It’s a common misconception that computer science and software engineering are the same thing. Despite having many overlapping areas, these two areas of study are very different from one another.
If you are thinking of specializing in either field, it’s important to know the key differences. We’ll take you through exactly what makes them distinct, from both an academic and professional point of view.
What is Computer Science?
Computer science is a broad subject that covers anything and everything to do with computers. Topics include programming, user interface design, computer graphics, simulation, databases, data processing, networking, artificial intelligence, visualization, hardware systems, and software applications.
Being a branch of science, computer science has a theoretical and research-based approach to computers and computer programming. As a discipline, it explores algorithms and the limits of computation.
Computer science involves lots of math, logic, algebra, programming, data abstraction, and physics. Data Scientists or Computer Science researchers use common mathematical principles to transform unstructured data and develop computer systems. Computer Scientists can follow a career in academic research or apply their skills in industry.
Computer science is a wide ranging subject that has an abstract and theoretical approach to computers. There are plenty of ways you can apply computer science knowledge on the job; but if you’re hoping to learn job-ready skills, then software engineering is probably more applicable to achieving your career goals.
What is Software Engineering?
The software engineering path is much more specialized than computer science. It is primarily concerned with the development and maintenance of computer software. To fully understand Software Engineering, we first have to define exactly what we mean by software.
Software (also known as an application or program) is a collection of digital instructions that command computer hardware to perform a useful job.
Any task that your computer, phone or even TV carries out, will be following software code. From operating systems like Android, iOS and Windows, to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They all use software of one form or another.
If you are thinking of majoring in Software Engineering, you should be aware that it tends to have a more rigid curriculum. Your learning will focus around the software development lifecycle. This includes planning, designing, implementing, testing, deploying and maintaining software.
Software Engineering vs Computer Science: What’s The Difference?
Software Engineering uses engineering principles to build software, and solve real-life problems.
Computer Science is a much broader and abstract concept, which has a mathematical and theoretical approach to computer systems in general.
It’s important to note that in industry, the differences are not so apparent. There are hardly any differences in careers based around Computer Science and Software Engineering. The roles are almost the same for both professions. It would therefore be safe to assume these differences are only relevant during study.
What Are The Required Skills to Major in Computer Science and Software Engineering?
If you're planning to major in Computer Science, you need to have an understanding of math, physics, and programming. Students in the first year of a bachelor’s degree are usually taught algebra, calculus 1 and 2, linear algebra 1, designing functional programs, algorithm design, and data abstraction.
If you're hoping to major in Software Engineering, the required skills are more practical. You need to apply theoretical knowledge of hardware in order to develop software. A bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering will teach you programming principles and generally focus more on specific programming languages. You will also learn data abstraction, algorithm design, calculus 1 and 2, linear algebra, and the software development process.
For Computer Science, to solve real-world data problems, you require a basic knowledge of data analysis and data science to be able to grapple with applied machine learning.
Computer Scientists can also work with artificial intelligence.
Both Software Engineers and Computer Scientists should have good problem-solving skills.
Potential Career Opportunities
With an expertise in computer science or software engineering, you’ll have a wide range of technology-driven careers to choose from. Computer science graduates can generally adapt to work in any job related to programming or coding.
The following are some of the career options open to a computer science graduate:
- Mobile Application Developer
- Data Analyst
- Data Scientist
- Web Designer
- Database Developer
- Mobile/Cloud Developer
- Agile Engineer
- Product Manager
With a knowledge of software engineering, you’ll be in the running for positions like:
- Lead Programmer
- Web Developer
- Software Engineer
- Chief Technology Officer
This list of impressive titles demonstrates why software engineering is such a desirable skill.