Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Which Is Better, Which Is Harder?

in Research   Posted on March 8, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Computational or computer degrees are among the most popular courses of study among incoming college students today, especially those looking to tread the technology path. After all, the technology sector’s growth will not stop anytime soon. This year alone, the global technology industry value is forecast to reach $5 trillion (CompTIA, 2020). As the industry grows, more opportunities open. Contrary to the notion that machines, artificial intelligence (AI), as well as similar innovations will take people’s jobs, technology actually creates more jobs than it demolishes (Vilbert, 2019). As all of these jobs need to be filled, more tech graduates are required.

Computer science and computer engineering are two of the highest paying technology degrees (Study.com, 2020), and for good reasons. Because of this, students who have an affinity for computer systems may find themselves challenged as to which degree to choose. This article lays down the information you need to compare these two degrees and help you select the one that best suits your interests and career goals.

computer science vs computer engineering

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering Table of Contents

  1. What is Computer Science?
  2. What is Computer Engineering?
  3. Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Which is Better?
  4. Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Which is Harder?

With technology becoming even more ubiquitous by the day, it is natural for organizations to look for educated and trained computer professionals to meet the industry’s demands. As Millennials are touted as “tech-savvy” while GenZers are “digital natives”, many of them are naturally interested to learn more about technology. In fact, a study shows that 54% of K-12 students today enjoy computer science and engineering (Code.org, n.d.).  

percentage of students who enjoy computer science

Moreover, it is not surprising that the younger generations are also inclined to choose degrees that will open up doors of opportunities in the tech and digital world. Among such degrees are computer science and computer engineering.

In the academic year 2017 to 2018, around 79,600 bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences were awarded (NCES, 2020). The number of college students choosing a computer science degree also increased by an estimated 7.6% in 2020 (McDonald, 2020). On the other hand, there were 14,593 computer engineering degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2017, representing a growth rate of 8.81% (Data USA, n.d.).

What is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computers and computing. It encompasses theoretical and algorithmic foundations of computational systems, as well as hardware, software, and their role in information processing. It also involves the study and application of data structures, computer design, and network design, as well as the modeling of data and information processes. Computer science has also evolved to include the study and application of artificial intelligence. As such, most computer science curricula are structured in a way that focuses more on the application and practical training (Times Higher Education, 2019).

In all, computer science focuses on computational theories and the virtual aspects of computer systems. Closely aligned with mathematics, computer science aims to shed light on how computational theories can be applied to solve real-world problems.

Times Higher Education

What is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering is one of the many engineering majors today. In general, it focuses on how to build computational systems and devices. As such, it combines computer science with physics and electrical engineering. With their extensive knowledge of these sciences, computer engineers research, design, create, develop, assemble, and test computer components and systems. These include everything from processors and circuit boards to networks and routers.

However, although most of their work involves hardware, computer engineers are also expected to be adept at software to ensure that the hardware they develop and assemble is compatible with the software it is meant to run.

Source: NACE

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Which is Better?

The constant innovation and development of new technologies also mean that there is a constant need for brilliant computer scientists and computer engineers. Students who have an affinity for computer and digital systems may find themselves asking upon comparing computer science vs computer engineering, which is better?

As fields of study, neither is better than the other. However, what is better for one student may not be for another. For one, the career paths available to computer scientists and computer engineers quite differ. While there are overlaps between the two fields, both have certain specialties.

As discussed above, computer scientists are more likely to work in the software department while computer engineers work in the hardware department. Here is a simple analogy: computer scientists code and program, while computer engineers build and wire.

Furthermore, both degrees lead to lucrative careers. A computer scientist, for instance, can earn an average base salary of $81,291 per year, while a computer engineer may earn an average of $86,270.

Source: Salary.com, Payscale

One of the best things about computer science and computer engineering is that both open doors to vast career options. Jobs are available in practically every industry using technology. Both degrees are also exciting, especially if you choose the one that appeals to you more. If you are more into software than hardware, then computer science may serve you well. On the other hand, if hardware interests you more than software does, then computer engineering may prove to be the better choice.

What Are the Popular Jobs for Computer Science Degree Graduates?

