Students looking to head down the computer and technology path may be confused by the options. There are computer science and computer engineering, both of which sound similar. It isn’t uncommon to get lost in the terminology and become even more overwhelmed by all the options. This guide breaks down how computer science and computer engineering differ, what skills you need for either, and what jobs you can land.
What is Computer Science?
Computer science is the most common field for anyone wanting to learn about technology. It’s also incredibly broad. Computer science is the study of computer systems, how such systems work and process information, and how to use coding to translate English into languages the computer can comprehend.
Computer science is a general-purpose field, allowing students to learn the theoretical basis of problem-solving. Although many courses in computer sciences will teach specific languages, the tech skills students learn are transferable to a variety of jobs, from operating systems or building databases to improving human-computer interactions.
What is Computer Engineering?
Computer engineering focuses more on the physical aspects of computers. The ‘engineering’ portion really emphasizes skills in designing and building hardware that makes up a computer. This includes components like the computer monitor, keyboard, the disk drive and central processing unit (CPU). Basically, a computer engineer will plan and build the physical parts of a computer.
Computer engineering courses include a lot of electrical engineering, practical physics to understand the circuitry behind computer hardware. In this way, it may seem more specific, but computer engineering skills can apply to seemingly unrelated jobs. With a computer engineering background, you can be a general mechanical engineer, industrial engineer, or electrical engineer. Because a lot of engineering jobs have much overlap, becoming a computer engineers can fork into a variety of pathways.
Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Main Difference
Computer science or computer engineering: which one is right for you? What is the difference? The two fields sound very similar, to an extent. While that may be true, in that computer engineering and computer science may overlap in some areas, they pay attention to very different things.
The main difference boils down to this: software versus hardware. Computer science is on a software level, in terms of programming and operating on with-in computer systems. Computer engineering is on an external, hardware level; concerned with solving problems related to the interface that makes up a computer.
Learning computer science or computer engineering could mean the difference between formulating a software program or building a physical PC system.
Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Skills
Both computer science and computer engineering include similar skill-sets, especially when it comes to general math and science workload. Courses in physics and calculus build the necessary theoretical foundation for both pathways.
However, the course load for computer science concentrates on the inner software of a computer, the coding languages, working mostly with environments. The computer engineering course load consists of more of the structures of the computer, like the CPU and RAM, and the networks connecting them; with the goal of eventually constructing them. You’ll learn how to design and create computer setups.
Computer science focuses more on problem-solving and attending to detail in order to troubleshoot bugs in code. Computer engineering also has problem-solving, just in a different form. Computer engineers learn to sketch out and design computer hardware before creating the prototype, and it can take several rounds of testing the prototypes and fixing any issues to result in a functional piece of computer hardware. You’ll learn what makes up an electronic device, how the architecture of a computer’s inner workings are laid out, and how to connect the physical network devices.
Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Job Outlook
Computer science students will most likely go into a programming-related job. The opportunities are exhaustive. You can enter fields like artificial intelligence, security, and network systems, focus on human-computer interaction, or specialize in UI/UX design. The job roles range from technical to more creatively-focused. Some computer science jobs overlap with other technology fields, like in the case of a software engineer or a systems analyst.
With a computer engineering background, you will become skilled at designing computing systems and hardware. People with a computer engineering background can work in software engineering, electrical design engineering, or network engineering since the coursework includes components of other engineering niches. Most job opportunities in computer engineering are in fields focused on systems, cybersecurity, computer architecture, robotics, aerospace technology, or any job that includes communications systems.
Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Similarities
Other than the fact that both computer science and computer engineering deals with computers, they do have a couple things in common. Most of the devices that computer engineers design come to life through computer science. Both computer scientists and computer engineers need to work together to create an optimally functioning computer.
Computer science and computer engineering also require similar practical and theoretical knowledge. For example, both need an understanding of how operating systems work. Both also utilize the same eye for design, planning, and strategic implementation. The two roles may work in similar job environments and usually collaborate as part of a team. You could say, one couldn’t exist without the other.