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What's The Difference: Software Engineering Vs Computer Science Degrees

When choosing a career, sometimes the terminology that is used can throw us off and we may find ourselves wondering what the differences between certain degree programs and career paths are. Many people often use the words "software engineering" and "computer sciences" interchangeably, but what do they mean? Are they the same thing or are they two entirely different elements?

The major difference between a software engineering degree and a computer science degree is that a software engineering degree teaches you to use engineering processes to approach software and hardware development. A computer science degree teaches you the theory, architecture, and application of computers.

Let us delve a little further into each of these degree courses and see what benefits, skills, and expertise they each provide.

What Is A Software Engineering And Computer Science Degree?

Many people are under the false impression that software engineering and computer sciences are the same things. While there are some overlapping and common features, each degree program does give its students a new insight into different aspects of computer technology.

At the very basis of it, computer science is seen as just that – the study of the science that exists between the interactions and relations between the hardware and software of computer systems and applications. In order for a computer to carry out some digital functions, it needs to have the appropriate structure and hardware. Computer scientists can assess that link and adapt the hardware and software appropriately to develop and advance certain digital functions.

Basically, the evolution that several cell phones and computer designs have gone through is all thanks to computer scientists. There once was a time when cell phone screens were black and white (or green). This has since changed, and as a society, we are ever grateful for that. However, if you consider that older phones would neither be compatible nor have the ability to house the functions that operate a color screen device, computer scientists had to adapt and develop not only the software that would accommodate this function but the hardware as well.

On the other hand, a software engineering degree doesn't pay much attention to the hardware aspect of computer or digital systems, and instead focuses on the engineering principles of establishing, creating, and implementing software products.

With that said, however, software engineering can be seen as a specialized degree course within computer science and one can opt to further pursue this aspect of computer science or information technology.

Differences And Similarities Between Computer Science And Software Engineering Degrees

While there are a lot of overlapping factors between the two-degree programs, there are also several differences. The greatest similarity is that both degree programs will allow students to work directly with computers and they are ultimately in the same computer-related industry.

A degree in either of these fields can allow you the opportunity to work as a programmer, a software developer, an IT researcher, or a systems analyst.

The major difference between these two degrees is the way they ultimately approach computer software. While software engineering teaches you practical methods of using specific tools to develop software, computer sciences teach you a theoretical approach to approaching these tools and provide you with the skills to enhance these tools.

So, while both degrees teach the same thing, they teach it from a different approach (either theoretical or practical).

If you consider software engineering as a subdivision within computer science, you notice another key difference between these degree programs. The first is that computer science gives you access to a wider array of career paths to follow, whereas, in software engineering, there are fewer prospects but in a more specialized approach.

Additionally, another major approach is that within computer science, you will work with both software and hardware and how the software and hardware are compatible with each other, but as a software engineer, you take advantage of the fact that a computer scientist has done their job appropriately allowing you to solely focus on the development and implementation of software programs.

Software engineers don't usually assess the hardware aspect of computers and instead focus solely on software.

Degrees And Courses

For both of these career paths, there are traditional degree options that you could pursue, as well as shorter online courses. You could sign up for a traditional four-year bachelor's degree program in computer science or software engineering, and you can further your studies to specialize or focus on a specific field within IT.

However, given the nature of the digital sphere with it constantly adapting and evolving, it is important that you stay abreast n your field of expertise. You need to keep your skills, knowledge, and expertise updated as new advancements in the field are made.

This may mean enrolling in short courses or online programs even after you have your degree, or using practical applications to earn new developments and advancements that may occur within the field of IT.

As an alternative, considering that this is an extremely practical career path and degree program, you may consider pursuing online short courses or online programs instead of a traditional degree program so that you can give yourself the opportunity to continuously advance in the field.

What Is The Salary Expectation For Each Career Path?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers earn a median annual salary of $109,020. The job outlook for this career path expects a projected overall employment growth of 25% over the next ten years with about 162,900 jobs opening each year on average.

Additionally, the BLS states that computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $131,490. The job outlook for this career field expects to see a projected growth of 21% over the next ten years with about 3,300 jobs opening up on average each year.

What Is The Work Environment For Software Engineers And Computer Scientists?

One of the greatest benefits for both software engineers and computer scientists is that you can choose to be employed full-time at a company or an organization, you can work at a digital consultancy firm, or you can work as a freelancer.

Having this freedom allows you to choose your work environment and allows you to thrive in the environment that best suits you.


Is It Worth It To Pursue A Career In Computer Science And Software Engineering?

Whether it is worth it to pursue a career in these fields would ultimately depend on you and your preferences. If you like to work in a more hands-on approach, then perhaps computer science is the best role for you. If you prefer to work in a digital space, then perhaps software engineering is best suited for you.


The benefits that any career in computer science and software engineering poses are that it is extremely versatile, there is great job availability, these roles will never be obsolete, and the earning potential is wonderful.

If you are fascinated by computers and this is where your passion lies, these career paths are worth your consideration and can lead to your ultimate success.

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