET numbers based on the research done by our in-house Recruitment Team. Please use these numbers as a guide for comparison purposes only and feel free to use the contact form to inquire on the specific cost of the talent according to your vacancy requirements and chosen model of engagement.

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