Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: How the Jobs Differ

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Explore the similarities and differences between the skills, jobs, and salaries of computer science and computer engineering.

[Featured image] A computer science student in a yellow turtleneck reviews data on two computer monitors.

When pursuing a job in the computer field, it is important to identify the kind of computer-based career that is right for your skills and strengths. Two common fields of study, computer science and computer engineering, both offer dynamic, growth-friendly career options for tech-savvy individuals. 

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

While computer science and computer engineering sound similar and some duties and responsibilities may only overlap, there is a key difference: Computer science focuses primarily on computer theory and software, while computer engineering focuses on computer design and hardware. A career in computer science or computer engineering can be rewarding. Find out what sets these two professions apart, the educational requirements, jobs you can get in each field, the job outlook, and potential salaries.

What is computer science? 

Computer science is the study of technology and how it can help solve problems.  As a computer science student, you’ll learn about hardware, software, and computer system performance. Some of the courses you might study as a computer science major include:

  • Programming

  • Game design

  • Web design

  • Robotics

  • Data analysis 

  • Algorithmics 

Computer science can include artificial intelligence, network architecture, and how computers are used in society. It’s a broad field with many job titles.

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What is computer engineering? 

As a computer engineer, you’ll design and build hardware for computer systems and often work with software.  A computer engineer’s job duties include:

  • Designing computer hardware 

  • Testing and analyzing computer systems

  • Ensuring hardware and software work together 

Computer engineers integrate hardware and software and work with memory chips and output devices. As a computer engineer, you might work with artificial intelligence or speech processing.

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Skill sets: Similarities and differences

While the basic concept of working with computers and computing-based technology is standard across both computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE), there are also some critical differences in each field's academic and practical focus.

For starters, both CS and CE are tech-intensive fields that focus on the study of computers and computer information systems. As either a computer scientist or a computer engineer, you will need to understand both the inner workings of a computer's hardware system and the complexities of computer software. You will also need to build your skills in programming, including learning how to "speak" a variety of computing-based languages.

When it comes to differences, the most apparent contrast between computer science and computer engineering is found in how you put your computing knowledge to work each day. CS is more concerned with theory. In fact, many university computer science departments originated as subdisciplines within mathematics departments. As a result, computer scientists tend to focus more on analysis and theory surrounding computers and programming. Essential skills for computer scientists include:

  • Software development

  • Information system design

  • Knowledge/fluency in languages such as Java, JavaScript, and SQL

  • Strong theoretical mathematical background in linear algebra and statistics

  • Technical writing skills for publishing findings

On the flip side, CE programs are developed as part of many universities' engineering schools and are often connected or bundled with electrical engineering degrees. Therefore, like other engineering fields, CE is more hands-on. Critical skills for computer engineers include:

  • Software engineering (coding, testing, program design)

  • In-depth knowledge and skill with computer hardware

  • Knowledge/fluency in languages such as Assembly, C++, and Perl

  • Strong general mathematical background 

  • Problem-solving and communication skills for working in teams

Read more: Tips for Sharpening Software Developer Skills

What is the job outlook for computer science and computer engineering?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that information technology fields, including CS and CE, are projected to grow by 13 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than average. In real terms, this means that the US alone expects to see job growth of more than 667,000 new jobs in computer science and computer engineering in the coming years [1]. Yet, while the job outlook is similar, the specific jobs best suited for individuals in computer science vs. computer engineering differ.

Examples of computer science jobs

Because of its more theoretical focus, jobs in the computer science industry tend to focus more on development and research. Examples of popular jobs for computer science majors include:

  • Database administrator

  • Data scientist

  • Systems analyst

  • Software developer

  • Software quality assurance manager

  • Web developer

  • Computer programmer

  • Computer support specialist

  • AI research scientist

Examples of computer engineering jobs

Computer engineering combines the basic theory of computer science with elements of electrical engineering. As a result, many computer engineering majors find work in hardware and software design and application. Popular job titles for computer engineering majors include:

  • Computer architect

  • Circuit designer

  • Communications engineer

  • Network systems engineer

  • Network architect

  • Systems programmer

  • Systems architect

  • Systems engineer

  • Hardware engineer

  • Game developer

  • Forensic computer analyst

  • Computer research scientist

What is the salary range for computer science and computer engineering jobs?

The computing and information technology sector is rapidly growing; therefore, the salary range for both computer science and computer engineering jobs is competitive and above average. According to the BLS, the median US salary for computing and mathematical fields such as CS and CE is $99,860 [2]. Additionally, the median salaries for the following CS and CE-related jobs [1]:

  • Computer network architects: $120,520

  • Computer systems analysts: $99,270

  • Database administrators and architects: $98,860

  • Network and computer systems administrators: $80,600

  • Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers: $110,140

  • Web developers: $77,200

How to start or advance a career in computer science or engineering

Whether you already work in computer science or computer engineering or want to enter these fields, there are things you can do to advance your career. Since computer systems and programs are ever-changing, building new skills, completing regular training, and earning various certifications in computer-based fields can help you stand out as a job candidate. You can also use these new skills and knowledge to negotiate a higher salary.

Build new skills. 

While computer science and computer engineering professionals use their knowledge and skills differently, one critical similarity is the need to renew and refresh that knowledge constantly. Building new skills as a computer scientist or computer engineer can mean anything from taking a course in a new programming language to updating your knowledge on specific fields such as web design or cybersecurity. You can also build your skills in various settings by completing in-house training at work or taking an online course such as Python Data Structures

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Pursue certifications or degrees. 

If you are looking for a more comprehensive way to increase your opportunities as a computer scientist or computer engineer, consider pursuing certification or a degree in either field. Build skills and more in-depth knowledge that can lead to a higher-paying job in the future with a computer-related certification, bachelor's, or master's degree.

Because they are theory-based and less hands-on, computer science degrees may be easier to pursue online.

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Next steps

Whether you are interested in computer science or computer engineering, building your skills is a must in these constantly evolving fields. On Coursera, you can find a variety of options for enhancing your computing skills, from individual certificates in design to skills-building courses in programming languages, such as SQL for Data Science from the University of California Davis and Duke University's Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals Specialization. You can even earn a degree from a top university, like the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani.

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Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani

Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm.” Accessed October 28, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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