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Career Differences: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

I'm currently a freshman computer science student and have always wondered what's the difference between computer science and software engineering in terms of careers, where to go after graduation and what type of work each major graduates should be doing. It seems to me that both majors are so similar.

computer computer-science computer-software computer-engineering software_engineering programming software

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Dan’s Answer

There are two top-level “flavors” of software related careers:
1) Computer Science (CS) or Computer Information Systems (CIS)
These degrees are orientated to business applications such as Commercial, Business, or Banking and are usually/primarily software orientated. The industry applications are huge so, just a few examples: banking, order entry, web design, networking, database design, data analytics, cyber security, and animation.

2) Software Engineering (SE) or Computer Engineering (CE)
These degrees are orientated to engineering and scientific applications, the SE degree is primarily software while the CE degree usually includes a more equal blend of hardware and software. The industry career options are huge so, just a few examples: robotics, product control such as automobiles, cell phones, manufacturing plants, household appliances, mass transit vehicles, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and mechatronics.

My wife has a CS degree and I have an Electrical Engineering degree (although I write software). We can talk with and understand each other but neither of us can actually do the other’s work. I don’t understand databases and the banking industry while she does not understand automated mass transit control/industry – but we both understand the concepts of computer programming and development.

You first decision will involve the question: Do I like scientific applications or do I like business-related applications?

The second decision will require a little more thought and time as many students must take a few college classes before they can narrow down the industry choice/application. And your final decision may occur after graduation based on which job offers you receive. Talking a lot with your college computer professors and guidance counselors will provide you great wisdom on this topic!

For additional explanation, do two different Google searches for:
computer science zone "computer science degrees: what are they"
and then:
texas state university "technology degrees - what is the difference"

Software programming is a lot of fun and extremely interesting!
Good Luck!
Thank you, this is really helpful. Hamad S.
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Angela’s Answer

One of the best ways to understand the differences in these roles is to look at job descriptions, have conversations with classmates, find and work with a mentor that has experience, become an intern, and participate in clubs at your university. Having mentors can make a huge difference in your growth as you enter the work force. Mentors can help you understand what it takes to work within a specific position and can serve as a reference for you when you start applying for jobs. Lastly, remember that jobs in IT industry are fluid - a lot of people take on different roles in their careers in IT. Good luck!
Thank you. Hamad S.
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Mickael’s Answer

Hi Hamad,
"Career Differences: Computer Science vs. Software Engineering"
I think this is a question of domain.
Computer Science is a domain that deals with computers as a whole while Software Engineering is a domain that specifically has to do with software. I see software engineering more as a job/occupation than a domain though.

Computer Science is, as the domain says, Science about computer, from hardware (electrical ...) to software (how it works and how to write code).
Software Engineer is a person that engineers software so that means:
- they analyze the problem
- they architect the solution
- they potentially implement the solution (code, program ...)
So software engineering is a domain specific to computer science, about how to design (a.k.a engineer) a software to solve the problem you have.

Hope that helps.
I appreciate you taking the time to answer this. Hamad S.
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Geetha’s Answer

Hi Hamad!
This is a common question that most of us have :)
When I started my career, I didn't know the difference because I didn't have a computer science engineering degree . But I guess people that study computer science would pretty much know the difference.
Computer Science related to algorithms and problem solving which is what most of the companies expect from you during interviews and Software Engineering is mostly building software using your computer science knowledge.
I am really grateful you took the time to answer this question. Hamad S.
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Riccardo’s Answer

Hi Hamad,
If you are more attracted by the application of software to solve business problems, I would suggest you also consider becoming a data scientist .
There's a huge demand for data scientist in every industry and the field of application is infinite. Nearly every system has now some form of AI/ML embedded into it and you could expect more in the future.
Also consider that quantum computing will open up a brand new set of systems and computing power - well beyond cloud computing - and will require some new ways of programming and software development practices.
Hope this help with you reflections.
Best wishes,
R.
Thanks for the answer. I can actually take a master degree in data science later, if I feel it's the right choice. This was helpful, thank you again. Hamad S.
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Vani’s Answer

Hi Hamad!

This is a really good question. Think about computer science as the preparation for a career, not the career itself. Software engineering would be the career you could go into, having computer science as your education. Software engineering is not the only career choice you can have from studying computer science but it is an option. I hope this helps you differentiate the two.
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Frank Widjaja’s Answer

Computer Science as a field is more directly related to algorithms and problem solving methodologies as opposed to Software Engineering which is more built towards directly building software. While both fields do end up developing software and study algorithms to a degree, Computer Science is geared more towards the algorithms while Software Engineering is more geared towards the software development principles. Career-wise, they generally go into the same fields with Computer Science being more math focused.
Thank you, this was helpful. Hamad S.
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karol’s Answer

The Short answer is that studying CS is more academically demanding. You will be challenged with much more math related topics which you might not encounter in your real life at work. HOWEVER , studding that will teach you to deal will generic , abstract problems which , in my mind, is critically important for writing complex software.
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Diana’s Answer

To put it simply, computer science is concerned with the abstract question of what computers can theoretically accomplish, whereas software engineering concerns using computers to accomplish practical tasks. Computer science thus resembles a type of theoretical mathematics, while software engineering generally tackles much simpler problems that mostly have to do with marshaling requirements and organizing labor to deliver on them. For example, a computer scientist might explore an algorithm to estimate very large prime numbers, while a software engineer would be tasked with building a website for a local business. If you are more interested in the mathematical possibilities of computers in the abstract, then you might find fulfillment pursuing a PHD in computer science. If you aren't so keen on academia and prefer to work with people to grease the gears of our shared day-to-day lives, software engineering might be more up your alley.
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Gaurav’s Answer

Depending on the location and University, these discipline could have different meaning. However, in many cases, Computer Science is considered and focused more towards the language of computer. Some university may consider this course as part of its Science & Arts department as opposed to Engineering for that reason. On the other hand, Computer Engineering is a core engineering discipline similar to any other Engineering track such as Civil Engineering or Mechanical Engineering and is usually considered as part of Engineering Department.
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