What’s the Difference Between Computer Science and Software Engineering?

If you are deciding to enter the field of technology, you might be wondering where exactly you should start. If you have a degree in computer science or have completed engineering programming, you might see many related options in the industry. When it comes to computer science vs software engineering, these opportunities usually overlap with each other in terms of job responsibilities.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science is a broad scientific topic. It includes the study of how data is processed, the security of networks, organizing databases, artificial intelligence, and the development of websites and applications.

Much like other forms of science, computer science takes an abstract approach to computers and computer programming. It explores how computers work in terms of algorithms and the computations that drive processes that manipulate data with theories. This approach to computers is one notable difference between computer science and software engineering.

Data scientists can use the knowledge they’ve gained to program and augment computer systems. After gaining knowledge of these theories, computer scientists use this knowledge for academic purposes or put the principles into practice.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is a marriage of programming and engineering. Officially, it’s the application of engineering principles to software design. In plain language, software engineering is a field in which hardware design and system computation come together. Let’s break down what software engineering really entails.

The physical parts of any computer are computer hardware. Hardware includes the monitor, the central processing unit (CPU), the hard drive, and so on. The hardware will eventually be the home of the software. Software is a collection of digital code that tells the computer hardware what to do. Examples of software include operating systems (like Windows or iOS), programs and apps, and drivers that run in the background.

Software engineers consider both the hardware and software aspects of a computer when creating software systems. This results in a product that functions more efficiently with fewer bugs and problems.

Computer Science vs Software Engineering

There are notable differences when it comes to computer science vs software engineering. Software engineering is the application of engineering principles to computer hardware and software, usually to solve real-world problems.

Computer science is the application of the scientific method to computer software. Furthermore, computer science is broader and more abstract and is used for theoretical applications rather than practical ones.

ConceptComputer ScienceSoftware Engineering
DefinitionAn abstract approach to the study of computers and coding using algorithms and theoriesThe application of programming and engineering to develop, design, and maintain software
ScopeArtificial intelligence, network security, machine learning, database systems, programming languages, human-computer interactionProgramming languages, software design, operating systems, information systems, databases, system testing
CurriculumCore courses: algorithms, data structures, logic, programming languages, operating systems, discrete structures

Electives: artificial intelligence, computer graphics, databases, networks, cryptography
Core courses: software design, data structures, systems programming, computer design, programming languages

Electives: artificial intelligence, video game design, networks, machine learning
SkillsAbstract principles, computational programming, analysis, algorithmic thinking, computational thinking, problem-solving, communicationPractical computer skills, programming languages, research, analysis, software design, software testing, problem-solving, communication, teamwork
Job Outlook22%22%
Career pathsMobile application developer, web designer, data analyst, data scientist, cyber security analystSoftware developer, software designer, system designer, project manager, information systems manager
Common tasks in the jobModel and design computer-based systems, develop algorithmic principles and computer science theories, analyze and solve computer-based problems, design and build autonomous softwareWrite and test code, develop software, run simulations, quality assurance, monitor systems performance, systems maintenance, write operational documentation
Earning potential$208,000$170,100

Computer Science

Computer enthusiasts looking to start their educational journey often wonder, what is the difference between software engineering and computer science? When it comes to computer science vs software engineering, it’s important to look at the different skills involved in each discipline.

The skills that computer scientists need revolve around abstract principles. Computer science degree program coursework is rigorous with subjects like math, physics, computational programming, and computational systems. Because most of the skills are theory-based, computer science can apply to a broad spectrum of job niches.

While computer science has a general theoretical focus, the two main niches for computer science are practical and theoretical. Practical computer scientists use computer science to solve real-world data problems, typically with data analysis or applied machine learning. Google can intuitively search for something because of the practical results of data science.

Theoretical data science has an academic focus; like the traditional notion of scientists. This niche attempts to further our understanding of computer systems, as well as make breakthroughs in computer technology. These scientists typically work with cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence.

Software Engineering

For software engineering, the required skills are more practical. In the engineering field, there is a greater emphasis on applying knowledge about hardware for software development. You’ll need comprehension in subjects like math, mechanical physics, and basic engineering principles. The coursework is more focused on the design, analysis, and quality assurance of the software life cycle.

Software engineers need to learn how to utilize different types of programming languages like Java, JavaScript, SQL, C++, and Python. In-depth knowledge of JavaScript is necessary for high-level, interactive web pages.

Software engineers also use SQL for database management and software architecture. Python and C++ are both general-purpose and can be used on any system. These languages are essential tools for the development of software.

