Are you planning your computer-oriented career but stuck on the difference between computer science and software engineering?
The two fields overlap, but their career paths are drastically different.
While these terms may seem interchangeable, the two have significant differences.
This article will compare going to school and getting a job in each field.
- Computer science is more theoretical, and computer engineering is more practical.
- Software engineers often use tools that computer scientists create.
- Computer scientists often acquire Master’s or PhD’s.
- Software engineers rely on technical education.
- Computer scientists can specialize in data analysis and theoretical research.
- Software engineers can become software developers and project managers.
- Salaries are similar for both, ranging from approximately $85K to $110K per year.
Table: Computer Science vs Software Engineering Similarities and Differences
|Computer Science||Software Engineering|
|Position||Gathers requirements, designs, develops, tests, and maintains software applications.||Relies on computer science|
|Software Tools||Designs and creates software tools||Uses software tools to plan, create, build, and test software applications|
|Research||Writes research||Uses research to create applications|
|Computers||Designs and creates computers||Uses computers|
|Subjects||Computational theory, information processing, complex problem solving, mathematical computation||Solves complex problems using computers|
|New Technology||Designs and plans new technology||Uses new technology|
|Careers||Computer scientist, researcher||Software engineer, software developer, data analyst, project manager, build manager, quality assurance|
|Work Locations||Research institutions, academia, tech companies||Tech companies|
|Education||Master’s Degree or PhD|
|Software Lifecycle||Theorizes about best practices||Implements best practices|
|Teams||Usually works in teams.||Usually works in teams|
|Concerns||Efficiency, reliability, scalability, problem-solving, programming languages, data structures, algorithms, often use Java/C/C++/Python, artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity|
The Difference Between Computer Science and Software Engineering
Computer science is the theoretical backbone of software engineering.
A computer scientist designs an algorithm to store data, and the software engineer uses that algorithm in a software program.
Computer science is more theoretical and research-oriented, whereas software engineering is more practical and application-driven.
Computer science explores the foundations of computing, while software engineering focuses on the engineering principles necessary to build complex software systems.
Computer science is a discipline that focuses on the theoretical aspects of computing, including the study of:
- data structures
- programming languages
- computational theory
Computer science requires understanding how computers and systems process information and solve complex problems.
Computer scientists have a deep understanding of the mathematical and theoretical foundations of computing, and they apply this knowledge to develop innovative solutions and technological advancements.
Computer science is more concerned with the theoretical aspects of computing, such as
- algorithm design and analysis
- computational complexity
- computer architecture
On the other hand, software engineering focuses on the practices and methodologies necessary to develop large-scale software systems efficiently.
On the other hand, software engineering focuses on the practical application of engineering principles to design, develop, and maintain software systems.
It involves a systematic approach to building software products, emphasizing creating reliable, scalable, and efficient solutions.
Software engineering encompasses the entire software development lifecycle, including software:
- requirements gathering
How Computer Science and Software Engineering Are Similar
While computer science and software engineering are distinct, they share similarities and overlaps.
Both disciplines require a strong foundation in programming and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, both fields benefit from a solid understanding of algorithms and data structures.
Aligning Your Education with Your Education Path
Employers require more education from computer scientists than from software engineers.
As a future computer scientist, expect to get at least a master’s degree in computer science.
As a future software engineer, expect to take skills-based classes.
Degrees are much more important to theoretical work, and skills are more important to practical work.
You also want to align your style with the expectations and requirements in each field.
Are you a big-picture computer science theoretician?
A detail-oriented software engineer?
Computer science is more theoretical and mathematical, and software engineering is more practical.
A computer scientist should enjoy the theoretical aspects of computing and have a passion for research for the sake of research.
A software engineer should be strongly inclined toward creating practical solutions and working in a team environment.
Career Choices in Computer Science and Software Engineering
Both computer science and software engineering offer promising career paths.
Computer science graduates can apply for jobs as:
- computer scientists
- data analysts
They are often involved in cutting-edge research and development.
Software engineering graduates, on the other hand, can work as:
- software engineers
- software developers
- project managers
They are responsible for designing, developing, and maintaining software products.
While there is considerable overlap, the following are computer science and software engineering career paths:
Here is the breakdown of the careers into the categories “mainly computer science,” “mainly software engineering,” and “both”:
Mainly Computer Science:
- Data scientists (analyze complex data for trends and insights)
- Security engineers (protect computer systems from threats)
- Cybersecurity analysts (protect internet systems from threats)
- Systems analysts (design and improve information systems)
- Network administrators (manage computer networks)
- Artificial intelligence engineers (develop AI systems)
- Database administrators (manage and organize data)
- Computer systems engineers (design and develop computer systems)
- Computer and information research scientists (conduct computer science research)
- Computer network architects (design and build data communication networks)
- Computer hardware engineers (develop computer hardware components and systems)
- Machine learning engineers (develop self-improving algorithms)
- Embedded systems engineers (design computers embedded in other computers or machines)
- Cloud engineers (build cloud software and infrastructure)
- Blockchain developers (create decentralized applications)
- Virtual reality engineers (create immersive experience systems)
Mainly Software Engineering:
- Software developers (create applications)
- Web developers (create websites)
- Mobile app developers (create mobile device apps)
- Computer programmers (write code)
- Full-stack developers (work on backend and frontend web development)
- Systems architects (design and develop software systems)
- DevOps engineers (streamline software development processes)
- Quality assurance engineers (test and troubleshoot software)
- User interface designers (create visually appealing and handicap-accessible user interfaces)
- Game developers (create computer games)
- IT project managers (oversee technology projects)
- Software project managers (oversee software projects)
Types of Positions
A computer science degree opens doors to many opportunities in research institutions, tech companies, and academia.
Computer scientists can work in areas such as artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity, and software development.
On the other hand, software engineering focuses on equipping graduates with the skills needed for a career in software development, software architecture, project management, and systems analysis.
Regarding salary, both computer science and software engineering graduates are well-compensated.
The exact salaries can vary depending on experience, location, and industry.
However, the average salaries for both fields tend to be competitive.
According to recent surveys, computer science graduates earn a median salary of around $85,000 to $100,000 annually.
Software engineering graduates earn slightly higher, with a median salary range of $90,000 to $110,000 annually.
Switching Careers Between Computer Science and Software Engineering
There are so many similarities between computer science and software engineering that you can switch from one to the other.
Many core concepts and programming languages are the same, making it easier to switch between the two.
You will find that it is easier to switch to software engineering because employers seek experience over education.
If you can perform the task, you have enough education in software engineering.
Employers want advanced degrees for computer scientists.
Computer scientists switching to software engineering should take C, C# or Java, Python, and relational databases courses.
A software engineer switching to computer science should obtain a master’s degree in computer science.
Both computer science and software engineering skills are in high demand in today’s digital landscape.
With a computer science degree, you can work as a computer scientist, data scientist, software developer, machine learning engineer, or cybersecurity analyst.
Software engineering graduates can pursue roles such as software engineer, architect, project manager, or quality assurance engineer.
Furthermore, both fields offer opportunities in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, and cloud computing.
As technology evolves, new frontiers open up, creating exciting prospects for computer science and software engineering professionals.