Computer Science vs. Software Engineering: Which Major Is Best For You? (2023)

(Video) Computer Science Vs Software Engineering | How to Pick the Right Major

Don’t stress, it will all make sense

Hey everyone! My name is YK, and I’m currently running CS Dojo, a programming education YouTube channel with 200,000+ subscribers. I was also formerly a software developer at Google.

Two of the most common questions my audience asks me are:

“What’s the difference between computer science and software engineering majors?”

And:

“If I want to become a software engineer, should I choose computer science or software engineering?”

In this article, I’ll answer these questions and give you my own quick analysis on these two majors.

  • Computer Science is the study of how computers work, mostly from a theoretical and mathematical perspective.
  • You should choose computer science if you like math, logic, or if you want to get into a specialized field in CS such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, security, or graphics.
  • Software engineering is the study of how software systems are built, including topics such as project management, quality assurance, and software testing.
  • You should choose software engineering if you are interested in a hands-on approach, and you want to learn how software is built and maintained.
  • Both computer science and software engineering teach the fundamentals of programming and computer science, so you can choose either one to become a software developer.

To understand the difference between computer science and software engineering majors, let’s take a look at their respective curricula at the University of Waterloo in Canada, which has one of the best computer science programs in North America.

(Video) Computer Science vs Software Engineering - Which degree is better for you?

Let’s compare the kinds of jobs and internships you can get through each program. The University of Waterloo’s website provides several examples.

Here are some of the job titles and companies of computer science alumni:

  • Web Developer/Architect, The Steele Group
  • Programmer, Harry Rosen Inc.
  • Mobile/Cloud Developer, Clearbridge Associates Limited
  • Software Engineering, General Dynamics Canada
  • Software Development Engineering, Microsoft
  • Agile Engineer, Pivotal Labs
  • Business Analyst, Canadian Tire Corporation
  • Developer Advocate, Google
  • Product Manager, Dropbox

And here are some of the job titles and companies of software engineering alumni:

  • Software Developer, Tagged Inc
  • Software Developer, IBM Canada
  • Software Manager, Arius Software Corporation
  • Software Engineer, VistaPrint USA
  • Software Engineer, Harris Corporation
  • Software Developer, Accenture Inc.
  • Technical Product Manager — Software Design & Development, NexJ Systems Inc
  • Consultant, PureFacts Financial Solutions
  • Implementation Consultant, Desire2Learn

As you can see, there isn’t a huge difference between the types of jobs you can get. The most common jobs graduates get for either major are software developer or software engineer.

There are other related options: product manager, QA analyst, and technology consultant, for example. Your options will depend on your specific skill set.

Now, let’s take a look at each program’s required courses. Let’s first compare some of the courses you’d need to take in your first year.

Computer science

  • CS 135 — Designing Functional Programs
  • CS 136 — Algorithm Design and Data Abstraction
  • MATH 135 — Algebra
  • MATH 136 — Linear Algebra 1
  • MATH 137 — Calculus 1
  • MATH 138 — Calculus 2
  • Plus a few electives

Software engineering

  • CS 137 — Programming Principles
  • CS 138 — Data Abstraction and Implementation
  • MATH 115 — Linear Algebra for Engineering
  • MATH 117 — Calculus 1 for Engineering
  • MATH 119 — Calculus 2 for Engineering
  • MATH 135 — Algebra for Honours Mathematics
  • ECE 105 — Physics of Electrical Engineering 1
  • ECE 106 — Electricity and Magnetism
  • ECE 124 — Digital Circuits and Systems
  • ECE 140 — Linear Circuits
  • SE 101 — Methods of Software Engineering

As you can see, the first year courses are fairly similar as well. They both cover a few fundamental computer science courses, and a few math courses in linear algebra and calculus.

The only major difference is that software engineering has additional physics and electrical engineering components, while computer science has a few more electives.

How about the required and elective courses after the first year? Let’s take a look at several examples.

