Which Is Better: Developer or Consultant?

There is no denying that app/software developers and IT consultants are among the most in-demand types of experts in today’s corporate world. Technology is at the center of everything, and as we continue to innovate and build things, developers and consultants will become even more relevant. But have you ever wondered how both specialty fields stack up against each other?


A career in development is better than one in consultancy when you consider the average salary and the job outlook in each field. In terms of job satisfaction, both careers may appeal to people of varying personalities and interests.


Read on to find out what to expect in terms of the annual salary, job outlook, and a typical day in the office for a developer and a consultant so you can make a more informed decision when choosing between the two.


Perhaps the most obvious question that comes to mind when deciding between two prospective jobs is, which one pays more? It’s an important question, too, because, at the end of the day, we all work to make money and enjoy everything that comes with financial freedom.


According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for software developers in 2018 was $105,590. Of course, this is subject to change according to the company you work for, the industry you work in, the level of experience, etc.


It can be tricky to estimate how much you’d make as a consultant because there are so many variables involved. Unlike developers who are mostly formally employed, a consultant can be a freelancer or an employee.


Nevertheless, let’s look at salary statistics to give you a rough estimate.


Based on the 2019 estimates by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for management analysts (which Includes program analysts and management consultants) stands at about $95,560 per year. This figure may vary depending on whether you’re employed or a freelance consultant. 


If you’re employed, your earnings will depend on your work experience, industry, employer, and job description (e.g., some consulting jobs involve writing code, while others don’t). On the other hand, a freelance consultant’s earnings may vary according to the number of clients, the complexity of each project, operational efficiency, among other factors.


The numbers suggest that developers make more than consultants. However, that’s not always the case because there are well established freelance consultants who make way more than $105,590 annually. But with regards to formal employment in both careers, a developer may make more.

Job Satisfaction

Of course, the pay is not the only significant factor when comparing two prospective career paths. Job satisfaction is also important. 


In fact, some people see it as a more important factor than pay when choosing a career, and rightly so. Why? Because your job is where you spend most of your day, and you probably wouldn’t want to spend this time doing something that you’re not passionate about or at least interested in. 


As such, you need to assess a typical day in the office for each role against your passions or preferences before you decide whether to become a developer or a consultant. 


To give you a better idea of what to expect in that regard, here’s a table comparing the duties of a Software developer and an IT consultant in a conventional offshore software development project.


Consultant Developer
Examines the various technologies from a business perspective and recommends the technical specifications for the software. Clients use these recommendations to make better business decisions. Receives the recommended technical specs and incorporates them into the software through programming and other development tasks.
Uses market performance statistics to add/delete features from the software. This helps optimize it to meet various business goals such as ROI, market competitiveness, satisfying the needs of the target audience, and so on. A developer isn’t concerned about market performance reports or consumer feedback regarding the features of the software. Their job is to implement the approved specs for each feature within the required time frame.
May be required to assist in code reviewing and refactoring. Always assist in code reviewing and refactoring
Examines the software for issues related to security, ease of maintenance, scalability, user-friendliness, and general performance. Such a 360-angle view helps steer the implementation strategy in the right direction from the beginning of the project. Writing functional code is the priority for a developer. Issues related to performance, security, etc. are typically overlooked until the end.
Looks at the long term usability of the whole software and leverages this to help choose appropriate DBMS and Db schema. Creates a schema for each feature at a time and continuously modifies it accordingly.
May simulate traffic to measure client/server-side load and latency. The findings can then be used to optimize code by revamping DB schema, algorithms, and data structures. Not always developers need to deal with latency and client/server-side load.
Heavily involved in “testing and QA ” as developers write the code and implement features. Also helps document test cases to facilitate early bug detection, which is critical to the creation of bug-free code. Most of the developers write automated tests during the development process. However,sometimes Tests each feature manually after it’s been fully implemented.
Once the software begins to take shape, a consultant may assist in server farm design and lay down the architecture required to launch. A software developer may only run the processes involved in moving the app to the cloud on when and as instructed by the consultant. or project manager.
May help with maintaining the app on the cloud because they’re usually familiar with the prod machine setup. Usually doesn’t know about this setup.
May fill in as a project manager and help track things like timelines, project scope, resources, activity scheduling, and so on. Only functions as a part of the project, and often lacks managerial skills.


Loosely translated, what all this technical jargon means is that:


As a consultant,  When you’re not attending meetings or preparing PowerPoint presentations, you’ll be digging through spreadsheets. Very little of your work (if any) will involve writing the actual code. If this sounds appealing to you, then you’d probably enjoy a satisfying career in consultancy.


On the other hand, you’ll spend most of your day writing code if you choose to be a developer. So if the idea of firing up your IDE and debugging/writing code every day without having to wear a suit (at least in most companies) sounds great, a career in development might be more fulfilling.

Job Outlook

Looking at the latest projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the future is bright for both careers. The demand for software developers is expected to grow by 21% between 2108 and 2028


This is much faster than the national average for all occupations, and the numbers are even more impressive for app developers. This lot will see the demand for their services skyrocket by up to 26%, while systems developers will enjoy a modest increase of 10%.


On the other hand, management analysts (again, this includes program analysts and management consultants) can expect a 14% increase in employment rate between 2018 and 2028. 


In particular, IT consultants are expected to be in high demand because businesses are increasingly realizing the importance of cybersecurity, maintaining up-to-date IT systems, and staying compliant with industry regulations.


The employment rate in both fields is expected to grow faster than the national average for all occupations. However, development has a slight edge over consultancy in this regard.

The Bottom Line

Seemingly, the field of development has better prospects than consultancy in terms of salary and job outlook. But when deciding which field to pursue, you might want to prioritize job satisfaction over these numbers because, as the adage goes, “money can’t buy happiness.” All the best!

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