Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: How to Choose Between Them. -

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: How to Choose Between Them.

What’s the difference between a degree in Computer Science and one in Computer Engineering? They both lead to rewarding careers that won’t go out of fashion any time soon, but one is more theoretical, and the other is a more hands-on approach. Let’s have a closer look over which means what.

Computer Science developed as a branch of Mathematics, while Computer Engineering began as a branch of Electrical Engineering. The key difference between the two is that Computer Science is more theoretical and a better fit for people who enjoy doing research, analysing and strategizing, while Computer Engineering is more practical. It’s more suitable for people who love to build things with their own hands. 

Let’s understand this even better with a real-world example.

Think about your smartphone. The work done by Computer Scientists happens way before the device or software is created. The computational principles and theories developed by them are the basis on which new software and firmware are written. It’s Computer Scientists who create encryption solutions, faster ways to transfer data, and many other functions that make our tech as great as it is today.

Computer Engineers are the ones who test and create the motherboard, the chipset, the RAM memory and so on. They also develop the basic firmware that allows these components to interact with the operating system.

If we were to sum up the difference between Computer Science and Computer Engineering in a single sentence, we’d say that Computer Science deals with data and algorithms while Computer Engineering is focused on hardware and firmware.

What is Computer Science?

Computer Science is the study of computers and computing through the understanding of algorithms, information theory and data analysis, automation and computing theory. Computer scientists learn programming languages, software development, and computing architecture, which is the design and structure of a computer. 

  Computer Scientist

Computer Science specializations

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Video Game Development
  • Data Science
  • Computer graphics and Computational geography
  • Human-Computer Interaction (HIC)
  • Cryptography and Cyber Security
  • Cloud Computing

To specialize in these Computer Science fields, as a student, you will attend classes that sound like this:

  • Theory of computation
  • Software security
  • Computer graphics
  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Calculus
  • Linear algebra
  • Software engineering
  • Web development
  • Cryptography
  • Programming

As you can see, Computer Science is a complex field of study which involves Mathematics, abstract thinking, theories, and a lot of experimentation. It also has a lot of room for new discoveries and constant developments, and today it applies to a lot of human areas of activity. 

What is Computer Engineering? 

Computer Engineering vs Computer Science is a more hands-on approach to studying computers and computing. They both deal with hardware and software, with programming languages, AI, and computer architecture, however Computer Engineering also uses knowledge from Electrical Engineering. 

  Computer engineer

Computer Engineers develop and test the hardware and firmware for many different devices and applications. Hardware means the physical part of a computer, including components like the graphics card, the motherboard, or the keyboard. Firmware is a type of software which handles low-level control of the device’s hardware. Low-level control means basic functions and an example of firmware is the BIOS in your computer. A TV remote control also works with firmware. By comparison high-level is complex software like an Operating System. Firmware enables software to function. 

Being such a complex domain, there are several types of Computer Engineering, depending on what they focus on:

  • Hardware Systems
  • Distributed Computing
  • Robotics and Cybernetics
  • Embedded Systems
  • Computer Graphics and Visualization
  • Medical Image Computing
  • Computer and Network Security

Computer Engineering students learn how to develop, prototype, and test microchips, circuits, processors, conductors, and any other components used in computer devices or systems (e.g. supercomputers, smartphones, laptops, servers, IoT gadgets). 

Common Computer Engineering classes sound like this:

  • Introduction to electronics
  • Circuit analysis
  • Signal processing
  • Engineering computing
  • Embedded systems
  • Computer networks
  • Computer vision
  • Autonomous robotics
  • Programming principles
  • Computer architecture


Find Masters in Computer Science

>> Good to know: If you plan to study abroad in the United States, some Computer Science schools offer the opportunity to study a double major in both Computer Science and Engineering. It’s a great way to make the best of both worlds, but it’s also more challenging than a regular degree.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering skills 

When it comes down to skills, the similarities between Computer Science and Computer Engineering begin to stand out. To succeed in any of these areas, you need to develop or improve abilities like:

  • Analytical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Technical writing
  • Programming

In this domain, soft skills like the ones mentioned above are equally important as the hard skills and the theoretical knowledge you’ll gain in university if you want to be successful in your work. 

Find Bachelors in Computer Engineering

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering jobs and salaries

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for future computer scientists and engineers looks great. Based on their data,

While job opportunities are generally different for Computer Scientists and Computer Engineers, future graduates can expect to start working in software positions, because the industry demand is higher in that area.

Computer Science jobs and salaries

These are some of the most popular Computer Science jobs. We’ve also included the annual salaries in the US based on data from Glassdoor, and here's a comparison of computer science salaries in India, the United States, South Africa and Germany.

  • Computer Scientist – 99,000 USD
  • System Analyst – 64,600 USD
  • Web Designer – 52,690 USD
  • Software Programmer – 76,500 USD
  • Data Scientist – 113,300 USD
  • Business Analyst – 68,350 USD
  • Java Developer – 79,100 USD

Computer Engineering jobs and salaries

Now let’s use the same data and structure to look at common Computer Engineering jobs:

  • Computer Engineer – 92,000 USD
  • Computer Architecture Developer – 85,750 USD
  • Systems Engineer – 77,750 USD
  • Network Engineer – 72,350 USD
  • Firmware Engineer – 98,250 USD
  • Mobile Device Engineer – 91,700 USD
  • Quality Control (QC) Engineer – 44,400 USD

So, what does all this information mean?

That future Computer Scientists and Engineers don’t need to worry about job opportunities despite the highly competitive market. You’ll have a well-paid job, and your salary will increase with experience.

Find Computer Science and Computer Engineering degrees abroad.

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