Computer science

  • MATH 239 Introduction to Combinatorics
  • STAT 230 Probability
  • STAT 231 Statistics
  • CS 240 Data Structures and Data Management
  • CS 241 Foundations of Sequential Programs
  • CS 245 Logic and Computation
  • CS 246 Object-Oriented Software Development <- not required in for Software Engineering majors
  • CS 251 Computer Organization and Design
  • CS 341 Algorithms
  • CS 350 Operating Systems
  • Plus, several Computer Science electives

Software engineering:

  • CHE 102 Chemistry for Engineers
  • ECE 222 Digital Computers (includes assembly language)
  • ECE 358 Computer Networks
  • MATH 213 Advanced Mathematics for Software Engineers
  • MATH 239 Introduction to Combinatorics
  • STAT 206 Statistics for Software Engineering
  • MSCI 261 Engineering Economics: Financial Management for Engineers
  • CS 241 Foundations of Sequential Programs
  • CS 240 Data Structures and Data Management
  • CS 247 Software Engineering Principles <- not required for Computer Science majors
  • CS 341 Algorithms
  • CS 349 User Interfaces <- not required for Computer Science majors
  • CS 343 Concurrent and Parallel Programming <- not required for Computer Science majors
  • CS 348 Introduction to Database Management
  • SE 212 Logic and Computation
  • SE 350 Operating Systems
  • SE 465 Software Testing and Quality Assurance
  • SE 464 Software Design and Architectures
  • SE 463 Software Requirements Specification and Analysis
  • SE 490 Design Project
  • Plus, a few computer science and electrical engineering electives

I’ve given you a LOT of information to digest here. But here’s my summary

When it comes to the requirements in math and statistics, computer science and software engineering are almost identical. They cover combinatorics, probability, and statistics.

The core computer science requirements are similar, ranging over algorithms, data structures, and operating systems.

(Video) Computer Science vs Software Engineering which degree is better for your career?

However, there are some key differences:

  • Software engineering has more requirements in electrical engineering and software engineering fundamentals, such as software testing, design, and software requirements specification.
  • Computer Science allows more electives in higher-level computer science courses. You can choose from a wide range of topics such as security, software engineering fundamentals, computer vision, machine learning, and database management.

I think it mostly depends on your preferences:

  • You should choose computer science if you like math, logic, or if you want to get into a specialized field such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, security, or graphics.
  • You should choose software engineering if you’re more interested in the hands-on approach, and if you want to learn the overall life cycle of how software is built and maintained.

But wait — which is it then? Which major is better if you want to be a software engineer?

Here’s my opinion: At this particular university (University of Waterloo), with this particular set of program requirements, Computer Science is a better major if you want to be a software engineer.

Just for simplicity, let’s suppose that you are hoping to get one the highest paying jobs (~$100,000 USD / year) as a software engineer in North America. These jobs are typically at large software companies (think Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc.) or at medium-sized, high-growth companies (think Dropbox, Lyft, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.).

Typically, what they look for in a software engineer candidate is the ability to write solid code and build interesting projects, as well as computer science fundamentals, such as data structures and algorithms.

I think the best way to cultivate this skill set is by quickly learning computer science fundamentals, and spending your own time practicing solving problems and writing code.

Based on the curriculum for software engineering and based on how busy engineering students tend to be, I think it would be harder to do this with software engineering than computer science.

Another benefit of this computer science program is that it allows more computer science electives. This is great because you can adjust your courses in response to what’s in demand in the job market. For example, if mobile app development is in demand, you can learn that; if parallel computing is in demand, you can focus on that instead.

I’m sure there are some benefits to learning software engineering fundamentals (project management, design, testing, etc.). But I would personally rather take flexibility over a predefined set of skills. That’s why I think computer science is a better major to become a software engineer with this particular curriculum.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and this is just one particular university. I’d love to hear about your opinion and what your experience was like if you majored in either computer science or software engineering. Please let me know in a comment below.

A few notes

Note 1: Different universities have different requirements for these two majors. This article should be a good starting point, but you should still take a look at the program requirements at the university you’re interested in attending.

Note 2: Some universities don’t even have a software engineering major. For example, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has computer science and computer engineering degrees, but not software engineering. But they do have a software engineering concentration within their computer science program, as well as in computer engineering.

