Software Engineer vs. Computer Science: Understanding the Differences


Software Engineer vs. Computer Science: Understanding the Differences


Catch the tech. The technology industry is worth more than $5 trillion. Nearly 600,000 tech companies are in America alone; many need professional software engineers and computer scientists. 


Do not mix software engineers with computer scientists. They have different responsibilities, career opportunities, and skill sets. Before entering the tech world, you should see for yourself what the two jobs are like. Here is your essential guide.




Both software engineers and computer scientists require an education to pursue full-time jobs. You can pursue a career as a software engineer with a computer science degree or a computer scientist with a software engineering degree. But it’s a good idea to figure out which field is best for you and pursue a degree in that field. If you’re interested in both, you can take classes in both or major in one field while minoring in the other.


Software engineering schools teach students to apply engineering processes to computers. You learn how to build, manage, and update computer systems. You also learn how to develop new software. A software engineering degree is customizable, and you can design any project. 


Computer science schools focus on computer theory. You learn about applied logic, algorithms, and other concepts that you can apply to computers and their systems. You will learn about computer architecture, but you will always see technical computing through an abstract lens. Some students with computer science degrees learn about artificial intelligence and cloud computing. 


You can get an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in software engineering and computer science. You can also attend coding bootcamps for a few months, which are good options if you’re a professional looking to sharpen your skills. 


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Skills and Concepts


Software engineering is far more practical than computer science. You will learn how to code using several programming languages. Classes are hands-on, though you may need to listen to a few lectures. 


You must have strong soft skills to be a good software engineer. You are responsible for updating your system after you create it, so you need to envision possible improvements you can make. You need to write documents explaining how your system works and what your code is like. 


Computer science requires a lot of theory. You need a working knowledge of engineering concepts. But you spend most of your time contemplating the strategies behind computer operations.



Job Tasks


Software engineers and computer scientists have similar jobs, and many of them collaborate together. An engineer may use an outline from a computer scientist to develop a new system. A scientist may use software from an engineer to test a theory or calculate a new way to program software. 


Software engineers focus on specific pieces of software and systems. They may work on internal systems or help clients with theirs. They do not interact with hardware or build new computers. 


Computer scientists spend most of their time on systems. They may maintain a company’s security network or data center. They may monitor endpoints and users for suspicious activity and respond when a hacker intrudes on a network. 


Both software engineers and computer scientists work 40-hour workweeks in corporate offices. Both are expected to attend meetings and seminars and receive continuing education. Depending on your job, you may need to work extra hours on weekends to finish projects on time.


Related: What Is a Software Engineer?


Career Paths


Software engineers and computer scientists have access to prosperous and exciting career paths. You can work for private companies, enter the public sector, or become a freelancer. 


Software engineers tend to have fewer job options than computer scientists. Most companies have specialized roles for engineers, asking them to build specific applications. You may not be able to find work with a start-up or a small company, so spend your time looking at mid-sized or large corporations. 


Most people start the software engineer career path as individual contributors. They work under the supervision of a senior engineer on small and short-term projects. Experienced employees with strong soft skills can become managers and company executives. As a software manager, you will lead a team of junior engineers, train them, and supervise their work. As an executive, you will help make your company financially profitable and work directly with clients. You also will recruit and interview new employees and manage promotions. 


Related: How to Grow Your Software Engineer Career


Computer science degrees give you a wide range of job options. You can work in website design, IT support, cybersecurity, and computer programming. If you love computer theory, you can publish papers and become a professional theorist. You can also teach computer theory, though you need to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate to have a lot of teaching opportunities. 


Computer scientists earn more than software developers; scientists have a median pay of $131,490 a year, while developers earn a median of $120,730 a year. Entry-level employees can expect to earn less than the median, but they will receive more money the longer they work in the IT industry. 

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How to Narrow Your Options Down


The biggest differences between the two tech jobs are in work tasks and concepts. If you prefer an intensive job building new products and systems, you should become an engineer. If you like thinking about computers more than writing code, you should become a theorist. Both jobs offer good career paths with full-time jobs for entry-level employees and executives. 


Don’t rush to pick a software engineer or computer scientist job. Take classes and bootcamps in both and see which is better for you. You need to know how to code and write using programming languages, so spend time learning these languages. 


Related: Free Coding Courses


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