Technology professional working with code on multiple screens

Computer Science vs Software Engineering

posted in: Study Tips 1

Are you wondering what sets computer science and software engineering apart? If you’re considering a career in these fields or have questions about the distinction, we have the information you need.

While both degrees require a strong foundation in computer knowledge and problem-solving, software engineering is more specific. It’s about creating and maintaining everyday programs. By comparison, computer science offers a more diverse experience.

Computer science is the study of computers and algorithms, involving theory, design, and the development of anything that can be done on a computer. Software engineering, on the other hand, focuses on designing, creating, and maintaining computer software.

Programmer or computer scientist inspecting lines of code

Distinguishing between computer science and software engineering can be challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, or how various aspects of computer science relate to one another. Both degrees provide a foundation in computer knowledge.

While software engineering focuses specifically on designing and maintaining everyday programs, a computer science degree offers a broader range of skills. The question of whether it is better to be a specialist or generalist doesn’t have a definitive answer. But we can clarify the differences between the two fields.

Difference Between Computer Science and Software Engineering

The differences between the two fields are evident in their differing roles in the broad area of technology research, development, and management. Software engineers using specialized knowledge to develop and maintain computer programs. Computer scientists take a more broad-based approach, using programming, algorithm and security expertise to push the boundaries of technology innovation.

What computer science isWhat software engineering is
Computer science is the study of computers and algorithms. The field covers the theory, design, and development of computer systems and technology, including algorithms, programming languages, and software development. It also encompasses areas such as artificial intelligence, computer graphics, and cybersecurity.Software engineering is designing, creating, testing and maintaining software. Engineering approaches are used to develop software, such as the steps of making specifications, design, coding, testing, and maintenance. Software engineers use knowledge of programming, algorithms, and computer systems to create software that meets user needs.

The work of software engineers reflects that this is a specialized field focusing on the design, development, and maintenance of software systems. There is an emphasis on practical solutions to real-world problems. What computer scientists do is broader and harder to pin down.

Job of a computer scientistJob of a software engineer
A computer scientist studies the theory and application of computers and computational systems. They use knowledge of computer science to design and develop software, algorithms, and systems for varied applications, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer graphics, and databases. They also do research and analyze data to drive innovation and advancements. Some computer scientists work in academia, teaching computer science at college or university level.A software engineer designs, develops, and maintains computer software, using programming languages and tools. They may work on different software applications and systems, such as operating systems, databases, and mobile applications. They also ensure the software is developed efficiently, effectively and is of high quality. Software engineers often work closely with other engineers and stakeholders to understand requirements, and implement solutions to meet them.

Is Software Engineering Easier than Computer Science?

Business people smiling

Software engineering is not inherently more difficult or easier than computer science. You could say they’re about the same. With coursework, it really depends on how hard instructors make the content. In terms of jobs, each competent professional should be able to find a niche that suits their talents and ability level.

Hardest parts of computer science

Some of the biggest challenges in the field of computer science are:

  • Understanding and applying complex mathematical concepts, such as algorithms and data structures
  • Keeping up with the rapidly evolving technology and advancements in the field
  • Developing a strong foundation in programming and computer systems.

Hardest parts of software engineering

In software engineering, you may find these aspects most difficult:

  • Understanding and applying software design patterns and principles
  • Managing and coordinating large and complex software projects
  • Keeping up with the latest tools, technologies, and programming languages used in the industry.

Which Pays More: Computer Science or Software Engineering?

Wealthy successful business professional

The pay for computer scientists and software engineers can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and specific job role. Generally, computer science and software engineering are considered high-paying fields, and the salaries are broadly similar.

RoleAverage $/yrConfidence level
Computer science salary$107,058Very high
Software engineering salary$113,728Very high
Updated: January 29, 2023

The average base pay for computer scientists was $107,058 at January 2023. At the same time, the average base pay for software developers was $105,590.

Note that pay depends on the specific industry in which one is working, with some industries such as finance or healthcare paying higher than others.

Which One Is Better?

As a career, you should know that there really isn’t any comparison between the two fields. The ratio people who called themselves software engineer vs those who call themselves computer scientist is extremely high; we estimate a ratio of 257 to 1. That’s right, for every one person who considers themselves a computer scientist, there are 257 people who claim to be a software engineer.

Computer science can be considered a broad academic field that contains many occupational disciplines. In a first-year class of computer science students, all or almost everyone will go on to have careers such as computer systems analyst, data scientist, computer network architect, database administrator, cyber security analyst, and software engineer. Few or none will actually become computer scientists.

By choosing a software engineering degree, you’re moving onto a certain career path that you presumably want to follow. If you choose a computer science degree, you really haven’t made such a commitment. You’ll be doing a broad program of study on computers without necessarily committing to a specific career path.

Can I Be a Software Engineer with a Computer Science Degree?

Technology professional designing and coding using multiple screens

Yes, it is possible to be a software engineer with a computer science degree. The two fields have a lot of overlap and the degree will prepare you for software engineering roles. Some of the best computer science programs in Australia offer software engineering or software development as majors.

A computer science degree provides a broad understanding of computing and technology, which can be applied to software engineering. Many software engineers have a computer science degree or a related field, as it provides a strong foundation in programming, algorithms and software design.

But be aware that a software engineering degree may provide more specialized training in software development and project management. When you compare degrees, check the curriculum in detail to see which program best prepares you for the kind of career you want.

Follow Andrew Lancaster:
The director of Lerna Courses, Andrew Lancaster, is experienced in analytics, technology, and business development. He has a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University. His writing helps people make informed choices about education and careers. He covers a range of topics, including university education, psychology, and professional growth.

  1. Dan
    | Reply

    Computer science is focused on understanding the underlying principles and theories of computer systems, including computation, data systems, and software design. Software engineering, on the other hand, takes these theories and applies them to the practical development of software programs, including the design and implementation of frameworks, hardware, and applications. While computer science deals with the theoretical aspects of computer systems, software engineering deals with the practical application of these theories in the real world.

Leave a Reply

Your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *