If you are considering a computational masters program you have probably come across the terms computer science and computer engineering. Though these terms have substantial overlap, understanding the differences between computer science masters degree programs and computer engineering programs is essential to picking a program that will be a good fit for you. In this article we will shine some light on how these two fields differ, and what you might want to consider when deciding between a career in computer science or computer engineering.
Computer science focuses on the theory of computation. This includes writing code that integrates data, data structures, algorithms, statistical models and more in the most efficient way possible. This field also focuses on how to create algorithms that efficiently achieve complex tasks, whether that task is emulating a human brain or determining the best route for your Uber pool.
Computer engineering, on the other hand, is a field at the intersection of electrical engineering and computer science. Computer engineers research how to build all varieties of computing systems from smartphones to integrated circuits.
It could be easy to get confused by the variety of computational programs available. These degree programs have substantial overlap. In addition, differing terminology is often used between schools. Some schools even combine these two fields into one department or major. It is important, however, to understand the distinctions when comparing graduate programs.
What is Computer Science?
Computer science focuses on topics in computational theory. These include the virtual aspects of computers, focusing on software, rather than hardware. As a field that is closely aligned with mathematics, computer science applies theoretical ideas to solve real world problems. Computer science degree programs require courses including analysis of algorithms, operating system principles, computer architecture and software engineering, so an interest in math, puzzles, and problem solving would suit a student well. A degree in computer science will cover essential hardware and software topics, including computer organization and architecture.
Computer science is often described as more abstract and less hands-on than computer engineering. As a computer scientist, you will focus on using computational theory, mathematics and data structures to write effective codes. Some of the most popular careers for computer scientists are software engineering, UI/UX design, web design, data science, and machine learning.
If this sounds like a good fit for you, take a look at some online computer science graduate programs.
What is Computer Engineering?
Computer engineering focuses on how to build devices. It is a field that combines physics, electrical engineering and computer science. The focus of computer engineering is on hardware, rather than software. Closely related to physics and engineering, students who want to understand how things work and apply that knowledge to build something new will thrive in a computer engineering program.
The work of a computer engineer works in the physical world and involves understanding how we can harness the laws of physics and electronics to create better computer components. They are more likely to spend more time at a lab bench than writing code. Your computer engineering degrees will most likely cover a wide array of topics including computer architecture, computer networks and physics.
Computer engineers still need solid programming skills. A degree in computer engineering will cover programming topics such as software design. There are many different career options for computer engineers, such as: aerospace, life sciences, mobile devices and robotics. If computer engineering is a field that interests you, start researching today by looking at some online computer engineering programs.
What is the difference computer science and computer engineering degrees?
A degree in computer science and a degree in computer engineering consist of different core curriculum. Courses in a computer science degree focus on the theory of computation, languages and environments. A degree in computer engineering, on the other hand, focuses on physics, electronics and computer architecture. Below is a summary of some of the standard core curriculum in these two degree programs.
Computer Science Courses
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms
- This course teaches students how to analyze the efficiency of algorithms using concepts from the theory of computation such as big O notation. Through this course students learn to write code that is optimized for its use case and analyze the efficiency of code.
- Introduction to Operating Systems
- This course covers the way operating systems manage and execute code in order make software run. This course will cover topics including process and thread management, concurrent programming, resources management and distributed services.
- Software Engineering
- This course teaches students to apply the theory of computation to practical problems by creating software solutions. This includes topics such as effective design and testing, engineering compromises and team based development.
- Data Analysis
- This course provides students with the tools and skills to apply statistical methods to large datasets using computational methods. This includes topics such as data creation, storage, access, processing and presentation.
Computer Engineering Courses
- This course covers the fundamentals of physics. It explores the laws governing movement, energy and waves.
- Electricity and Magnetism
- This introductory physics course covers electromagnetic phenomena and how they influence the world. Students will learn how to predict, describe and understand these phenomena.
- Calculus III
- This course covers multivariate calculus and vector fields. These techniques help describe and predict many natural and physical phenomena.
- General Physics
- This course will cover the basics of physical phenomena including particles, work, gravitation and motion.
- Electric Circuits
- This course covers the basic concepts in the design of electronic systems. Students will learn to apply their knowledge to build functional circuits and to understand computer architecture and integrated circuits.
- Waves, Optics, Thermodynamics
- This course applies calculus to understand the mechanics and outcomes of waves and related phenomena. Students will learn to calculate the energy of waves, apply the laws of thermodynamics and understand physics experiments.
- Digital Logic, Machine Design
- This course covers how electrical circuits can be used to perform logic operations. Students will learn to design and build the type of circuits used in computing systems.
Computer Science Skills Learned
- Designing efficient algorithms
- Finding optimal, scalable solutions to problems
- Managing data efficiently
- Designing useful and effective software
- Managing software development projects
- Understanding the theory of computation
- Writing high-quality code
- Proficiency in various programming languages and environments
Computer Engineering Skills Learned
- Designing integrated circuits
- Designing microprocessors
- Understanding the physical phenomena that electronic devices rely on
- Creating efficient and effective devices and computing systems
- Designing computer architecture
Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering Job Outlook
There are many great career opportunities for graduates of degree programs in both computer science and computer engineering. Both of these degrees offer a path to high paying, in-demand jobs. However, the careers available to computer scientists and computer engineers are quite different.
Computer scientists are likely to work in software development, computer programming, network and database design, web design, and testing. These fields all rely heavily on a good understanding of the theory of computation and the ability to apply this knowledge to real-world problems. Computer science careers will usually focus on jobs that require writing a lot of code. Some potential job titles for graduates with a degree in computer science include software developer, database administrator, web developer, or project manager.
Computer engineers, on the other hand, focus on developing, designing and manufacturing microprocessors, integrated circuits, and other computing systems. Computer engineering graduates may get jobs working with telecommunications systems and devices, robotics, aerospace technology, and many other technologies. Careers in computer engineering focus on designing the physical systems that enable digital technologies. Graduates of computer engineering programs can get jobs with titles such as embedded software engineer, electrical design engineer, hardware engineer, or network engineer.
Similarities Between Computer Science and Computer Engineering
Though computer science and computer engineering are distinct fields, there is no denying that they have substantial overlap. Both computer science and computer engineering use computers in order to solve problems using data and human interaction. These programs also share many of the same prerequisites and coursework.
These two fields are not only related in their scope, but are entirely dependent upon each other to create products. Any electronic device you use from your laptop to your car has been developed and designed by a combination of computer scientists and computer engineers. To create the best possible devices businesses need highly skilled employees in both of these areas. Hardware and software are both essential elements of computing systems.
Choosing the best fit for you can be a difficult decision, but both options open the door to many possibilities. If you are considering these programs and would like more guidance, look at our guide to specializing in a computational field.
Computer science and computer engineering are two exciting fields that are experiencing massive growth. There is substantial overlap between these areas of study. However, when selecting which path is right for you it is essential that you understand the differences.
Computer science focuses on programming and designing good algorithms. Computer engineering focuses on building better computers and computer components. These two fields work in tandem to create the products we use everyday.
When weighing these programs, consider your preferences and inclinations. If you like math, riddles and problem solving, computer science may be a great fit. If you don’t like abstract work and prefer working with tangible things then computer engineering is likely more your style.
Whatever you choose to pursue, make sure to do research into the best masters programs for your field.