For many people, computer engineering and computer science is the same thing. In reality, these fields are related to the study of computers but they are quite different. Computer engineering and computer science are two disciplines in the same area but each discipline focuses on a specific area of computers and you should carefully study the differences before choosing one of them.
Computer Science: Code
Computer science, as the name suggests, is done by scientists. Specialists in this field focus on the theory behind computational operations. Therefore, they can understand why and what happens behind computer programs. They know all algorithms and advanced mathematics and can even find new ways to share and transfer information. Computer scientists are concerned with implementation, software, and operating systems.
Computer scientists understand the code and can write their own one. If you study computer science, you will learn different programming languages, discrete mathematics, and software development, among several other elements. You will also study the computer itself and see how different processes happen and why.
In other words, computer scientists know how to talk to computers. Mathematics is important here. Computer science explains how computers work and how to create a system or a program that does what you tell it to do.
Career Choices in Computer Science
Computer science is becoming more and more popular, thus employment opportunities are huge. In addition, in most countries, you can expect to earn a high salary. If you want to study computer science, here are the leading careers available to you:
- Systems Engineer
Operating systems are the base of computers. For example, Windows, iOS, and Lynx are the most popular operating systems. System engineers know how to design these systems in phones, computers, other devices, and even cars.
- Software Developer
Software developers are often creative people who can design programs and apps for devices and computers. Think of your favorite game in the App Store. That would be software developed by a software developer.
- Web Developer
Web developers create program codes that make a website function properly. Unlike graphic designers who create images, they integrate those images, video, and audio into a website and analyze its performance, traffic, and capacity.
Simply put, computer engineers know how to make different computer parts work together. They can research, design, and develop computer equipment, for example, microchips, circuit boards, video cards, and routers.
Of course, there are computer engineers who have a basic knowledge of computer science. Computer engineers sometimes work with hardware-to-software integration thus they should know how to develop hardware that can support a certain program. However, since devices and gadgets have become smaller, the main job of computer engineers is to create microprocessors and microchips that can work efficiently and economically on these smaller devices.
Computer engineering is still considered by some as a sub-discipline of electrical engineering. Computer engineers deal with computing, the application of computers, and computer-based systems. They also cover the fields of software/hardware integration, computer architecture, computer hardware, and engineering. Computer engineers have basic knowledge in areas such as software engineering and computer science.
If you study computer engineering, you will study some computer science as well. By combining it with mathematics and engineering, computer engineers can create new machines, solve hardware problems, etc.
Career Choices in Computer Engineering
If you choose computer engineering, there are not a lot of job choices. Basically, the variety of jobs depends on the industry that employs computer engineers. For example, federal governments employ less than 10% of computer engineers. The majority of computer engineers, of course, work in the computer manufacturing industry. And some engineers also work in system design.
Computer engineers are more likely to build hardware. Many of them focus on the development and use of computers and other devices and have expertise in processor interfacing and logic design, which is based on the knowledge of electronics and circuits. Computer engineers can also manufacture integrated circuits. They can also do the basic tasks of computer scientists such as low-level computer programming and simple construction of an operating system.
Pursuit of Higher Education
One of the most important components of the computer science vs. computer engineering struggle is which field to choose if you want to pursue higher education after completing your bachelor’s degree.
Computer engineering students can get a master’s degree in the same field in order to advance their career and attain superior job positions. Master’s programs are focused on a certain industry (for example, aerospace) or can specialize in one specific field, such as robotics, project development, computer networks, development of Wi-Fi networks, etc.
With that being said, if you want to become a company leader that focuses on technological execution, choosing between computer engineering and computer science depends on the specialty. Both disciplines will allow you to obtain your master’s degree with a focus on technology, which will help you to move up the career ladder and gain jobs like chief information officer or chief technology officer.
Moreover, computer science graduates may want to focus on technology rather than on theory for their master’s degree. If that is the case, the best option is to choose a program that focuses on optimization, databases, artificial intelligence, information systems, or information security.
Difference in Job Opportunities
When you graduate with a degree in computer engineering, a lot of doors are opened for you. For example, you can develop systems and devices, including sensors and circuit boards for the automotive, aerospace, water, fuel, medical, and other industries. You can also develop software and, all in all, computer engineering graduates have plenty of job opportunities to choose from.
But if you prefer to be a programmer, a degree in computer science is your best choice. Besides, quite often computer science students can move through their degree while working for a company. You can start programming right after graduation or choose technical support jobs such as quality assistance.
As you gain expertise and knowledge, computer science professionals can start doing app and computer programming, as well as specialize in the automotive and other industries. You will be able to develop databases, network systems, and websites.
As you can see, computer scientists also have plenty of job opportunities since many industries develop their software products, websites, and apps, so there are almost no limits to what computer scientists can do.
Overlap Between the Fields
Since both computer scientists and computer engineers ultimately try to harness the meaning from data and use what they obtain, there is an overlap in these two fields as well as in careers. Of course, it doesn’t mean they aren’t different and that you can blindly choose one of the two disciplines. It simply means that these two fields find purpose and meaning in similar kinds of tasks or in different parts of the same projects.
Both computer scientists and computer engineers have knowledge and experience in advanced computing technology and can solve problems using technologies. If you think about these two fields in terms of size, computer engineers operate with macroscopic and microscopic objects, while computer scientists work with mid-size objects.
Moreover, computer engineers know how to deal with the physics of electronics so they can develop designs from scratch, as well as integrate their hardware with other’s software and optimize them to work together. Therefore, they also work with large computing systems.
Computer scientists write the software, algorithms, develop databases, secure the data, format the communications, and analyze everything that is processed by the hardware to make the whole system function properly.
iPhone as an Example
Let’s have a look at the iPhone. The company employs both computer engineers and computer scientists to design and develop every new iPhone. Computer engineers work on new chips (Electronic engineers and Electrical engineers can do that as well) that house circuits that make the different components of the iPhone (such as the screen, cell radio, memory, controls, microprocessor, etc.) function together. They also try to get different components working with each other. It involves analyzing the device as an integrated system and at the microscopic level.
Computer scientists wrote an operating system that can work with apps, manage the iPhone memory, download, and run the apps in the app store that run concurrently with the operating system, encrypt the data so that hackers can’t see it, and pack and unpack data for communications. Computer scientists work with the product when it leaves the computer engineers (different components) and shapes everything together so that user has a device that can call, text, browse the web, and run different apps.
As you can see, computer scientists and computer engineers work on different functions of the same product and they depend on the professionalism of each other. That’s why there is an overlap between the two, as well as between the career opportunities the specialists in these fields can pursue.