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

The role of a principal software engineer has always been marred by controversy due to the ambiguous nature of their responsibilities. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when an employee of a particular company gives blank stares once asked to define who a principal software developer or software principal engineer is.

In this article, we are going to compare principal software engineer vs architect, their roles in solving various software development challenges, and how different they are from typical SW development engineer. We will also demonstrate what is the principal programmer salary in the world.
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Junior<2 years
Middle2-4 years
Senior5+ years

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, its the solving of a problem using innovative solutions using basic things.

Development, on the other hand, is the systematic utilization of different SW engineer’s 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 where you need to work with a professional software engineer principal.

Principal Software Engineer vs Senior Software Engineer

Principal IT architect vs principal engineer are two different titles altogether.

The main responsibilities of a principal IT architect include checking the intersystem interaction, their structure, and technologies used for the service. They also document, analyze, and plan on a day to day basis. The title principal architect engineer has for long had a dark cloud hanging over the head as many architects are excellent white paper writers compared to when it comes to designing software.

Senior vs principal engineer on the other hand focuses on implementation and bug fixing on either a new system or in an already existing one. They can undertake these complex tasks as they usually have more than 5 years of experience.

One interesting thing about senior engineers is the fact that they reach title inflation once they hit over 7 years of experience. At this point, they acquire the principal engineer title.

Without this title inflation, they are like directors given their impact, autonomy, compensation, and their reporting structure.

Principal Developer Skills

There are various skills that a principal developer vs architect needs to have in ranging from specific technical skills to desirable 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

The principal software engineer vs lead software engineer is responsible for many other things including but not limited to:

Development Process Optimization Skills

A principal vs lead software engineer should be able to identify opportunities for business and service improvements. While at it, they should be able to analyze, identify, prioritize, and implement efficiencies, which helps the company derive the highest possible value from the 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 new each new SW developer on how to implement it.

Capacity Management

In the meantime, principal software engineer vs technical lead should have the skills to troubleshoot all the weak points of the available services and improving them. They should also be able to control and manage the service components like hardware, software, and network resources.


Although the principal software architect vs principal engineer doesn’t do much of code writing, they should have practical knowledge in programming to help them dictate the security standards, design specifications, checking compliance, and maintaining technical responsibility in all the development stages and to be in a role of solution architect vs software architect if needed.

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Systems Design

A senior principal software engineer also helps lay down the design specification of service to meet the business needs. Working with multiple technologies and stakeholders, technical lead vs principal engineer helps translate the problem that a business is facing, visualize the perfect user service and come up with a design to solve these problems.

Systems Integration

Application to principal software engineering job requires the SW engineer to have the knowledge in integrating and testing different components of a system to create the ideal operational service. The principal engineer vs lead engineer should also help coordinate build activities and define how integration should be implemented.

The Average Principal Software Engineer Salary in Different Countries

Not all the principal software engineers have the same paychecks in different countries.  This is because, depending on where they are working and on their SW engineering skills, some receive higher salaries compared to others. Using different salary calculators, we have identified the countries that pay the highest salary to the principal software engineer and software developer architect.

According to PayScale, the average salary of a principal engineer in the US is around $139,709 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 $85,071. In Germany, a person in this position earns approximately $64,957. Ukrainian developers happen to be the lowest paid in Europe with an annual income of $40,000*.

*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). The salaries are provided for comparison purposes and could be not entirely accurate. Contact us to know the exact cost of hiring a developer corresponding to the required parameters.

How to Manage Remote Teams of Software Developers and Engineers?

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

  1. Do management by yourself. You will have to watch the recruitment process and all the work. There is a risk to fail both like a CEO and like an entrepreneur.
  2. Use the outsourcing model. Outsourcing vendors have quite an extensive experience in handling your collaboration with the development team, thus, you can mitigate certain risks under SW engineering assistance.
  3. Hire CTO. CEOs or project managers do not always possess an immense technical background, therefore the workflow might face pitfalls. However, by using the best time management software, they can streamline their workflows and ensure that their teams meet deadlines. CTO is a person that will take care of the technical requirements, partially cover the role of the team manager, and will guarantee the end result to be promising.

Hire Principal Software Developer in Mobilunity

Right of the bat, the position of a software engineer and architect engineer may seem synonymous and can be interchangeably used. However, once you dig into the nitty-gritty, you will realize that one is relatively broader compared to the other. The SW development engineer can easily take up the role of a software developer whereas the vice versa is practically not feasible. This is because the SW developer’s position requires in-depth knowledge and practical experience to execute the roles and all the circumstances it imposes. 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 they 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 always chooses to hire virtual reality developer that possess up to date VR skills and qualification to increase the user experience of the customers.

If you are looking to hire test automation architects or where to find and hire technical lead or even to outsource principal marketing services, Mobilunity is an IT outsourcing company based in Ukraine that will help you get an experienced principal engineer to do 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 timely recruitment and world-class development services!

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