Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science

| Genevieve Carlton

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Computer scientists and computer engineers use similar tools to solve related problems, but their career paths and professional roles are quite distinct.

Most people outside of the tech sector could not describe the difference between computer engineering vs. computer science. Within tech, computer engineers and computer scientists take on different roles and responsibilities. While computer scientists develop algorithms and design software solutions to problems, computer engineers focus on building hardware and networks to efficiently transmit information.

When it comes to popular majors, computer engineering outranks computer science. Computer engineering, which blends electrical engineering and computer science, prepares graduates for many computer science careers. So what, exactly, is the difference between computer science and computer engineering?

Is Computer Science the Same As Computer Engineering?

Computer science and computer engineering are not the same. However, the two sectors overlap in core ways. Both fields use computing systems to solve problems. Computer scientists typically focus on the more theoretical side of computing, while computer engineers draw on their engineering backgrounds to solve real-world problems.

Computer science and computer engineering degrees prepare graduates for overlapping career paths. Check out our computer science guide for comparisons of computer engineering vs. computer science.

What's the Difference Between Computer Science and Computer Engineering?

Computer Engineering

Computer engineering focuses on using engineering principles to design and test software, hardware, and networks. Computer engineers study computer science, electrical engineering, and mathematics to create efficient and functional solutions to computing problems.

Computer Science

Computer science considers the theoretical and applied side of computing. Computer scientists study software systems, programming languages, and data analytics to improve the interactions between people and computing systems.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science studies the theory and application of computing technologies. Computer scientists construct new algorithms to analyze big data, design machine learning programs, and work on artificial intelligence projects. They work in computer science careers as software developers, database managers, or network architects.

Bachelor's degrees in computer science and computer science bootcamps prepare graduates for entry-level opportunities as software developers, computer programmers, web developers, and systems analysts. Common computer science courses include computer networking, database administration, information security, and computer engineering. Most computer science programs include experiential learning components like internships, project-based assignments, and labs.

With a master's degree in computer science, professionals can advance into supervisory and research positions as a data scientist, while an individual with a Ph.D. in computer science can pursue employment in research, academic, and leadership roles as a computer science professor or chief technology officer.

What Is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering overlaps with computer science. Majors in this field learn to design and test computer systems, including networks and hardware devices. For example, they apply electrical engineering training to research or develop processors and circuit boards.

When computer engineers design software or hardware, they often create engineering-based schematics of their plans. They test the finished product to implement any changes. Unlike most computer scientists, computer engineers may also contribute to the manufacturing process of computer hardware.

Common computer engineering courses include software engineering, microprocessors, electrical engineering, and systems programming. Computer engineering majors also study topics like microcomputer architecture, systems design and programming, and operating systems. Many programs incorporate a practical component, such as an engineering lab or internship, to build the practical skills required for jobs in computer engineering.

Enrollees can earn a bachelor’s in computer engineering or a master’s. Some organizations offer bootcamps or certificates in computer engineering for individuals seeking a faster career path. These options provide more focused training without general education requirements. After completing their computer engineering training, graduates with a degree or certificate can pursue careers in computer engineering.

What About Computer Information Systems?

Computer information systems focuses on the application of computing technologies in business settings. Computer information systems specialists design more efficient ways to store or secure information. They also work in areas like database management, network administration, and operations research analysis.

Thanks to the field's emphasis on data analysis and analytics, computer information systems specialists often work with large data sets, specializing in areas such as big data and data visualization.

A computer information systems degree trains students in computer science, information technology, and information management. After earning bachelor's degrees in computer information systems, graduates can pursue entry-level roles as information managers, information security analysts, and computer systems analysts.

This field may appeal to professionals with tech skills who prefer career paths that overlap more with business. Like information technology, computer information systems degrees emphasize the applied side of computing. Professionals also bring strong programming, database administration, and data analysis skills to the job.

Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science Careers

Computer scientists and computer engineers work in similar fields and receive high earnings. While computer scientists report a slightly higher average salary, the major differences between computer engineering vs. computer science come down to job responsibilities and focus areas.

Computer scientists can pursue careers as software developers, data scientists, systems analysts, and database administrators. In more theoretical roles, they conduct research and develop new computing languages, algorithms, and problem-solving programs. Other computer scientists work in applied computer science to create and test new software programs, including operating systems.

Computer engineers work in roles as software engineers, hardware engineers, network engineers, and telecommunications engineers. They also work as network architects and software developers. In these positions, computer engineers apply their engineering training to solve computing problems. They might redesign software that does not meet an organization's goals or conceptualize better ways to organize information.

Computer scientists and computer engineers work closely with other computing specialists. They often work in teams with software developers, software testers, computer programmers, web developers, and web designers. Computer engineers and computer scientists often work in the tech industry, though they can also find job opportunities in business, telecommunications, and manufacturing.

Computer Scientists

$126,830
Median Salary

15%
Job Growth (2019-2029)

Source: BLS


Computer Engineers

$119,560
Median Salary

2%
Job Growth (2019-2029)

Source: BLS

Computer Engineer Career Snapshot

Computer engineers specialize in building hardware, software, and computing networks. They bring strong engineering skills, particularly in electrical engineering, while training in computer science.

Within the field, software engineers create software applications, mobile apps, and other programs. They conduct tests and determine how different parts of software fit together. Hardware engineers design and build physical computing tools like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Finally, network engineers create systems that connect computers to each other.

Computer engineers require strong technical and problem-solving skills. They often work in teams, where they must communicate ideas effectively. Employment typically requires a bachelor's degree.

Computer Scientist Career Snapshot

Computer scientists explore the many problem-solving uses of computers. They design computing systems, research the best ways to analyze or store digital information, and create algorithms or codes to achieve specific goals. Computer scientists make computers more efficient by designing new ways to transmit material. They also make networks more secure by applying cybersecurity principles.

When comparing computer engineering vs. computer science, the engineers focus more on physical products, while computer scientists study abstract computing topics. However, both fields explore the real-world applications of computing systems. A computer scientist typically needs a bachelor's degree to pursue entry-level roles.

Can I Get a Computer Science Job With a Computer Engineering Degree?

Computer engineering majors qualify for many of the same jobs as computer science majors. For example, graduates with either degree can work as network architects, software engineers, and software developers. Many computer engineering majors take computer science courses, indicating the overlap between the fields.

However, when applying to computer science jobs as a computer engineering major, applicants should highlight their experience with the specific job area by discussing their software testing experience or showcasing their hardware engineering work. Professionals with computer engineering degrees can create resumes that highlight their strengths in computer science.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Common Questions About Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science

true Which Is Better, Computer Engineering or Computer Science?

Computer engineering and computer science both offer above-average salaries with strong growth. When comparing computer engineering vs. computer science, professionals should consider their strengths and career goals.

true Is Computer Engineering Harder Than Computer Science?

Not necessarily. Computer science relies on many abstract and theoretical principles, while computer engineering applies a stronger focus on materials and building computing systems.

true Who Gets Paid More, Computer Scientists or Computer Engineers?

Computer scientists get paid slightly more than computer engineers, with a median annual salary of nearly $127,000 compared to about $120,000, respectively. Computer scientists and computer engineers both earn above-average salaries.

Header Image Credit: damircudic | Getty Images

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