Computer Science vs Computer Engineering - Which Degree to Study in 2020?

Universities use many similar discipline names that can make things confusing for future international students. Computer Science vs Computer Engineering is only one of the numerous examples you can find on the internet.

Do they mean the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? And which one is right for your university studies?

We’ve done some research, and our findings should help to clarify the differences between Computer Science and Computer Engineering.

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Let’s dive right in!

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: scope and focus

Throughout this article, you’ll notice that these disciplines often overlap, but the differences between them are significant. If we could sum them up in a simple sentence, we’d say that Computer Science deals with data and algorithms while Computer Engineering is focused on hardware and firmware.

  • Computer Science started as a branch of Mathematics, while Computer Engineering began (and still is considered by some) as a branch of Electrical Engineering.
  • Computer Science students learn about computing theory, programming, environments, algorithms, data security and transfer, etc. Computer Engineering students discover 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). They also develop the firmware, an essential type of software that allows operating systems and applications to take full advantage of the hardware.
  • Computer scientists work with computational theories, powerful algorithms, and mathematical models which are used to develop software programmes and systems. Computer engineers, on the other hand, develop the hardware and firmware on which software and systems run.
  • Many different abbreviations are used when referring to Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: CS vs CE/CEN, CompScience vs CompEngineering, CompSci vs CompE, CpS vs CpE.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering specialisations

In addition to general Computer Science and Computer Engineering degrees, universities and colleges also offer different specialisations or subdisciplines if you want to narrow down your focus. Here are a few examples:

Computer Science specialisations

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

Computer Engineering specialisations

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

Team of programmers analysing code

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: offered classes

Here, the line between the two disciplines becomes a little blurry. This happens because, at some universities, the differences are very small, with most of the courses being the same. At others, it is exactly the opposite – only a few courses are common, while most are different.

To know what you’ll actually study, check out the curriculum before choosing an academic programme and don’t rely only on the title of the programme. If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to contact the university or college where you want to apply. They’ll be more than happy to help you.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some typical classes offered by general Computer Science and Computer Engineering degrees:

Computer Science classes

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

Computer Engineering classes

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

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.

Best universities offering Computer Science and Computer Engineering courses

Since we’re talking about universities, specialisations, and classes, we’ve decided it would also be useful to list the best computer science schools in the world. Based on the QS Rankings 2020 created by TopUniversities, the top 10 is:

This isn’t the only top 10 list with the best universities offering Computer Science or Computer Engineering degrees. Other rankings might use different evaluation factors, and you should check them out. Here are a few examples:

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering skills 

When it comes down to skills, the similarities between CompSci and CompE 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

With the use of these skills, computer scientists and engineers find new solutions that make our devices faster, safer, and more power-efficient. If you’ve ever wondered how new phones or computers are better than the last models, it’s thanks to all the hard work put into designing faster components and better optimised operating systems and applications.

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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,

Still, don’t make the mistake of thinking it will be easy. The competition for good positions is high, and knowledge from classes isn’t enough. To stand out among other applicants, you should invest in your career early: look for internships, get involved in research projects, and learn on your own.

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.

  • 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. Computer Science and Computer Engineer jobs are also safe from the automation process, which looks likely to take out many work opportunities in the future.

Computer engineer working on a project

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering vs Software Engineering

We could dive deep into sophisticated definitions and complex details, but to cut a long story short:

  • Computer Science (CS) focuses on algorithms, computing theory, and the analysis of data, data security, and data transfer. Concepts developed by computer scientists are used by both computer and software engineers.
  • Computer Engineering (CE) deals with the development and testing of hardware for all kinds of devices and applications. Computer engineers also design the firmware for devices (e.g. the BIOS in your laptop or PC). This is an essential piece of software, tightly integrated with the hardware, which allows other software, like operating systems and programmes to run properly and take advantage of the hardware.
  • Software Engineering (SE) is all about creating useful, secure, and user-friendly programmes and applications. SE focuses on the entire process of software development, from the beginning to the end. Software engineers need both CS and CE knowledge to design great programmes.

Let’s take a real-world example to make it even more clear.

Think about an iPhone or an Android smartphone. 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 iOS or Android operating system.

Software engineers are responsible for developing these operating systems, adding and removing features, fixing bugs and security holes. Software engineers also create the programmes and apps we use on a daily basis, including the browser in which you’re reading this article.

Where do computer scientists come in? Well, their work happens way before a 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, fasters ways to transfer data, and many other functions that make our tech as great as it is today.

Is Computer Science and Computer Engineering the same thing?

No, and we’ve already explained the differences throughout this article. In a nutshell, Computer Science (CS) deals with data and algorithms, while Computer Engineering (CE) focuses on hardware and firmware.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering – which one is better?

There is no such thing as ‘better’ in this case. It depends on your career plans and whether you enjoy working more with hardware or software. They both lead to lucrative and secure jobs, so which one is better will always depend on your plans.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering – which is harder?

Both Computer Science and Computer Engineering are difficult degrees. They deal with different areas of Mathematics (logical proofs and data structures for CS, calculus for CE) and aren’t a great choice for students who want to take it easy and focus more on enjoying college life.

The difficulty also varies from one course to another, and it largely depends on your self-discipline, abilities, and the capacity to learn new concepts.

Conclusions

There you go! Knowing the differences between Computer Science and Computer Engineering should help you decide which one is best for your studies abroad.

Now, we’d like to hear from you. Which difference between CS and CE is the most important to you? How will that influence your choice? Share this article and let us now.

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