If you frequently wonder how computer science and software engineering differ from one another, you are in the right place. If you don’t know your way around jargon or how the various areas of computer science connect, separating these two fields can be difficult. 

While there may be some overlaps between computer science and software engineering, there are also some distinct differences between the two fields’ underlying theoretical frameworks. Computer science deals with the science underlying the interaction between hardware and software applications to determine how they interact with each other. Software engineering often deals with the technical aspects of creating, designing, and testing software products.1,2

Both degrees can help you develop fundamental computer skills. Although software engineering is a more specialized field of study, the types of jobs accessible can be comparable and occasionally overlap with other tech professions, whereas computer science degrees can be flexible in a larger range of job options. 2 

What Exactly is Computer Science?

Computers and computational systems are all included in the field of computer science. In general, computer scientists may calculate and postulate several aspects of software and software systems during the design and development stages.

When measuring the performance of hardware and software, computer scientists use their experience with design and algorithms to find solutions before issues arise. Computer scientists can study and work in a wide array of fields that include artificial and machine intelligence, user interaction, mathematical analysis, security networks and monitoring systems, computer networks, database systems, programming languages, and computing and processing theories. Although concepts of software engineering is a subject that computer scientists may also study, this is often the sole area of study that unites the two disciplines. 2,3,4  

What Exactly is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is the process of designing, creating, maintaining, testing, and evaluating computer software using the standards and concepts of engineering. Due to the nature of software engineering, which can necessitate knowledge of programming languages and principles of software design and architecture, a software engineer may also be known as a computer programmer, software developer, or designer.

The challenge for software engineers is to come up with concepts that are both cost-effective and promptly address the wants and problems of the average user. Software engineers might also be the coders who test new and emerging software and carry out quality assurance checks to verify its effectiveness and efficiency in practical applications. Although working with theories normally does not fall within the scope of work for software engineers, they may be conversant with the theories surrounding software use. Computer scientists are the professionals who develop and test theories related to programming and operation.2,3,4 

Key Differences Between Computer Science and Software Engineering

  • Although the main subjects of computer science and software engineering may overlap in some cases, the approaches to computer software taken in the two degree courses are different. Students majoring in computer science often take courses that cover the computation, analysis, storage, and application of data and the data systems used in computer programs and software. Software engineering is the study of how to apply these ideas to the creation, interaction, and other functional facets of computer programs.2,3,4 
  • The range of possible employment pathways is another significant distinction between computer science and software engineering. In general, candidates with computer science degrees may have access to a wide range of employment opportunities in the information technology sector, including programming for website design, data analysis, IT support positions, and careers as cybersecurity analysts, data scientists, and mobile application developers. A degree in software engineering can focus a candidate’s career options on specialized positions in corporations, companies, and even mid-sized businesses creating and building software programs and applications, such as software developers, system designers, software designers, project managers, and information systems managers.2,4 
  • A computer scientist typically needs expertise in various disciplines, including abstract concepts, analysis, algorithmic thinking, computational programming, computational thinking, communication, and problem-solving. On the other hand, software engineers need expertise in practical computer knowledge, research, analysis, programming languages, software design, testing capabilities, and interpersonal and problem-solving abilities.2,4 

Software engineering and computer science are both rewarding professional paths. You can have a significant impact as a software engineer in niche industries. As you work on large-scale projects, the generalist character of computer science may open doors in a variety of sectors. 

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  1. (PDF) A comparison of computer science and software engineering programmes in English universities. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/4061237_A_comparison_of_computer_science_and_software_engineering_programmes_in_English_universities 
  2. Computer Science vs Software Engineering. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://careerkarma.com/blog/computer-science-vs-software-engineering/ 
  3. Software Engineering Degree vs. Computer Science. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/computer-science/resources/software-engineering-degree-vs-computer-science/ 
  4. Software Engineering vs Computer Science | MCS@Rice. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://csweb.rice.edu/academics/graduate-programs/online-mcs/blog/computer-science-vs-software-engineering