Computer science and computer engineering are vast fields with a wide range of industry and research opportunities in speciality areas such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, payment systems and autonomous driving. Many aspiring students, however, find themselves confused when deciding between a major in computer engineering and a major in computer science. This article will help you learn about the differences and similarities between the two, hopefully enabling you to make an informed decision.
Despite popular belief, computer science (CS) is not just about programming; there’s much more to it. CS primarily centres on data – whether it is data manipulation, calculation, storage and retrieval or communication. CS focuses on what problems are solvable, what algorithms could be used to solve them, and what system architecture to use in one context versus another. All of this is put together via software, which is what most people refer to as software engineering. To summarise, CS encompasses the following:
- Computation theory
- Programming languages (and associated theory)
- Algorithms and data structure
- System architecture
Computer engineering combines electrical engineering with computer science and deals primarily with the design and development of computer systems. Computer engineers work with a wide array of technologies including microprocessors, data storage, input and output devices, operating systems, driver logic and so on. It’s worth noting that many engineering programs call this major electrical engineering and computer science and not computer engineering.
Which one should I choose?
The chart below conveys the overlap and differences between the two fields. As you can see, there’s a good amount of commonality between the two despite their differences in dealing with hardware.
There’s a point to be made that the rate of innovation in software usually outpaces that of hardware – and for this reason, demand for CS jobs is greater than that for computer engineering. It’s good to keep in mind the job market while deciding on a career, but interest and aptitude are still of paramount importance. If you’re truly passionate about one versus the other, then you’ll find plenty of opportunities in both and should definitely go for the one you care about the most.
Ayush Sharma is a guest blogger for The Red Pen and studied computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the founder and CEO of an early-stage startup that’s focused on stealth.