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Development Deep Dive: the 8 Key Roles in Software Development

roles in software development

Software has changed the way we work, study, and entertain ourselves. Software products and services are incredibly complex systems that require a great deal of technical expertise and creativity. At the heart of every software initiative is a dedicated team of development professionals. While software teams may differ in composition, scale, or the development methodologies they use, many rely on the same core roles in software development.

How many roles are there in a software development team?

Software development teams can differ depending on the nature of their work. While there are at least 8 fundamental roles in software development, many development teams may not need all of them. With that said, each of these roles can find utility in most software development contexts.

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Development teams can also be expanded with more specialized roles. Depending on the type of product being developed, the scale of development, and the development architecture used, additional roles may also be needed.

What roles make up a development team?

As mentioned above, most development teams tend to have 8 fundamental roles. Each role we’ve identified contributes to the software development lifecycle and plays a key part in ensuring the success of software projects.

The 8 core roles in software development we’ve identified are:

1. Product Owner

Product Owners are IT professionals tasked with ensuring the quality and functionality of software products and services produced by the development team. As they represent and advocate for the client’s needs, they often serve as the key point of contact between clients, line of business teams (Marketing and Sales), and the development team. Product Owners typically manage the organization of team Backlogs and work with clients to define, refine and prioritize story points for the development team.

They’re often responsible for liaising with Product Managers and other line-of-business stakeholders. Product Owners are usually based with the rest of the product or technical team and have a hand in managing operations and facilitating communication between technical stakeholders on the team and customers.

This role requires constant availability as Product Owners are often called upon to guide development decisions and direction in line with customer needs. To do this well, they need to be in constant contact with customers, line of business stakeholders, and the rest of the development team.

2. Scrum Master (in Scrum-based teams)

Scrum Masters are responsible for leading the development team in an Agile way. They ensure that teams follow Agile and Scrum best practices by facilitating open communication, knowledge exchange, and healthy collaboration. Scrum Masters are often responsible for:

  • Scheduling, hosting, and managing daily stand-ups, retrospectives, sprint planning, and other scrum meetings.
  • Planning sprints alongside Project Managers and Development teams to prevent scope creep and overloading.
  • Managing Scrum or Kanban boards to help improve workflows and facilitate greater visibility across the team.
  • Foster team culture with 1-on-1 Agile mentorship, conflict resolution, and facilitating better communication and collaboration.
  • Supporting the development team’s needs. This can range from working to remove blockers to facilitating more comfortable working environments conducive to better development.

Scrum Masters focus on improving how work gets done in development. They help to make the development process smoother, either through personal intervention or by facilitating the meetings and knowledge exchange needed to push development forward.

3. Team Lead/Technical Lead

Team leads and technical leads are both important leadership roles in software development. While some organizations may conflate the two, they’re actually very different roles.

Team Leads assume a people and team-focused view of management. They work towards guiding development in the right direction and working to resolve issues that might occur within the team. They’re key contributors to the product roadmap and liaise regularly with Product Owners and other stakeholders to support the project.

A Technical Lead, on the other hand, is more focused on the technical aspect of development. They’re typically senior developers or engineers who may also contribute code in the development process. They’re often responsible for technical decisions and tasks like:

  • choosing the programming languages, development tools, and frameworks to be used
  • conducting and facilitating code reviews
  • assigning pair-coding sessions
  • assisting with recruitment and hiring
  • ensuring project goals and deadlines are met
  • providing coaching and mentorship

While there can be some overlap in these roles, bear in mind that technical leads are more process and tool oriented whereas team leads are more people-focused. Both roles work to support the development process by providing close leadership and guidance to developer teams.

4. UI/UX Designer

UI/UX Designers are responsible for the digital interfaces that customers use when interacting with software or digital tools. To do this, they need to understand how people interact with existing products or services. With this knowledge, they can then create better user experiences for new and existing products.

Good UI/UX helps to garner customer satisfaction and improves overall customer success. UI/UX Designers are, therefore, a key part of teams focused on the development of digital tools and platforms.

UI/UX designers are usually responsible for ensuring that software products are optimized for usability, effectiveness, and usefulness following functional design and visual design principles.

Notable responsibilities for this role include:

  • Investigating user experience design requirements
  • Researching current trends in UI/UX design
  • Developing and delivering cohesive UI/UX design strategies
  • Creating mock-ups of new design options
  • Building wireframes or prototypes to help guide development and design
  • Creating code integrations for new designs
  • Designing and Testing UI elements to be used in the software
  • Implementing research and testing methodologies to better understand user needs

UI/UX Designers need to be both creative and communicative to deliver real value to their teams. These skills are essential to developing and explaining design concepts to both business and product stakeholders.

