Computer science and computer engineering are two of the most popular degree programs for college students who want to have a career in information technology (IT). Both disciplines are challenging and can prepare you for an in-demand, high-paying STEM job, but the apparent similarities between the two can make it tricky to determine which one will be the best fit for your skills and interests. To help you make a more informed decision, we’ve broken down some of the major differences between these two fascinating areas of study.

 

Majoring in Computer Engineering

Computer engineering is a branch of engineering that combines the fields of electronic engineering and computer science. Computer engineering programs focus on computer hardware and software, which can be likened to the “body” and “mind” of a computer, respectively.

Computer engineers, also known as computer hardware engineers, focus primarily on the design and development of computer systems. In many cases, they branch out and work with other tech- and computer-related devices like routers, networks and processors.

A degree in computer engineering means one thing for certain: a wealth of hands-on work. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll be working on team-driven projects designed to help you learn how to tackle the real-world problems you’ll come up against in the workforce.

Specializations within the computer engineering field include:

  • Digital Logic Design
  • Embedded System Design
  • Machine Intelligence

 

Majoring in Computer Science

The core curriculum for a degree in computer science is designed to help students understand how to process, interpret, store, communicate and secure data. A computer science major will go through a wide range of courses in order to ensure that they understand a variety of theories, design and development methods, as well as ways to apply software and software systems.

Most programs begin with students receiving a general STEM education centered around computers, programming, and how the two work together to power today’s most important technologies. From there, the educational experience usually gets much more hands-on. You’ll work through programming and developing software of your own while building upon a solid foundation of technical knowledge and design principles.

Specializations within the computer engineering field include:

  • Game Development and Simulation
  • Information Assurance and Cybersecurity
  • Software Engineering

 

Skills You’ll Need To Succeed

Computer science and computer engineering majors have a lot of curriculum in common. Both degree paths place a heavy emphasis on mathematics, including analytic geometry and calculus, differential equations and statistics. Generally, in each of these two paths of study, students will also be exposed to STEM subjects like physics, technical writing and computer programming.

But the similarities don’t end there—outside of a strong core in mathematics and programming, there are a few “soft skills” that computer science and computer engineering students should aim to develop during their schooling:

Analytical Skills

Your education and future career will revolve around identifying problems and then presenting technological solutions to solve them. Analytical thinking is what will allow you to see, understand and process the issues that you see; it’s also what will help you evaluate solutions and come to a decision about which one is the best option.

Creativity

Analytical skills alone can only get you so far. The most innovative solutions are frequently creative in nature, and out-of-the-box thinking is almost always necessary for effective problem solving.

Problem-Solving Skills

Figuring out the best way to tackle a complex project, and outlining a solid plan to get it done, are crucial capabilities that will allow you to thrive both in the classroom and on the job.

Critical Thinking Skills

In each of these fields, you’ll be confronted with different types projects and many different ways of addressing them. If you aren’t able to think critically, you may find yourself wasting time on unrealistic solutions.

Communication Skills

Most STEM careers are interdisciplinary and involve a lot of collaborative work. To be successful, you’ll need to learn how to communicate effectively, as both a team member and as a team leader.

 

The Takeaway

With all of the similarities between computer science and computer engineering, it’s no surprise that telling them apart can be confusing. Here’s a brief recap that will help you remember the key differences between the two.

Computer Engineering

Computer Science

  • Ideal for those who want to learn more about computer hardware and software—can be seen as a middle ground between computer science and electrical engineering
  • Your education will center around the physical design of computer components
  • Computer engineering jobs are predicted to grow by three percent from 2014-2024*
  • Computer engineering graduates can expect to earn a median salary of $111,730*
  • Potential career options include:
    • Computer hardware engineer
    • Network engineer
    • Software developer
    • Database administrator
    • Data architect
    • Semiconductor engineer
  • Ideal for those who have an interest in computer theory, algorithms, programmed languages and/or architecture
  • Your education will focus on development, computational skills and user experience
  • Computer science jobs are projected to grow by 11 percent from 2014-2024*
  • Computer science graduates can expect to earn a median salary of $115,580*
  • Potential career options include:
    • Computer programmer
    • Network or computer system administrator
    • Big data analyst
    • Software application developer
    • Information security engineer
    • Database administrator

 

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