Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: 7 Key Differences

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: 7 Key Differences

It’s easy to need clarification when looking at the topic of computer science vs. software engineering. The two have similarities, but they also have notable differences. Computer science is focused on algorithm design and theory, and software engineering zeroes in on software development and the best practices to develop reliable, quality-based software.

Those evaluating computer science vs. software engineering should be aware that a typical software engineer has a four-year technical university degree. Computer science will appeal to those willing to push further in their education, as a master’s or Ph.D. level of education is required for career advancement.

Is it possible that computer science is the primary development stakeholder, or is software engineering the primary software development driver? Hang onto your keyboards; today, we’re going to dig into computer science vs. software engineering to understand the importance of each node in our rapidly evolving technology landscape.

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: Side-by-Side Comparison

Computer ScienceSoftware Engineering
Education Emphasis: Bachelor of ScienceMore computer science elective choices, computer vision, computing, analysis, machine learning, database management, security, computer software, and program applicationsElectrical engineering, software testing, software design, and software requirements specification
Boot Camp AvailableNoYes
Job typeWebsite design, information technology support role, computer programming, databases, computer graphics, artificial intelligence (AI)Develop and build applications and software programs in a specialized role
Big Picture TasksMonitor the development process of new applications, maintaining security networks for data systems of internal or external clientsDesign and develops software applications or programs required by their internal or external clients
Daily tasksLives in the land of theory and algorithmsHands-on systematic software development
Soft SkillsStrong, effective verbal and written communication, research, and data analysis as an individual contributorTeamwork: communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and the ability to work in teams
Coding SkillsControl structures, algorithms, and variables are the bread and butter, not a specific coding languagePython, C++, Java, Ruby
Web TechnologiesJavaScript, HTML, CSSJavaScript, HTML, CSS
DatabaseSQL, Node.jsSQL, Node.js
Salary (Avg)$127,000$106,000

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: What’s the Difference?

The terms “computer science” and “software engineering” are often mistakenly used interchangeably during everyday conversations. Let’s look at the key differences between the two fields of study.

What’s Computer Science All About?

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering
Algorithms and data structures are central to computer science.

Computer science heavily emphasizes algorithms, computing theory, computer networks, theory, and data analysis. Computer science studies computer design, applications, and computer development.

A person in computer science will have a well-rounded technical background to address difficult and complex tasks adequately. These may apply to:

What’s Software Engineering All About?

What you can do with code, instead of what you could (theoretically) do with code, is software engineering in a nutshell. It’s hands-on: hands-on a keyboard, hand on a mouse, engaging with computer code via a keyboard. Tasks include:

  • Software application development
    • Testing
    • Design
  • Maintenance of existing software
  • Improvement of existing hardware

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: 8 Must-Know Facts

Overlaps in Skill Sets

  • Computer Science and software engineering share many areas of overlapping knowledge/ skills. These include:
    • Basic understanding of computer software systems
    • Basic knowledge of computer architecture
    • Programming languages: C++, Python, SQL, Java, and JavaScript


Computer Science vs. Software Engineering
A software engineer applies the engineering design process to test and develop computer software.
  • Computer science covers foundational studies in programming, computers, and operating systems. It’s the abstract and theoretical approach.
  • A software engineering degree is the practical application of skills to maintain and develop computer software.

Boot Camps

  • “Boot camps” are available to teach you (rapidly) the skills you need to know. If you have a plan “of where” you want to “go” after attending a boot camp, this might be an option for you. Many (not all) boot camp participants are changing careers and already have a technical background and university degree.
  • You may succeed with a boot camp to learn to code but have less luck finding a boot camp to teach you computer science. (Generally, that knowledge can only be found at university.) Additional education equates to more career choices. Let’s take a look at those pathways.

Career Pathways

  • Computer science professionals may (no judgment from us) be a bit aloof and detached as they live in a world of theory and design, but they are outstanding individual contributors. (Pro tip: Never take a computer scientist on a sales call.)
  • A software engineer is very much hands-on and needs to excel in a team environment. (Pro tip: You never (ever) want to take a software engineer on a sales call, either. Not that we’ve done it and lived to regret it…)
  • Career paths vary between computer science vs. software engineering.
    • Computer Science degree paths include computer programming for website development, IT support roles, database management, database design, computer graphic design, and artificial intelligence. Computer science professionals can move between industries with some degree of freedom.
    • Software engineering can result in very (very) specialized programming for software, gaming, etc. The skills learned to develop “widget A” may differ from those necessary to develop “widget B” at a different company.

Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

If you stuff ten Code Dreamers (computer science folks) and ten Hex Clan (software engineering professionals) in a room and ask, “Which One Is Better? Computer science vs. software engineering?” you most likely won’t have the clear-cut answer you want. You’ll hear many opinions but, in truth, neither field of expertise is more important than the other.

While both domains are quite similar, they’re very different, as well. Each area is critical for software and computer development. Computer science involves programming languages, operating systems, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and software development.

Software engineering is all about hands-on involvement in the design, application, and building of software for games, AI, manufacturing equipment, or software systems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is software engineering the same as computer science?

Nope. There are overlaps between software engineering and computer science, but there are large areas of divergence as well.

Computer science is all about algorithms, theory, programming, design, and artificial intelligence from a (primarily) theoretical standpoint.

Software engineering is about software improvement through established procedures. Software engineering aims for a robust and reliable software platform or product.

Which is better, computer science or software engineering?

Which one of your children do you love the most? Seriously, each discipline has a place at the table. If you’re asking from a career standpoint, certain personality types will have greater degrees of success with a computer science vs. software engineering path.

Meyers-Briggs Personality tests split us into sixteen different categories based on our answers to a series of questions. You (may) find that computer science is a good fit if you’re an INTP.

Software engineering groups are best suited for ENTPs who don’t have sweaty palms when it’s time to interface with the team. Certainly, Meyer’s Briggs personality tests shouldn’t set your entire career direction, but the test provides excellent clues.

Who gets paid more, computer science or software engineering?

Computer science professionals make more money than software engineers. Computer science, with a need for a comprehensive education base, offers more career flexibility and higher rates of pay associated with job changes.

Is computer science harder than software engineering?

Computer science has a broad base of educational and technical requirements that software engineering does not have. The different college classes may lead to the perspective that computer science is more challenging.

In practical application, computer science is focused on theoretical applications that require strong analytical and technical knowledge. Software engineering is “hands-on” and requires less theoretical mind math.

Can a computer science engineer be a software engineering?

Absolutely. Computer science engineers have a strong foundation in software engineering but may need more specific code-specific language knowledge to be successful in software engineering. Boot camps offer a great alternative to University classes for professionals who want to quickly add more knowledge to their wheelhouse.

Does computer science have coding?

Computer science isn’t necessarily the act of coding. You need a robust understanding of coding to be an effective computer science guru. To develop your career trajectory, you must understand different programming languages (Python, C++, Java, Ruby), data structures, and algorithms.

To top