5. Business Analyst

Business Analysts help to meet clients’ needs by evaluating their businesses to better understand the systems, processes, and operations at work. They then use the data they collect to find use-cases in which software products or solutions can add value either in terms of cost savings or revenue generation.

As part of the development team, Business Analysts can also spend a lot of their time working to understand the client’s business needs and challenges. This can involve:

  • Researching possible competitors
  • Analyzing the business domain
  • Communicating with subject matter experts
  • Gathering detailed information on customer requirements

Business Analysts also help to define the core business requirements for software to be developed. After gathering information on the customer’s business and identifying their challenges and needs, they assemble these requirements into a specification document. This document is circulated to all relevant stakeholders including product owners, marketing and sales teams, and customers themselves.

Once all stakeholders have signed off on the requirements, they can be passed to the development team to begin work on the products or solutions needed. From this point on, Business Analysts are also responsible for clarifying any questions developers may have and advising on feature development in line with target business outcomes.

6. DevOps Engineers

As more software teams embrace DevOps, the need for DevOps proficient roles increases. One of the most popular new roles on modern software teams is DevOps Engineer. These DevOps professionals support software development by working alongside teams to make the development process more agile and efficient.

DevOps Engineers support teams by supporting automation, implementing more efficient development pipelines, fostering collaboration between devs and IT operations engineers, and providing infrastructure solutions for teams. Key responsibilities for this role include:

  • Managing the development and release pipeline  
  • Task Automation for Continuous Integration /Continuous Development  
  • Supporting testing and monitoring throughout development
  • Managing the implementation of Infrastructure-as-Code
  • Server administration for teams  

DevOps Engineers are often required to be jacks-of-all-trades, with proficiency in a wide range of tools and IT processes.

7. Software Engineers/Software Developers

Software Engineers and Developers are another pair of roles that are frequently used interchangeably. While some argue that software engineers are distinct from developers, in practice they’re responsible for many of the same areas in the development lifecycle. They are often at the heart of the development team and are responsible for building solutions, testing, refining, and improving software products to delight and excite customers.

Great software engineers and developers are invaluable assets for any development team. They’re responsible for analyzing the problem statement and customer requirements to develop robust, scalable, and reliable solutions. Other core responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring the development and deployment of new features
  • Carrying out software maintenance
  • Ensuring software security
  • Performing early software testing
  • Writing and updating software documentation

While software developers tend to operate in silos, they also need to communicate with key stakeholders and other members of the software team throughout the development process.

8. QA Engineers

QA in software development is chiefly concerned with ensuring that final products perform reliably and will function as per the customer’s needs. Traditionally QA engineers were tasked with designing test cases, testing software, writing comprehensive test reports, and assisting developers in terms of defects detected. In the Waterfall framework of development, much of their work came at the tail end of the development lifecycle.

As more software teams have adopted CI/CD development practices like DevOps, testing has “shifted left”. With the movement to earlier testing, QA engineers are now working more closely with developers and contributing to earlier testing throughout the development lifecycle.

QA engineers are now responsible for:

  • Reviewing quality specifications and requirements to inform test design
  • Designing test cases for automation
  • Assisting development teams in test design and implementation
  • Implementing test automation
  • Assisting in debugging and defining actions to resolve issues identified in testing
  • Identifying and documenting defects found
  • Tracking software quality metrics (defect distribution, defect density, defect volume, etc.)

Cases for specialized roles in software development

The 8 roles we’ve identified above are common features of Agile and Agile-like development teams. However, depending on the type of product or the platform, certain roles may not be needed, while more specialized roles might. Teams that develop products for cloud platforms, for example, need specialized roles like Cloud Architects, Cloud Engineers, Cloud Support Engineers, and more.

Teams that use different software development methodologies may also include more specialized roles. DevOps-focused teams, for example, often include some of the roles identified above in addition to their own unique roles.

Know your roles to build better teams

Knowing the different roles in software development and what they offer can help with putting together a team that works well for your organization. To get the best out of your development team, it’s a good idea to understand what kind of software you will be developing and what methodologies are most suitable. From there, once you understand the roles, you’re already halfway to building a capable software team. For some helpful tips on putting together a stellar software team, read our article here.

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