Undergraduate and graduate schools typically offer two computing majors: Computer Science and Software Engineering. There is a huge overlap between the coursework offered in these two majors. Even the career paths of these degrees overlap.

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

How does Computer Science differ from Software Engineering?Computer Science concentrates on core concepts and technologies involved in programming a computer. It involves learning programming languages, databases, operating systems, graphics, robotics and other sophisticated technologies. A computer science graduate is proficient in designing and building software, developing computing solutions and innovating better approaches to addressing computing challenges. Finally, the coursework briefly explores software engineering subjects such as software development life-cycle and software product measurement.Software Engineering, on the other hand, focuses on designing and building large software systems. It teaches you to manage the whole software development life-cycle such as requirements gathering, software architecture, building prototypes, implementation, testing, deployment and maintenance. In addition to the software development process, this field concentrates on topics such as software team communication, and software product measurement, estimation and analysis. Software engineering does involve learning certain core computer science concepts and programming, but it does not explore it as much in depth as done in Computer Science.Computer science focuses more on the technical skills, algorithms and other core sciences. In contrast, customer satisfaction is the goal of software engineering. A software engineer must be able to develop software that adheres to the requirements of the customer.

Can a computer science graduate become a software engineer?

Companies hire based on skill set. They do not specifically look for degrees in software engineering. Once hired, most companies start with the title of Software Engineer regardless of your major. It is also common place for computer science graduates to move into software engineering roles as they gain experience.

A typical career path of a computer science graduate involves application development and innovation. In the industry, this translates to software product development. For this reason, programming and networking jobs is the domain of computer science graduates. In academia, computer science graduates work on innovations in computer science theory and algorithms. This involves advanced graduate work that typically leads to a Ph.D. degree.

When a position requires development of large software systems, both computer science and software engineering graduates are potential candidates. Skill set and the amount of software engineering coursework undertaken during the program determines the suitability of the candidate. It is interesting to note that most of the software engineers today are computer science graduates and not software engineers. This is partly because software engineering is a relatively new degree compared to the computer science degrees that are available for more than 30 years.


A computer science degree from a respected institution is the most flexible of all computing degrees. With this degree, you can become a computer scientist or a software engineer. Computer science graduates are the candidates of choice for most information technology positions. Software Engineering is but an alternative path to this career.

Further Reading:

Software Engineering Vs. Computer Science

YouTube video explaining the difference between computer science and software engineering

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