Computer science vs software engineering: While software engineering applies engineering principles to software, computer science applies scientific methods to software. Further, computer science seeks to solve theoretical problems, whereas software engineering tries to solve practical, real-world problems.
If you’ve been thinking about entering the field of technology, you might be wondering where exactly you should start. If you have a degree in computer science or have completed an engineering programming bootcamp, you might see many related options in the industry. When it comes to computer science vs software engineering, these opportunities usually overlap with each other in terms of job responsibilities.
A lot of the descriptions of the roles you have searched for online might sound vague or similar. For example, let’s consider software engineering vs computer science. What’s the difference between these? Both utilize programming and deal with software, so where do the two fields divert from each other? Is software engineering a subcategory of computer science?
In this article, we’ll answer these questions and list out the differences between computer science and software engineering fields. The information here will help clarify any confusion you have and simplify your decision-making process.
What Is Computer Science?
Computer science is a broad scientific topic. It includes the study of how data is processed, the security of networks, organizing databases, artificial intelligence, and the development of websites and applications.
Much like other forms of science, computer science takes an abstract approach to computers and computer programming. It explores how computers work in terms of algorithms and the computations that drive processes that manipulate data with theories. This approach to computers is one notable difference between computer science and software engineering.
Data scientists can use the knowledge they’ve gained to program and augment computer systems. After gaining knowledge of these theories, computer scientists use this knowledge for academic purposes (theoretical) or put the principles into practice (practical).
What Is Software Engineering?
Software engineering is a marriage of programming and engineering. Officially, it’s the application of engineering principles to software design. In plain language, software engineering is a field in which hardware design and system computation come together. Let’s break down what software engineering really entails.
The physical parts of any computer are computer hardware. Hardware includes the monitor, the central processing unit (CPU), the hard drive, and so on. The hardware will eventually be the home of the software. Software is a collection of digital code that tells the computer hardware what to do. Examples of software include operating systems (like Windows or iOS), programs and apps, and drivers that run in the background.
Software engineers consider both the hardware and software aspects of a computer when creating software systems. This results in a product that functions more efficiently with fewer bugs and problems.
Computer Science vs Software Engineering
There are notable differences when it comes to computer science vs software engineering. Software engineering is the application of engineering principles to computer hardware and software, usually to solve real-world problems.
Computer science is the application of the scientific method to computer software. Furthermore, computer science is broader and more abstract and is used for theoretical applications rather than practical ones.
|Concept||Computer Science||Software Engineering|
|Definition||An abstract approach to the study of computers and coding using algorithms and theories||The application of programming and engineering to develop, design, and maintain software|
|Scope||Artificial intelligence, network security, machine learning, database systems, programming languages, human-computer interaction||Programming languages, software design, operating systems, information systems, databases, system testing|
|Curriculum||Core courses: algorithms, data structures, logic, programming languages, operating systems, discrete structures|
Electives: artificial intelligence, computer graphics, databases, networks, cryptography
|Core courses: software design, data structures, systems programming, computer design, programming languages|
Electives: artificial intelligence, video game design, networks, machine learning
|Skills||Abstract principles, computational programming, analysis, algorithmic thinking, computational thinking, problem solving, communication||Practical computer skills, programming languages, research, analysis, software design, software testing, problem solving, communication, teamwork|
|Career paths||Mobile application developer, web designer, data analyst, data scientist, cyber security analyst||Software developer, software designer, system designer, project manager, information systems manager|
|Common tasks in the job||Model and design computer-based systems, develop algorithmic principles and computer science theories, analyze and solve computer-based problems, design and build autonomous software||Write and test code, develop software, run simulations, quality assurance, monitor systems performance, systems maintenance, write operational documentation|
Computer enthusiasts looking to start their educational journey often wonder, what is the difference between software engineering and computer science? When it comes to computer science vs software engineering, it’s important to look at the different skills involved in each discipline.
