Computer Science vs Computer Engineering – Which is Right for You?

Computer Science and Computer Engineering are the terms oft-heard, yet misunderstood as much. For students contemplating a master’s degree in Computers, the terms are quite familiar. However, the two terms overlap substantially. Hence, it is of paramount importance to understand the difference between the two to ensure you select the course which is right for you.

Before we even talk about what computer science and computer engineering are, let’s first think about what are critical components of a computing device. As we now know from our use of computing devices in everyday life such as mobile phones, computers, laptops, smart TVs, the Internet of things, and even high-tech cars.

Most of these devices are based on a hardware system that has multiple components such as sensors, chips, screens, etc. interconnected and working together to perform automated tasks and processes in real-time. The hardware components are the lower level workhorse for these computing devices with the software capabilities such as operating system, device drivers, databases, communication software, and application software working on top of the hardware to make the devices functional for an end-user.

What is Computer Science?

Computer Science is the study of computers and computational systems. Unlike electrical and computer engineers, computer scientists deal mostly with software and software systems; this includes their theory, design, development, and application.

Principal areas of study within Computer Science include artificial intelligence, computer systems, and networks, security, database systems, human-computer interaction, vision and graphics, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics, and theory of computing. 

Although knowing how to program is essential to the study of computer science, it is only one element of the field. Computer scientists design and analyze algorithms to solve programs and study the performance of computer hardware and software. The problems that computer scientists encounter range from the abstract– determining what problems can be solved with computers and the complexity of the algorithms that solve them – to the tangible – designing applications that perform well on handheld devices, that are easy to use, and that uphold security measures.

Computer Science Curriculum

In Summary, Computer Science deals with the theory of computation. It deals with the virtual aspects of computers and focuses on software instead of hardware. It involves code writing to integrate data, data structures, algorithms, statistical models, etc. in an efficient manner. 

Creating algorithms to perform complex tasks, for instance, emulating a human brain or determining the best route for a cab, are part of this field. It closely aligns with mathematics and applies theoretical ideas to provide solutions for real-world problems. This degree covers the essential hardware and software topics, including Computer Organisation and Architecture. A computer scientist writes effective codes with the help of computational theory, mathematics, and data structures.

What is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering is at the intersection of electrical engineering and computer science. It deals with the hardware aspect of Computers. It focuses on building devices like smartphones, integrated circuits, etc.; it is closely related to physics and involves understanding how the laws of physics and electronics can be used to create better components. However, programming skills are still essential for computer engineers; this degree covers programming topics such as software design.

Computer engineering refers to the integration of computer science with electronic engineering. By combining these disciplines, computer engineers design and develop many of the software programs and technological devices that we use every day at work, school, and in our personal lives.

To start with, Computer Science and Computer Engineering have different core curricula. While the courses in a computer science degree focus on the theory of computation, languages, and environments; the focus in computer engineering is on physics, electronics, and computer architecture.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Core Subjects

A Computer Science degree consists of the following courses

  • Design and Analysis Algorithm
  • Introduction to Operating Systems
  • Software Engineering
  • Data Analysis

A Computer Engineering degree consists of the following courses

  • CAD
  • Communication
  • Electric Circuits and Chip Design
  • Waves, Optics, Thermodynamics
  • Digital Logic, Machine Design

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Specializations Offered

Computer Science specializations

  • Computer and Network Security
  • Mobile and Web Computing
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Software Engineering
  • Bioinformatics
  • Information Management and Data Analytics
  • Artificial Intelligence

Computer Engineering Specializations

  • Mobile Device Design
  • Embedded Systems Design
  • Chip Design
  • Academic Research
  • Proprietary Research

Other than being different in their core curriculum, both degrees equip students with a different skill set.

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering: Skillset

Skillset gained from a Computer Science degree

  • Designing efficient algorithms
  • Finding optimal, scalable solutions to problems
  • Managing data efficiently
  • Designing useful and effective software (Software engineering)
  • Managing software development projects
  • Understanding the theory of computation
  • Writing high-quality code
  • Proficiency in various programming languages and environments
  • Database design
  • Information and Cyber security

Skill set gained from a Computer Engineering degree

  • Designing integrated circuits
  • Designing microprocessors
  • Understanding the physical phenomena that electronic devices rely on
  • Creating efficient and effective devices and computing systems
  • Designing computer architecture

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It is evident that both Computer Engineering and Computer Science have different course structures, focus on different aspects and offer different skill sets. Thus, depending on the aptitude and the interest, one should carefully decide between the two. Please note that the rankings of both of these majors are different. Check out the latest rankings as per US News.

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Author Bio:

Prasad has been working in the overseas education industry for the last 12 years; he holds the distinction of servicing 700+ students to the USA for various programs. His accurate shortlisting skills and student-centric approach have been integral parts of his successful journey.

Prasad has guided students to top universities such as Columbia University, UIUC, National University of Singapore, University of British Columbia, University of Southern California, Indian School of Business, Purdue University, York University (Schulich), University of Washington, University of California-Davis, etc.

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