If you’re interested in a technical degree related to computers, you may want to know the difference between a computer science degree and a computer science engineering degree. The difference is fairly easy to understand, and as you may suspect, computer scientists focus on designing software, while computer engineers focus on designing hardware. There is an overlap between the two fields, because they both require an understanding of how computer hardware and software work together. However, the overlap is relatively narrow, because each profession has its own specialization.
The coursework involved in becoming a computer scientist or engineer starts out similarly and begins to diverge around the second year of college. Students in both majors take classes related to computer architecture and low-level programming, and this level of programming abstraction represents the boundary where computer science and computer engineering meet. In other words, computer engineers don’t need to know any programming on a level higher than Assembly language, and computer scientists don’t need to know any engineering concepts beyond basic computer architecture.
What Is the Coursework Involved in a Computer Science or Engineering Degree?
To use an everyday example of the difference between computer science and engineering, consider the work that goes into making a smartphone. Engineers need to know a fair amount of electrical engineering to design a motherboard with electronic components that work together, but they must also know specifically about the way the CPU, GPU, RAM and other motherboard components direct electrical flows. They need to know how these components physically respond to electrical signals and how they behave in response to the operating system kernel. Computer scientists are needed to design the kernel and all software above it. Some computer scientists need to understand how the kernel interacts with the hardware, but most focus on a higher level of abstraction, such as application programming or framework design.
Therefore, computer science majors study just enough computer engineering so that they can specialize in low-level programming if needed. At the undergraduate level, they learn only the basics, and they can focus on assembly programming and computer architecture in graduate school if they’re inclined. Computer engineers need to know just enough about computer science to design hardware components that work efficiently with the operating system kernel. Otherwise, computer engineers focus on their own special field of electrical engineering, and computer scientists focus on their own special field of discrete mathematics.
Difference in Salary and Job Outlook Between Computer Scientists and Engineers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer scientists have a better job outlook over the next decade than computer engineers. While software developer jobs are expected to increase rapidly by 22 percent, computer engineering jobs are expected to grow slowly by 7 percent. The reason engineering jobs are less in demand than programming jobs is that most of the technological innovation occurring in the tech industry is software-based. However, computer engineers earn slightly more than software developers. While developers earn a median annual salary of $93,350, engineers take home $100,920.
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Computer science and engineering degrees are closely related, but their differences make them two separate and distinct majors. Anyone who is fascinated by the interaction between computer hardware and software should keep learning about the difference between a computer science degree and a computer science engineering degree.