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Computer Science VS Computer Engineering

Although computer science and computer engineering can often be mistaken as similar disciplines, they are very distinct and unique from each other. However, both also have similarities. It is important to know how they compare and contrast in order to better understand our rapidly changing, tech-savvy world.

computer engineering vs computer science

Computer science deals with the designing of software, looking at algorithms and how the two interface with other software. It is part mathematics, part engineering and a little bit of creative arts all mixed together. Examples include things like simulations, operating systems, software products and video games. Computer engineering is more of a hybrid role that focuses on how computer science and electrical engineering come together. Computer engineering deals with hardware design. The engineer focuses on both the hardware and software aspects of technology. They study how the two interact together. Examples include building consumer electronics, smart phones and network hardware.

CS = Designing Software where CE = CS and Electrical Enigneering coming together

Differences in the Classroom

As far as classroom experience goes, computer engineering majors get more hands-on experience in the last two years of their undergraduate career than computer science majors do. Students see both the hardware and software aspect of technologies in their classes. Computer science majors get more theory-based classes. Computer engineering classes are not just theory-based, ethical issues and the social implications of engineering are also taught.

Possible Job Titles for Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists

The possible job titles for the two disciplines vary. For computer scientists, job titles may include programmer, software designer, business or systems analyst, software developer, systems support and software engineer. Possible job titles for computer engineers include systems engineer, hardware engineer, software engineer and radio frequency engineer.

Computer engineering is a newer field than computer science. It has only been around for about the last 20 years since technology started to evolve. This profession is on the rise and in demand right now. The trend will continue to go up over the next several years.

Although computer science has been around longer, it has changed a lot over the past 15 to 20 years. In the past, computer scientists were still trying to solve computer science problems like defining what an operating system does and figuring out how to connect two or more computers together. Currently, much of computer science is about helping other disciplines solve their problems using technology. For example, Computational Epidemiology is involved in developing computer models and simulating different diseases to see how they spread through populations. This could help public health and medical professionals contain and control the spread of these diseases to avoid widespread epidemics.

Suggestions on How to Prepare for Success in CS or CE

As far as what it takes to be a successful student in these disciplines, both require that students have good math skills. For high school students aspiring to major in computer engineering, Robert Akl, a computer engineering professor at the University of North Texas, suggests taking more math classes in high school, whether that be Pre-AP or college credit courses. Computer science programs put a bigger emphasis on science skills than computer engineering programs do. Successful computer engineering students will have an interest in both the hardware and software aspects of computers, whereas computer science students need to have more of an interest in just the software aspect.

Robert Akl, a Computer Engineering professor at the University of North Texas, suggests taking more AP & College Credit math classes in high school.

In the professional world, both fields require professionals to always improve and adapt to the changes in technology. However, successful computer engineers will be more concerned with wanting to make products more efficient and changing the status quo. There is a bigger emphasis for computer scientists to have a high GPA from their undergraduate career in order to get placed in the best jobs with the best salaries.

A Master's Degree?

Computer engineers and computer scientists typically pursue master’s degrees in order to teach and/or go onto to get their Ph.D. The degree can also help professionals in both areas advance their career. However, the increase in salary amount is slightly different. Computer scientists with graduate degrees can earn an average of $8,000 to $10,000 more in starting salary compared to computer scientists with a bachelor’s degree according to David Kealthy, a computer science and engineering professor at the University of North Texas. Computer engineers will earn slightly more than computer scientists with their graduate degrees. Their starting salaries average about $15,000 more than computer engineers with bachelor degrees according to Robert Akl, a computer engineering professor at the University of North Texas. Although the salary is a bit higher for computer engineers, computer scientists with graduate degrees get placed in more leadership type roles. For example, they might be hired as a lead or group manager or project director. However, the placement in these leadership roles depends on the graduate’s performance in his or her program.

"Computer engineers will earn slightly more than computer scientists with their graduate degrees." ~ Robert Akl, computer engineering professor at the University of North Texas

The job placement programs for students from both disciplines are similar. At UNT, the Career Center and the Internships and Cooperative Education program provide students from both disciplines help with job placement. There are not separate job finding programs for each major though. Career fairs are also offered for both majors. The College of Engineering also has a co-op program that helps students from both disciplines find work. Computer engineering and computer science majors have the opportunity to get college credit while doing internships.

For more information about the computer engineering program at UNT or computer engineering in general, contact Robert Akl at Robert.Akl@unt.edu or at 940-565-2804. And for more information about the computer science program at UNT or the computer science program, contact Kealthy at david.kealthy@unt.edu or 940-565-4801.

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