What Is the Difference Between Computer Science Engineering & Software Engineering?

Sep 30, 2019

Computer science engineers, or computer scientists, and software engineers can both program machines to solve real-world problems. However, there are important differences that make these two career tracks distinct.

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Comparing Computer Scientists to Software Engineers

It is easy to confuse these overlapping career paths. However, a typical main focus of computer scientists is data manipulation, while software engineers usually have more of a product focus. By understanding the unique aspects of computer science and software engineering, you can choose which path suits your unique interests and affinities.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Computer Scientist Master's degree $118,370 (computer and information research scientists) 16% (computer and information research scientists)
Software Engineer Bachelor's degree $105,590 (software developers) 21% (software developers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of a Computer Scientist vs a Software Engineer

Computer scientists experiment using computer systems to find solutions to problems. They might apply their skills in software development or by building hardware. In contrast, software engineers work exclusively with software and have much less of a research focus. Instead, software engineers use their knowledge of programming languages to design and build software for clients. They may also help identify bugs, correct issues, and improve the performance of an existing software.

Computer Scientist

Computer scientists use their knowledge of computers and research skills to test and innovate. They must have excellent attention to detail and logical thinking skills to perform analysis of data on a regular basis. Computer scientists often develop a specific area of expertise. For example, they may work in hardware design, artificial intelligence, cyber security or human and computer interaction. They tend to work regular office hours in the corporate centers of any kind of company and organization, from the CIA to a pet food company.

Job responsibilities of a computer scientist include:

  • Conduct experiments to gather, analyze and make use of a company's data
  • Design and implement research-based solutions
  • Work in a team with software engineers to develop new products
  • Analyze existing software systems and find ways to improve performance
  • Write programs to analyze data, automate a job or perform another important task that increases a company's profits
  • Troubleshoot and maintain existing hardware and software

Software Engineer

Software engineers design and build software. As the world moves online, nearly every field of business hires software engineers to help them go digital. Most software engineers are fluent in multiple programming languages. They may also develop a specialty in a field like cyber security, artificial intelligence, iOS programming, game design, robotics, virtual reality or big data. Software engineers typically work in office settings and may be expected to work long hours. A successful developer can work their way up the corporate ladder to positions as lead developers or chief technology officers.

Job responsibilities of a software engineer include:

  • Perform market research to understand the needs of users
  • Work in teams to build new software
  • Maintain and debug existing software systems to ensure they run as efficiently as possible
  • Analyze performance data and make recommendations on updating or replacing existing software
  • Plan, monitor and implement regular testing for software systems
  • Develop educational material and run training sessions to familiarize a team with new software

Related Careers

If you are interested in becoming a computer scientist, you may also want to consider a career as an artificial intelligence programmer, since both positions involve testing the limits of computer technology. If you are more interested in software engineering, you might find back-end development an exciting option, since both jobs require logical thinking and programming skills.

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