The skills that computer scientists need revolve around abstract principles. Computer science degree program coursework is rigorous with subjects like math, physics, computational programming, and computational systems. Because most of the skills are theory-based, computer science can apply to a broad spectrum of job niches.
While computer science has a general theoretical focus, the two main niches for computer science are practical and theoretical. Practical computer scientists use computer science to solve real-world data problems, typically with data analysis or applied machine learning. Google can intuitively search for something because of the practical results of data science.
Theoretical data science has an academic focus; like the traditional notion of scientists. This niche attempts to further our understanding of computer systems, as well as make breakthroughs in computer technology. These scientists typically work with cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence.
For software engineering, the required skills are more practical. In the engineering field, there is a greater emphasis on applying knowledge about hardware for software development. You’ll need comprehension in subjects like math, mechanical physics, and basic engineering principles. The coursework is more focused on the design, analysis, and quality assurance of the software life cycle.
Software engineers also use SQL for database management and software architecture. Python and C++ are both general-purpose and can be used on any system. These languages are essential tools for the development of software.
Problem-solving is an immensely vital skill for both fields. Whether you are programming or developing software, you need the ability to pinpoint issues and create a strategy to fix them. Furthermore, when it comes to software engineering vs computer science, troubleshooting is involved for both, so attention to detail is equally essential no matter which discipline you focus on.
Pros and Cons of Computer Science and Software Engineering
If you want to pursue a career in computer science or software engineering, you must know what is good and bad about each discipline. In this next section, we take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of computer science and software engineering.
Computer Science Pros and Cons
- Flexible Career Opportunities: Computer science graduates can select from a wide range of jobs across multiple industries.
- High Salary: Not only are computer science careers flexible, but the top 10 percent of earners can make over $200,000 per year.
- Job Security: Computer science is an in-demand discipline with expected job growth of 22 percent over the best 10 years.
- Long Hours: Computer science is a demanding job that can result in long working hours. These can often fall outside of the typical nine to five structure and may include weekend work.
- Pressure: Some computer scientists are responsible for high-profile clients or sensitive personal and organizational data which results in high-pressure situations.
- Lack of Creativity: Some branches of computer science require repetitive tasks that lack creativity. These can sometimes be automated but may be required when you are at the start of your career.
Software Engineering Pros and Cons
- Flexibility: Software engineers can work from anywhere, whether you work for an organization or as a self-employed contractor. As a remote software engineer, you can work remotely.
- Transferable Skills: Software engineers develop advanced technical and soft skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork, and patience. These skills can benefit career switchers or those looking for a new challenge.
- Job Satisfaction: Software engineers can develop a software product that is highly valuable to consumers. These successful projects result in high job satisfaction.
- New Technologies: Technology is advancing at a rapid rate. It can be time-consuming and expensive to keep up to date with these advances in the software engineering field.
- Stress: Software engineers deal with numerous projects and tight deadlines. This can lead to unnecessary stress.
- Competitive: Coding bootcamps are more popular than ever, and it is now easier to find software engineering jobs without a degree. This makes the market more competitive.
Software Engineering vs Computer Science Degree
Students who wish to pursue a software engineering or computer science degree can enroll in either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree program. When it comes to a software engineer degree vs computer science programs, there are some similarities. For example, both disciplines cover subjects like computer programming, analysis, and data structures.
However, when it comes to a software engineering major vs computer science degree, software engineering offers a more practical, hands-on approach. Computer science majors, on the other hand, tend to focus on theoretical principles and learning. Continue reading, as we examine computer science vs software engineering degree courses.
Software Engineering Core Educational Studies
If you are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in software engineering, it is a good idea to know what subjects are covered in these degrees. While the course list will vary from program to program, these are examples of common courses you can expect to find.
Common Software Engineering Courses
- Data Structures. For software engineering degrees, this course will generally be an introduction to data structures. This course covers the implementation of advanced data structures, algorithms, software performance, and testing techniques.