If the university you’re interested in going to doesn’t have a software engineering major, I would go with computer science if you want to become a software developer. Computer engineering is more focused on hardware than computer science or software engineering, so it’s less directly related to a typical software developer’s job.

Sources

Thanks for reading, and good luck choosing a university and your major!

(Video) Computer Science vs Software Engineering: Which Major Is Best?

FAQs

Is it better to major in computer science or software engineering? ›

Many agree that a degree in computer science best prepares a student for abstract problem solving and research on the development of computer technology, while a software engineering degree provides a student with knowledge regarding the software development process and how to apply this as an engineer.

Is CS harder than software engineering? ›

Computer Science (CS) and Software Engineering (SE) curricula are very similar and therefore about equally difficult. At any given college or university, they should both be fairly challenging STEM degrees.

Who gets paid more computer science or software engineering? ›

Computer scientists start out making about $68k/yr and the average is about $99k. Once you're in the field for a while, you can work your pay up to over $126k. Software engineers start out at a higher average by over $10k, coming in at around $81k/yr.

What major should I choose for software engineering? ›

"Most software engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree," Frederick said. A bachelor's degree in software engineering is ideal, but studying computer science or other STEM programs such as math, science or engineering could help as well.

Can I work as a software engineer with a computer science degree? ›

Software Engineering Career Paths

In many cases, a bachelor's degree in computer science is sufficient to work in software engineering jobs. With that said, a specialized software engineering major or graduate degree will likely give you a leg up when pursuing any software engineering job.

Can I become a software engineer without a computer science degree? ›

No matter whether you have a CS degree or not, you can become a software engineer. And to become one, you must have basic knowledge of computers like how it works, how to connect Internet, short commands on keyboards (like Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+X, etc), and many more.

How do I choose between computer science and engineering? ›

While computer science and computer engineering sound similar and some duties and responsibilities may only overlap, there is a key difference: Computer science focuses primarily on computer theory and software, while computer engineering focuses on computer design and hardware.

Do software engineers do coding? ›

Software engineers use the scientific method and have advanced mechanical skills in addition to basic coding skills. Programming typically requires earning a degree or completing a coding boot camp, while software engineering requires that plus several years of experience.

Is computer science the hardest major? ›

Computer science ranks as one of the hardest college majors for its combination of theoretical and technical material. Majors must master operating systems, computing principles, and data structures.

Which engineering is best? ›

List of top 15 best engineering courses for youngsters
  • Computer Science Engineering. ...
  • Electronics and Communication Engineering. ...
  • Information Technology Engineering. ...
  • Mechanical Engineering. ...
  • Electrical Engineering. ...
  • Civil Engineering. ...
  • Chemical Engineering. ...
  • Automobile Engineering.
3 Aug 2022

How do I know if software engineering is for me? ›

You should consider becoming a software developer if…
  1. You like working with people. ...
  2. You have a knack for problem solving. ...
  3. You're musically inclined. ...
  4. You like to see order in things. ...
  5. Trying new things gives you a thrill. ...
  6. You stay intrinsically motivated. ...
  7. You enjoy puzzles and strategy. ...
  8. You love technology.
20 Jan 2020

What is the highest degree in computer science? ›

The highest level of education available to computer science students, a Ph. D. in computer science builds off of introductory computer science concepts and focuses heavily on research. Students might prefer to complete a Ph.

What skills are needed for a Software Engineer? ›

You'll want to focus on developing these core skills.
  • Computer Programming and Coding. ...
  • Software Development. ...
  • Object-Oriented Design (OOD) ...
  • Software Testing and Debugging. ...
  • Problem Solving and Logical Thinking. ...
  • Written and Verbal Communication. ...
  • Teamwork. ...
  • Find a Home for Your Software Engineering Skills.

Is majoring in software engineering worth it? ›

Yes, software engineering and computer science degrees are likely to lead to a high-paying job. More and more companies are looking to hire talented Software Engineers, so this career track is growing more quickly than average job growth.

Is IT hard to get a job as a software engineer? ›

Getting a job as a software engineer is never easy, but, for a few key reasons, it's especially difficult the first time around. First, you're not likely to have a professional network or existing software engineer connections who can make introductions on your behalf.