Computer science positions are plentiful and there are many interesting jobs available to computer science degree-holders (Law cited by Kowarski, 2019). Below are some of the in-demand jobs where a computer science degree is a major asset:

  • Data scientist
  • Systems analyst
  • Business analyst
  • Network architect
  • Information technology specialist
  • Artificial intelligence engineer
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Software developer
  • Software tester
  • Software engineer
  • Software quality assurance specialist
  • Web developer
  • Full-stack developer
  • User interface designer
  • Mobile application designer or developer
  • Client information security manager
  • Chief information officer
  • Computer scientist or researcher
  • Computer science professor

Source: InternationalStudent.com

While the most common path for computer science degree-holders is becoming a software developer, there are actually many career paths that students and graduates can choose from. As many companies deal with computational processes, computer science jobs are always available.

What Are the Popular Jobs for Computer Engineering Degree Graduates? 

Successful computer engineering graduates acquire the knowledge and skills typically required in the fields of consumer electronics, telecommunications, and even biomedicine. The most common career paths, however, are in the information technology industry. Below are some of the popular jobs awaiting computer engineering graduates:

  • Systems analyst
  • Hardware systems engineer
  • Testing engineer
  • Information technology consultant
  • Security analyst
  • Database developer
  • Logistics specialist
  • Network security specialist
  • Systems designer
  • Robotics specialist
  • Telecommunications engineer
  • Business systems analyst

Source: StudyPortals

In general, computer engineers who prefer working in the field or a lab may choose to focus on either hardware or network systems: their design, development, management, and maintenance. However, they can also apply their education to software engineering. Because of this, computer engineers have a wealth of opportunities to choose from in this digital world.

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: Which is Harder?

Incoming college students who are in the process of deciding on a degree may ask, “computer science vs computer engineering, which is harder between the two?” To answer this question, it will help to understand the roles and responsibilities of computer scientists and computer engineers.

What Does a Computer Science Degree Entail?

In general, students who are looking to take up a computer science degree are required to have three years of high-school-level coursework in Math and Science and must be proficient in the English language.

computer science admission requirements

They are expected to learn about the basic principles surrounding computer science and the foundations of computational systems and applications.

Contrary to the popular notion, computer science is not just about learning how to code or program. Although coding and programming are vital in the study of computer science, they are just some of the core computer science courses. Other courses include:

1. Analysis and Design of Algorithms

In this course, students learn how to analyze algorithms and determine their efficiency with theories of computation as their guides. It is also in this course where students learn to write code, optimize it, and ensure and analyze its efficiency.

2. Introduction to Operating Systems

This course teaches students how operating systems work: how they process, manage and execute code to make the software run. Topics in this course include resources management, concurrent programming, and distributed services, among others.

3. Data Analysis

In this course, students are provided with the skills and tools they need for the application of statistical methods in processing big datasets through computational techniques. Students will also learn the process of data creation, access, storage, presentation, and processing.

4. Software Engineering

This course teaches how students can apply computational theories in creating software that will solve real-world problems. Students will also learn to design and test their software, and perform team-based development.

Aside from these, students taking up a computer science degree also learn the following subjects and foundations:

  • Software programming
  • Discrete structures
  • Data structures
  • Web development
  • Introduction to databases
  • Computer architecture
  • Computer assembly
  • Computer networks
  • Usability engineering
  • Mobile software development
  • Cloud software development

Ultimately, the goal of a computer science degree is to produce graduates that can exhibit and maximize the following skills:

  • Algorithm design and optimization
  • Data management
  • Software development project management
  • Software development and design
  • Code writing

Moreover, computer science graduates are expected to exhibit an extensive understanding of the following:

  • Programming languages including SQL, Java, and Phyton, and how to code using them
  • Running, maintaining, and fixing operating systems
  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Software designing, coding, testing, and troubleshooting
  • Computer networks and how they work in relation to software

What Does a Computer Engineering Degree Entail?

The admission requirements for computer engineering degree applicants are similar to those taking up computer science. As such, having high marks on subjects such as Math and Science is necessary.

As a computer engineering degree largely focuses on hardware, students who take it learn how computers and related systems work. Computer engineering students also hone the skills required to develop such systems from scratch and improve existing ones to make them faster and smarter. To achieve these, they take the following courses, among others:

1. Mechanics

This subject covers the fundamentals of physics and explores the laws governing movement, waves, and energy.