- Software Design. This course will typically cover fundamentals of design such as software development process models, quality assurance, product design, documentation, configuration, and integration testing.
Computer Science Core Educational Studies
One difference between software engineering and computer science is the wider range of subjects offered by computer science undergraduate degrees. However, there are still some common subjects and courses that a typical Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science will cover.
Common Computer Science Courses
- Algorithms. This course teaches students how to use algorithms to solve problems. The course also covers the science and theory used to evaluate the efficiency of algorithms to develop solutions.
- Operating Systems. This course teaches the basics of operating systems such as Windows and macOS. Students will learn abstract and mechanical theories, as well as operating systems implementations.
- Discrete Structures. This course is the study of the structures of computer science and includes logic, sets, functions, relations, graphs, and trees. The key focus of this course is logic.
Software Engineering vs Computer Science: Job Outlook
A computer science career path helps you land technology-based jobs. Computer science graduates can work in almost any job field related to programming or coding. CS majors have their choice of positions like mobile application developer, web designer, data analyst or scientist, or cybersecurity analyst. The range of job types is quite broad for this field of study. Students who have earned a computer science certificate will also have many job opportunities afforded to them.
The jobs available for software engineering students and graduates are quite similar to those in computer science. Fortunately, because software engineering is a mixture of computer science and computer engineering, job opportunities can overlap with other tech fields.
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Software engineers can work in many programming jobs or hardware engineering jobs. Furthermore, almost every company, organization, or occupation requires some level of software engineering to function.
For almost everyone working in either field, proficiency in at least one programming language is a requirement. The more languages you learn, the more job prospects you’ll be able to qualify for.
Having graduated from a software engineering program, there will be plenty of job prospects for you. While the opportunities can be endless, you can also choose a niche that works for you best within the field.
Which Pays More, Computer Science or Software Engineering?
Computer science pays more than software engineering. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer scientists earn an average income of $131,490 per year, compared to $110,140 for software engineers.
This difference in software engineering vs computer science salary is due to the variety of computer science jobs. Computer science professionals have more scope for specialization and therefore can earn more money.
Another factor to consider when it comes to computer science vs software engineering salary is the variance of industries. While software engineers are required across many industries, even outside of tech, computer scientists can adapt their broader knowledge to suit a career in any industry.
Computer Science vs Software Engineering: Which One Is for Me?
The key difference between computer science vs software engineering is the broader, theoretical model offered by computer science. Therefore, learners who want to delve deep into theories and logic should look at computer science. Students who prefer practical, hands-on work should consider software engineering.
Another factor to consider when it comes to software engineering vs computer science is your career goals. Software engineering is a more focused career path, whereas computer science is broader and has opportunities for a plethora of specializations and industries.
Regardless of which field you decide on, you will need hard work and dedication to enter the job market. Fortunately, in this day and age of technology, both fields are in high demand and are never short on job opportunities. Furthermore, this boom in tech jobs shows no signs of stopping any time soon.
Computer Science vs Software Engineering FAQ
No, computer science is not the same as software engineering. While computer science does include software engineering principles, they are different disciplines. Computer science is a theoretical field of study that focuses on algorithms. Software engineering is more practical and hands-on.
Which is better, software engineering or computer science?
Computer science is better because you can earn a higher salary, work in a wider range of industries, and find a greater variety of jobs. Deciding if you should study software engineering or computer science will depend on your career goals and if your core skills are practical learning or theoretical learning.
Is computer science necessary for software engineering?
Yes, computer science is necessary for software engineering. While there are differences between computer science and software engineering, there is a lot of crossover in subjects and courses covered. Computer science fundamentals are required for aspiring software engineers.
Is computer science harder than software engineering?
No, computer science is not harder than software engineering. Computer science is a broader subject and allows students to select from a wider variety of specializations and concentrations. However, computer science is more theoretical and has a greater focus on math and science, which some students might find harder than the practical learning of software engineering.
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