Do you need a CS degree to work at Google? ›

Do I need a computer science degree to be a Google software engineer? No, a CS degree isn't required for most of our software engineering or product manager roles.

How many years does IT take to become a software engineer? ›

How long does it take to become a software engineer? Most software engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, which takes four years of full-time study. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's, which requires an additional two years of study.

Which engineering is easy to study? ›

2) ME - Mechanical Engineering : this branch involves design production and operation of machinery.

Why should I choose computer science? ›

The most important aspect of computer science is problem solving, an essential skill for life. Students study the design, development and analysis of software and hardware used to solve problems in a variety of business, scientific and social contexts.

Why computer science engineering is best? ›

Computer engineers can do many things, including designing, developing systems and even working with robotics and AI. It covers multiple sectors including electrical and even healthcare. This sector can help you pursue a career that really makes a difference.

Do software engineers need math? ›

Despite its name, software engineering does not require math. At least, it doesn't require as much math as you might think. There are numbers and problem-solving, but you won't have to break out your AP Calculus certificate or trigonometry textbook to program—or engineer—software.

What language do software engineers code in? ›

Simply put, if you're looking to get into software engineering, you'll need to know C and C++. Not to be confused with the web-page development focused JavaScript, Java is a widely used software programming language at the core of many programs, applications, web-pages and systems.

How many hours software engineers work? ›

It all depends on the type of work they do and the type of company they work for. So, we've established that most developers work somewhere around 40 hours per week, which corresponds to the labor laws in different countries. However, this might also change depending on what kind of service the developers provide.

What major has the highest dropout rate? ›

Computing is the major with the highest college dropout rate — 10.7%. The number of dropout college students varies across degrees and majors.

Which is the toughest course in the world? ›

Lists of some of the Toughest Course in the World
  • Master of Science in Engineering Management.
  • Engineering for Safety.
  • Courses Following Engineering.
  • Accountancy (Chartered)
  • Audio Engineering Training.
  • Emergency Medicine Master's Degree.
  • Medical Programs.
  • Engineering of Piping.
15 Oct 2022

What is the most difficult major? ›

What Are the 10 Most Difficult College Majors?
  • Economics – 2.95.
  • Biology – 3.02.
  • Geology – 3.03.
  • Philosophy – 3.08.
  • Finance – 3.08.
  • Physics – 3.10.
  • Computer Science – 3.13.
  • Mechanical Engineering – 3.17.
17 Sept 2022

What type of engineer is Elon Musk? ›

Elon Musk has no formal engineering degree, but he clearly is industrial engineer by profession. His approach to business and problem solving is typical industrial engineering approach. His actual degrees (BS in both economics and physics) have good overlap with undergraduate curriculum in IE.

Which engineering is best for future? ›

Here are the best engineering branches and courses for the future:
  • Aerospace Engineering.
  • Chemical Engineering.
  • Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
  • Petroleum Engineering.
  • Telecommunication Engineering.
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
  • Robotics Engineering.
  • Biochemical Engineering.

Which engineer is most in demand? ›

The Most In-Demand Engineering Jobs
  • Data Science & Machine Learning. ...
  • Automation & Robotics Engineer. ...
  • Petroleum Engineer. ...
  • Civil Engineering. ...
  • Electrical Engineering. ...
  • Alternative Energy Engineer. ...
  • Mining Engineer. ...
  • Project Engineer.

Which engineering is best in future 2025? ›

15 best engineering jobs for the future
  • Civil engineering technician.
  • Cartographer.
  • Aerospace engineering technician.
  • Industrial engineer.
  • Agricultural engineer.
  • Mechanical engineer.
  • Marine engineer.
  • Civil engineer.

Which engineering has bright future? ›

Here are some of the most promising engineering fields and courses for the future: Computer Science and Engineering. Mechanical Engineering. Electrical Engineering.

Who earns more software engineer or developer? ›

An average annual salary of a Software Developer is Rs. 493,576 per year in India while that of a Software Engineer is Rs. 523,770 per year.

