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Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Industry Advice Computing and IT

For those who love problem-solving and understanding new technology, computer science could be the right career path for you. And the good news is: The industry is booming. In fact, computer science jobs are now the number one source of new wages in America.

What’s more, qualified computer science professionals are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs.

The majority of these jobs require skills and knowledge gained through an advanced degree in computer science or computer engineering. If you are at the start of your career, however, deciding whether to pursue computer science vs computer engineering can be challenging.

Learn more about the similarities and differences between the two disciplines, including the skills you’ll need, career options, and how to determine which is right for you.


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Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Roles and Responsibilities

One strategy for determining which path is right for you is to consider your career goals. For instance, if you are looking to work in cybersecurity or as a systems administrator, computer science may be a good fit for you. If your goal is to eventually become a software architect or developer, a degree in computer science or computer engineering will equip you for the job. Advanced computer science curricula thoroughly cover how networks and systems security protocols work while teaching programming and appropriate mathematical concepts.

Computer scientists typically have an understanding of:

  • programming languages such as Java, SQL, and Python;
  • how to run, maintain, and fix Linux and Windows operating systems;
  • data structures and algorithms;
  • basic cybersecurity and cryptography;
  • knowledge of designing, coding, and testing software;
  • how computer networks work and how to manage them.

Some common skills a computer engineer utilize include:

  • A complete understanding of how computer hardware and architect works;
  • knowledge of designing, coding, and testing software;
  • flexibility to work with a wide range of software, which can be highly specialized depending on the company and/or industry;
  • ability to build your own PC systems and repair/maintain device drivers.

CS vs CE: Market Outlook

The technology industry is booming with growth and opportunity. Careers in computer and information science are predicted to grow 19 percent by 2026, and computer hardware engineer jobs are expected to increase 5 percent in the same timeframe.

The salary for both computer scientists and computer engineers is also highly attractive for prospective professionals. Computer science majors can earn 40 percent more than other college majors, and all occupations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pay more than non- STEM careers by 12-30 percent across all education levels. On average, computer scientists can earn $118,370 per year and computer engineers make $114,600 per year.

Not only do these career paths boast lucrative salaries and stable job growth, but earning a degree in either field can pave the way for many different career options. For example, you can advance from traditional database management or IT jobs and pursue data analytics or cryptocurrency positions with a computer science degree, as you learn how to apply statistical methods to large datasets with computational methods.

Other booming fields that are hiring both computer scientists and engineers are the artificial intelligence (AI) and the virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) industries. The AI market is forecasted to be a $3.9T market in the future and needs computer scientists to program and code intelligent machines. Computer engineers are also needed to program and engineer the hardware of AI machines.

The VR/AR industry is predicted to be a $9.9 billion field by 2022 and has seen a 93 percent increase in job demand in the past year. Virtual reality isn’t just a glorified gaming system, but instead is revolutionizing health care, architecture, military and defense, and education. A degree in either computer science or engineering will be valuable for anyone wanting to break into this industry.

Want to learn more about career options are available? Explore nine of the top-paying computer science jobs.

CS vs CE: Degree Programs

Many computer science and computer engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree and pay well after graduation, but earning a master’s degree can help you earn $30,000 more per year. If you’re considering an advanced degree to further your career, comparing programs can help you make your decision.

While these computer science and computer engineering degrees share similar courses and are both great choices for a strong technology career,  there is a major difference to note. Computer science focuses mostly on troubleshooting issues on a software level. Expect to learn different programming languages, how to work with operating systems and how to maintain databases.

Computer engineering focuses on solving problems and designing hardware and software interfaces. Expect some similarities between the degrees and job titles, since computer engineers can be responsible for the developing and prototyping of software and hardware simultaneously.

Both degrees allow students to specialize in concentrations within each discipline, including cybersecurity, aerospace, or robotics. The Master of Science in Computer Science program at Northeastern University, for example, allows students to specialize in database management, security, game design, graphics, or programming languages.

How to Decide Which Masters Degree Is Right for You

Not all Master of Science in Computer Science programs will boost your resume and make an impression on recruiters quite like Northeastern’s. Graduating with tech know-how and confidence in your hands-on experience will give you a competitive edge for landing a computer science position with many top-tech and Fortune 500 companies.

Computer science degrees also vary depending on the school you attend and your willingness to relocate. Pursuing a tech degree in Florida, for example, may not offer as strong a competitive advantage as programs located in areas like Boston, Seattle, or Silicon Valley, since there are fewer tech companies to work for after graduation. A job search on Indeed.com shows over 8,500 computer science job listings in Florida compared to over 42,000 jobs in California. Computer engineers also make $33,740 more per year in California than in Florida.

It is important to research schools to find advanced degree programs that have highly experienced professors and connections to internships and co-ops with companies like eBay, Amazon, and Google.

How to Pursue a Masters in Computer Science Without Experience

Are you finding it difficult to secure your dream job or to surpass a title or pay ceiling? Completing a master’s degree in computer science can give you a competitive edge in your current job or allow you to switch career fields.

But what if you don’t know Java from Linux? Maybe your computing experience goes as far as sending emails and surfing the net.

The good news is that you can learn everything you need to know about computer science to excel in the IT workforce—even if your undergraduate degree and current position have nothing to do with computers.

With Northeastern University’s unique Align Master’s program in Computer Science, students bridge the gap between their current know-how and what they need to succeed in the tech world. The Align master’s program adds on a rigorous two semesters of computer science classes to help students prepare for master-level coursework. With flexible part-time and evening classes options, the working professional can earn their master’s degree in 2.5 to 3.5 years.

You don’t have to waste any more time with a degree or position you don’t love. The Align program allows you to pivot your college experience and discover new, amazing opportunities.

Taking the Next Step

Are you ready to skyrocket your career with a master’s degree in computer science? Whether you have always been a computer lover or you are still shy around programming, a Northeastern degree will prepare you for the job.


Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Computer Science