2. General Physics

In this course, students will learn the basics of physical phenomena, such as particles, motion, and gravitation.

3. Electricity and Magnetism

This subject covers electromagnetic phenomena and how they figure in the real world, particularly in computational systems.

4. Electric Circuits

In this course, students will learn the basic concepts of electronic system design. Students also learn how to apply these concepts when building computer circuits, and how they can effectively integrate those circuits into the computer architecture.

5. Digital Logic and Machine Design

This subject tackles how electrical circuits can be developed to perform logical operations. Ultimately, students will learn to learn and create the different types of circuits used in computers and computing systems.

Besides these courses, computer engineering students also learn the foundations of the following areas:

  • Networking
  • Design automation
  • Embedded systems
  • Machine intelligence
  • Cybersecurity
  • Discrete mathematics
  • Cryptography
  • Mobile communications
  • Database management systems
  • Programming languages
  • Microprocessors
  • Signal processing
  • Microelectronics
  • Distributed computing
  • Medical image computing
  • Robotics and cybernetics

In all, computer engineering graduates will have the skills and knowledge that will allow them to perform the following, among many others:

  • Integrated circuit design
  • Microprocessor design and development
  • Computing system and device creation
  • Computer architecture design
  • Application and optimization of physical

Moreover, computer engineering graduates need to be proficient in the following:

  • Computer architecture and hardware, and how components work
  • Building computer and network systems with optimization and efficiency in mind
  • Maintenance of computer systems in relation to software
  • Understanding how a wide range of software will work with specific hardware systems
  • Designing, testing, running, maintaining, and fixing hardware systems

Whether you study computer science or computer engineering, or any degree for that matter, you can expect to face challenges along the way. These challenges range between financial, personal, emotional, mental, and academic ones. However, most of these obstacles are a part of college life and, depending on how you handle them, they may just motivate you to give your best.

There is no clear-cut answer to which degree is more challenging, Both degrees are designed to bring the best out of students. At one point or another, they will prove difficult even to the best of students. After all, both degrees deal with different branches of mathematics and science, which are challenging in their own respects. However, one degree may seem harder than the other if you do not choose the degree that suits your eventual career goals and interests.

How to Choose Between Computer Science and Computer Engineering

Computer science and computer engineering are in many ways related in scope and dependent upon each other to create the best computer software and systems to solve real-world problems. After all, every computing device you use know will not be created without both computer scientists and computer engineers.

Choosing the best fit can be a difficult decision, especially if you have an affinity for both software and hardware. However, it will help to look deeply into your inclinations and preferences. Do you like math as much as you like riddles and problem-solving? Computer science may be the one for you. Do you like tangible things that you can manually manipulate? If so, computer engineering is probably the better choice.

 

References:

  1. Code.org (n.d.). Why Computer Science?. Code.org
  2. CompTIA (2020, November). IT INDUSTRY OUTLOOK 2021. CompTIA
  3. Data USA (n.d.). Computer Engineering. DataUSA
  4. Eneriz, A. (2019, May 7). COMPUTER SCIENCE VS. COMPUTER ENGINEERING: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?. North Eastern Graduate Programs
  5. Field Engineer (n.d.). What is Computer Engineering. Field Engineer
  6. Kowarski, I. (2019, May 2). What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree?. U.S. News
  7. McDonald, C. (2020, December 16). ComputerWeekly.com
  8. NCES (2020, May). Undergraduate Degree Fields. NCES
  9. PayScale (n.d.). Average Computer Scientist Salary. PayScale
  10. Salary.com (n.d.). Computer Engineer Salary in the United States. Salary.com
  11. Smith, C. (2019, February 15). What you learn in a 4 year Computer Science degree. freeCodeCamp
  12. Study.com (2019, October 20). Bachelor of Science (BS): Computer Engineering Degree Overview. Study.com
  13. Study.com (2020, July 2). Highest Paying Technology Degrees. Study.com
  14. Studyportals (2020, December 21). Computer Science vs Computer Engineering – Which Degree to Study in 2021?. Studyportals
  15. Times Higher Education (2019, October 15). What can you do with a computer science degree? THE World University Rankings.
  16. University of the People (n.d.). Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: What’s Right for You?. University of the People
  17. Vilbert, J. (2019, September 10). Technology Creates More Jobs Than It Destroys. FEE