Problem-solving is an immensely vital skill for both fields. Whether you are programming or developing software, you need the ability to pinpoint issues and create a strategy to fix them. Furthermore, when it comes to software engineering vs computer science, troubleshooting is involved for both, so attention to detail is equally essential no matter which discipline you focus on.

Pros and Cons of Computer Science and Software Engineering

If you want to pursue a career in computer science or software engineering, you must know what is good and bad about each discipline. In this next section, we take a closer look at some of the pros and cons of computer science and software engineering.

Computer Science Pros and Cons

Flexible Career Opportunities: Computer science graduates can select from a wide range of jobs across multiple industries. 

High Salary: Not only are computer science careers flexible, but the top 10 percent of earners can make over $200,000 per year.

Job Security: Computer science is an in-demand discipline with expected job growth of 22 percent over the next 10 years.

Long Hours: Computer science is a demanding job that can result in long working hours. These can often fall outside of the typical nine-to-five structure and may include weekend work.

Pressure: Some computer scientists are responsible for high-profile clients or sensitive personal and organizational data which results in high-pressure situations.

Lack of Creativity: Some branches of computer science require repetitive tasks that lack creativity. These can sometimes be automated but may be required when you are at the start of your career.

Software Engineering Pros and Cons

Flexibility: Software engineers can work from anywhere, whether you work for an organization or as a self-employed contractor. As a remote software engineer, you can work remotely.

Transferable Skills: Software engineers develop advanced technical and soft skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork, and patience. These skills can benefit career switchers or those looking for a new challenge. 

Job Satisfaction: Software engineers can develop a software product that is highly valuable to consumers. These successful projects result in high job satisfaction.

New Technologies: Technology is advancing at a rapid rate. It can be time-consuming and expensive to keep up to date with these advances in the software engineering field. 

Stress: Software engineers deal with numerous projects and tight deadlines. This can lead to unnecessary stress.

Competitive: Coding boot camps are more popular than ever, and it is now easier to find software engineering jobs without a degree. This makes the market more competitive.

Software Engineering vs Computer Science Degree

Students who wish to pursue a software engineering or computer science degree can enroll in either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree program. When it comes to a software engineer degree vs computer science programs, there are some similarities. For example, both disciplines cover subjects like computer programming, analysis, and data structures.

However, when it comes to a software engineering major vs a computer science degree, software engineering offers a more practical, hands-on approach. Computer science majors, on the other hand, tend to focus on theoretical principles and learning. Continue reading, as we examine computer science vs software engineering degree courses.

Software Engineering Core Educational Studies

If you are interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree in software engineering, it is a good idea to know what subjects are covered in these degrees. While the course list will vary from program to program, these are examples of common courses you can expect to find.

Common Software Engineering Courses

Computer Programming: Coding is a key course for any software engineering program. Students will learn the fundamentals of object-oriented programming. Some programming courses may focus on one language such as JavaScript, Python, or C++, whereas other curricula may offer a more general programming course.

Data Structures: For software engineering degrees, this course will generally be an introduction to data structures. This course covers the implementation of advanced data structures, algorithms, software performance, and testing techniques.

Software Design: This course will typically cover fundamentals of design such as software development process models, quality assurance, product design, documentation, configuration, and integration testing.

Computer Science Core Educational Studies

One difference between software engineering and computer science is the wider range of subjects offered by computer science undergraduate degrees. However, there are still some common subjects and courses that a typical Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science will cover.

Common Computer Science Courses

Algorithms: This course teaches students how to use algorithms to solve problems. The course also covers the science and theory used to evaluate the efficiency of algorithms to develop solutions.

Operating Systems: This course teaches the basics of operating systems such as Windows and macOS. Students will learn abstract and mechanical theories, as well as operating systems implementations.

Discrete Structures: This course is the study of the structures of computer science and includes logic, sets, functions, relations, graphs, and trees. The key focus of this course is logic.

Software Engineering vs Computer Science

A computer science career path helps you land technology-based jobs. Computer science graduates can work in almost any job field related to programming or coding. CS majors have their choice of positions like mobile application developer, web designer, data analyst or scientist, or cybersecurity analyst. The range of job types is quite broad for this field of study. Students who have earned a computer science certificate will also have many job opportunities afforded to them.

The jobs available for software engineering students and graduates are quite similar to those in computer science. Fortunately, because software engineering is a mixture of computer science and computer engineering, job opportunities can overlap with other tech fields.