Are software developers happy? ›

Based on a small survey of 350 respondents, some 70.3 percent of developers said they were happy at work, versus 14.4 percent who said they were unhappy, and 15.3 percent who claimed indifference.

How do you answer why do you want to be a software engineer? ›

Here's how to answer this interview question if you're currently switching careers: "I want to be a software developer because designing computer programs lets me use my creative and problem-solving skills. Software development wasn't my initial career path, but I'm glad I discovered it.

What is the most successful major? ›

Top 10 Highest Paid Majors (Undergraduate)
  • Petroleum Engineering. Early Career Pay: $92,300. ...
  • Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration. ...
  • Mining and Mineral Engineering. ...
  • Chemical Engineering. ...
  • Electrical Engineering. ...
  • Computer Engineering. ...
  • Geological and Geophysical Engineering. ...
  • Drama and Theater Arts.

What is the best IT field to study? ›

Another field which is high in demand in India is Artificial Intelligence professionals as there is a steady rise in the number of AI applications. Other IT fields that are best in India include full stack development, cybersecurity, machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning.

What is a good double major for computer science? ›

Although the most common majors to pair with Computer Sciences include Data Science, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, and Statistics, many students also double major in the humanities or social sciences.

What is the difference between computer science and software engineering? ›

A software engineering degree focuses on the practical skills professionals need when designing and maintaining software systems. A computer science degree emphasizes computation theory and a wider range of subjects, including coding, algorithms, machine learning, database management, and information security.

Is a software engineering degree worth it? ›

Yes, software engineering and computer science degrees are likely to lead to a high-paying job. More and more companies are looking to hire talented Software Engineers, so this career track is growing more quickly than average job growth.

Is a computer science degree worth it? ›

You'll Be Part of a Growing Industry: The number of jobs for computer and math occupations is growing much faster than average, making computer science one of the most viable degree options. Opens the Door to High-Paying Careers: Computer science graduates earn some of the highest starting salaries of any major.

Do software engineers do coding? ›

Software engineers use the scientific method and have advanced mechanical skills in addition to basic coding skills. Programming typically requires earning a degree or completing a coding boot camp, while software engineering requires that plus several years of experience.

How do I know if software engineering is for me? ›

You should consider becoming a software developer if…
  1. You like working with people. ...
  2. You have a knack for problem solving. ...
  3. You're musically inclined. ...
  4. You like to see order in things. ...
  5. Trying new things gives you a thrill. ...
  6. You stay intrinsically motivated. ...
  7. You enjoy puzzles and strategy. ...
  8. You love technology.
20 Jan 2020

Is it hard to get a job as a software engineer? ›

Getting a job as a software engineer is never easy, but, for a few key reasons, it's especially difficult the first time around. First, you're not likely to have a professional network or existing software engineer connections who can make introductions on your behalf.

Which engineering is hardest? ›

What Is the Hardest Engineering Major?
Top 3 Hardest Engineering MajorsTop 3 Easiest Engineering Majors
1. Chemical engineering (19.66 hours)1. Industrial engineering (15.68 hours)
2. Aero and astronautical engineering (19.24 hours)2. Computer engineering and technology (16.46 hours)
1 more row

What is the highest degree in computer science? ›

The highest level of education available to computer science students, a Ph. D. in computer science builds off of introductory computer science concepts and focuses heavily on research. Students might prefer to complete a Ph.

Do software engineers need math? ›

Despite its name, software engineering does not require math. At least, it doesn't require as much math as you might think. There are numbers and problem-solving, but you won't have to break out your AP Calculus certificate or trigonometry textbook to program—or engineer—software.

What skills do you need to be a software engineer? ›

How to Become a Software Engineer: Software Engineer Skills
  • The ability to analyze complex technical information.
  • The ability to analyze business requirements and assess impact within the existing database architecture.
  • Good research skills.
  • Be an excellent problem solver.
  • Have experience building software applications.
11 Oct 2022

What language do software engineers code in? ›

Simply put, if you're looking to get into software engineering, you'll need to know C and C++. Not to be confused with the web-page development focused JavaScript, Java is a widely used software programming language at the core of many programs, applications, web-pages and systems.

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