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The term “engineer” can mean several things in the software industry. Software engineering can encompass software development, bug fixes, database design and programming, or even robotics and micro-programming. If you have a software development project that requires a developer, many people use the terms “software engineer” and “developer” interchangeably—but an engineer is typically more all-encompassing than just a developer.

Here are some of the most important cost factors you’ll need to consider when budgeting to hire a software engineer for your needs. A software engineer can help you build a mobile app, design a website, create a web API, or build any number of software applications you’re looking for.

Cost Factor #1: What Do You Want Engineered?

Different types of projects require different levels of expertise and engineers with different levels of expertise charge different rates. A simple WordPress blog won’t cost as much as a fully functional application that branches out among several APIs and caters to different countries.

One way to control this type of project is to ask for a minimal viable product (MVP) to take to market and then scale it as you determine its success. An MVP is the absolute minimum requirements needed to get the product launched to test user interest in the market. This will reduce costs while still providing you with the product you want.

Of course, software engineers perform numerous services aside from just web or app programming. Many have a strong background in engineering ideas instead of just taking development instructions. That’s the main difference between an engineer and a developer even though the two terms are used interchangeably by both developers and clients.

Software engineering also requires different types of professionals. You might need a database, software, and design engineer. All of these types of engineers charge different prices per hour. Engineers are also responsible for programming microprocessors and robotic hardware, and these programmers would charge a much different rate compared to a standard web developer.

Cost Factor #2: Scope

While it’s difficult for a non-engineer to fully understand the scope of a development project, it’s one of the biggest driving factors for cost. A small, simple app that uses no APIs or outside sources could only take a few weeks to engineer, but some applications can take months to complete because they have such a large scope.

The larger the scope, the more back-and-forth there will be, and more rounds of testing are needed. It’s difficult to estimate the size of an application scope from just an idea—you need to consult a software engineer to come up with a plan, a deadline, and some scope delivery items throughout the duration of the project.

To get an idea of what types of coding and requirements might affect scope, here is a general list:

  • External APIs from other vendors and sources.
  • Design requirements included with back-end coding
  • Custom web services that extend the main application
  • Revisions and changes to the scope during the project
  • Device testing for applications meant for desktop and mobile devices
  • Any equipment purchases needed such as robotics and micro-programming
  • Poor documentation for requirements and planning

In failed projects, many times it’s poor documentation or a miscommunication that causes things to come apart. Always communicate your idea to a software engineer the best you can. A good engineer will help you create the documentation to ensure the project runs smoothly.

Cost Factor #3: Geography

If you’ve already searched for costs, you’ve probably heard the wide range of fees charged based on geographic location of the developer. You’ve also probably read the pros and cons for engaging an engineer outside of your own area.

The pro is that some cities, states, and countries have a much cheaper cost of living, so engineers from these locations can charge lower rates. Engineers in the US, Australia and the UK can charge hundreds of dollars per hour, and sometimes more in hubs like New York, Sydney or London. However, the cost of living in countries such as Russia, India and Serbia is much lower and therefore the engineers could charge lower rates.

You still need to consider several factors that can actually increase cost and time of development. In the previous section, we mentioned miscommunication as a main cause of project failure. This possibility is increased when you work with developers who don’t speak your language. It’s an innocent yet costly problem when there are language barriers between the engineer and the owner.

Another issue is time zones. You could ask for changes at noon, and this could be late night for some developers, which can extend the deadline and costs due to time zone delays.

How Do You Get an Estimate?

If you’re unsure how much an application should cost, the first step is to post a project and speak to engineers. You can also post a project for a project manager to get help from someone who deals with these types of requests. A PM can help organize your project and give you a realistic idea of what type of engineer you need and an approximation in costs.

Every project has its own cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands. The best next step after documenting your idea is to talk to software engineers.