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

A question I have gotten a lot lately has to do with the differences and similarities between Computer Science and Computer Engineering. At the risk of over-simplifying the differences, I have written this guide to explain how Computer Science and Computer Engineering are alike and how they differ.

What Is Computer Engineering? 

Computer Engineering is the marriage of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. It focuses on computing in all forms, from microprocessors to embedded computing devices to laptop and desktop systems to supercomputers. As such, it concerns the electrical engineering considerations of how microprocessors function, are designed, and are optimized; how data is communicated among electronic components; how integrated systems of electronic components are designed and how they operate to process instructions expressed in software; and how software is written, compiled, and optimized for specific hardware platforms. Therefore, computer engineers are electrical engineers who specialize in software design, hardware design, or systems design that integrates both.

What is Computer Science? 

Computer Science is the study of how data and instructions are processed, stored, communicated by computing devices. A modern descendant of Applied Mathematics and Electrical Engineering, Computer Science deals with algorithms for processing data, the symbolic representation of data and instructions, the design of instruction languages for processing data, techniques for writing software that process data on a variety of computing platforms, protocols for communicating data reliably and securely across networks, the organization of data in databases of various types and scales, the emulation of human intelligence and learning through computer algorithms, statistical modeling of data in large databases to support inference of trends, and techniques for protecting the content and authenticity of data. Therefore, computer scientists are scientists and mathematicians who develop ways to process, interpret, store, communicate, and secure data.

Overlap Between the Areas 

Because both Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists ultimately work with data and attempt ultimately to harness meaning from it, there is significant overlap in coursework that students in the two fields take, as well as in the careers they pursue. This does not minimize the distinctive nature of the two disciplines. It simply acknowledges the fact that these types of computer professionals find context and purpose in similar kinds of projects or in different aspects of the same kinds of projects.

A Potentially Oversimplifying but Useful Distinction

Both Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists advance computing technology and solve problems using computing technology. If we consider computing technology in terms of scale, Computer Engineers operate often at the microscopic and macroscopic ends of the spectrum, whereas Computer Scientists work in the middle parts of the spectrum. More specifically, Computer Engineers deal with the physics of semiconductor electronics so that they may design hardware from the integrated circuit level (small), as well as with the integration of hardware and software optimized to run on it to realize complete, special-purpose computing systems (large). Computer Scientists write the software, design the databases, devise the algorithms, format the communications, and secure the data that are processed by the hardware to make the integrated system function.


A Concrete Example: An iPhone

Consider an iPhone. Apple employs both Computer Scientists and Computer Engineers to design each new version of the iPhone. Computer Engineers (and Electrical Engineers) designed the chips that house the integrated circuits that make the iPhone’s various components (cell radio, screen, controls, memory, microprocessor) function, and they figured out how to get the various components to work with each other. That involves looking at the device at both the microscopic level and the integrated systems level. Computer Scientists wrote the operating system that manages the memory and concurrently running applications, the apps in the app store that run on top of that operating system, the packing and unpacking of data into packets for network communication and the encrypting of data so that prying eyes can’t see it. The computer scientists provide the glue pieces that bring turn the computer engineers’ beginning product – the component designs – into the computer engineers’ end product – the device on which people text, browse the web, and play Angry Birds.

From this example, it is easy to imagine, with so much dependence on each other’s functions for realizing a finished product, why there is significant overlap in the coursework Computer Engineers and Computer Scientists take, and in the career opportunities they pursue.

A Helpful Perspective on Computer Engineering

I found the website provides a particularly helpful description of Computer Engineering that identifies the kinds of jobs Computer Engineers work, the companies that hire them, and the salaries they earn.

That page begins with a helpful list of specialization areas in Computer Engineering. I have copied that list of specializations here, but I have marked with an asterisk (*) those in which Computer Scientists also specialize. In all cases of overlap, Computer Scientists focus more on the software development aspect of the specialization, and Computer Engineers study the hardware design and integration of hardware and software needed to implement that specialization.

