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 Science||Software Engineering|
|Education Emphasis: Bachelor of Science||More computer science elective choices, computer vision, computing, analysis, machine learning, database management, security, computer software, and program applications||Electrical engineering, software testing, software design, and software requirements specification|
|Boot Camp Available||No||Yes|
|Job type||Website 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 Tasks||Monitor the development process of new applications, maintaining security networks for data systems of internal or external clients||Design and develops software applications or programs required by their internal or external clients|
|Daily tasks||Lives in the land of theory and algorithms||Hands-on systematic software development|
|Soft Skills||Strong, effective verbal and written communication, research, and data analysis as an individual contributor||Teamwork: communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and the ability to work in teams|
|Coding Skills||Control structures, algorithms, and variables are the bread and butter, not a specific coding language||Python, C++, Java, Ruby|
|Database||SQL, Node.js||SQL, Node.js|
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 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:
- Software engineering
- Programming languages
- Game design
- Artificial intelligence
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
- 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
- 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” 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.
- 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.
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