  • Microprocessor and microcontroller systems
  • Assembly language (*)
  • Coding, cryptography, and information protection (*)
  • Distributed computing (*)
  • Computer vision and pattern recognition (*)
  • Computer graphics and multimedia applications (*)
  • Internet computing and wireless networks (*)
  • Computer architecture and embedded digital systems design
  • Network security and privacy (*)
  • Real-Time Systems (*)
  • VLSI, VHDL, and ASICS design
  • Computer internetworking and Network Protocols (*)
  • Embedded software for real-time microcontrollers (*)
  • Algorithms, compilers, and operating systems (*)
  • Human-computer interaction (*)

That same website presents a number of other interesting data on Computer Engineering. For example, this table expresses the relationships among Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Computer Science in terms of the classes each major takes and the percentage of those classes that fall in the categories of hardware and software.


You see the “computer science is software and computer engineering is hardware” theme play out once again in this table. That is the easiest way to distinguish the two fields. And yet, there is enough of an overlap to ensure that both kinds of students will find plenty of opportunity in a wide range of careers in the computer field.


About Ray Klump

Associate Dean, College of Aviation, Science, and Technology at Lewis University Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University,, You can find him on Google+.

41 thoughts on “Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: What’s the Difference?

  1. March 19, 2021 at 3:53 am

    In my opinion, computer science is much more complex than computer engineering.

    1. Emmanuel
      March 31, 2021 at 10:39 am

      That’s to those who loves maths as a subject
      Computer engineering is more easier for people that love connections, and circuit reading

  2. November 12, 2019 at 5:35 am

    I believe that with growing understanding of the two fields, the distinction is making its way through. The interesting bit is that both are now intertwining to give birth to new dimensions for us to explore. Thank you for the article; would like further news as well.

  3. November 8, 2019 at 3:06 am

    One of the best i have ever read i hope for more text like this one.

  4. September 15, 2019 at 5:33 am

    Useful information. Fortunate me I found your website unintentionally, and I’m surprised why this coincidence didn’t came about in advance! I bookmarked it.

  5. August 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    You have shared some great info with us. I appreciate your work.

  6. July 19, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Amazing points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.

  7. July 16, 2019 at 11:20 am

    This is a good post explaining too much. Thanks to i find this i am Happy to say your post is very interesting to read.I’m never going to say something about it.You’re doing a great job.Keep it up This is really helpful post and very informative there is no doubt about it. I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my Collection. Very good work and i will definitely recommend to my mom and my brother!

  8. July 16, 2019 at 7:44 am

    it is rather informative article, it’s fascinating weblog for pc science. thanks for sharing. preserve sharing such good blogs.

  9. July 13, 2019 at 6:55 am

    You have made my confusion very clear by showing such a bold differences between computer science and engineering. Great article. Thanks.

  10. June 23, 2019 at 7:05 am

    what a helpful information..
    this can make students easier to choose the major that they want..

  11. June 11, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for the detailed article on computer sciences and engineering.

  12. June 11, 2019 at 4:51 am

    Thankx for shairing such a great Article..when i was about to join i was also confused about what was the difference.

  13. June 10, 2019 at 7:02 am

    It’s extraordinarily a jumbling and key piece of data.
    I’m in astounding spirits that you in a general sense offered this stunning data to us

  14. Rahman wazir
    May 2, 2019 at 3:02 am

    Great article and very useful information. simple and understandable. The article clears the difference of computer engineering and computer science even to the civil engineers of 1990s.

  15. Lincoln Moro
    April 22, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Very good article, i apreciate it a lot. Very good work and inniciative. Keep up your great work.

  16. April 4, 2019 at 4:04 am

    Hey Ray you have share such informative article I appreciate it. Thanks for such great efforts.

  17. March 24, 2019 at 10:16 am

    I like it and appreciate the work when people gives their time for such points and share with others. Keep it up the amazing work.

  18. March 1, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I advise all college students or recent college grads to get into the tech sector, in spite of having a career in real estate and being passionate about all things related to real estate.

    In today’s market, the tech sector presents millennials with better entry level job prospects and high starting salaries, but, most important, being in tech provides young people with many more opportunities to be an entrepreneur or work for a startup and therefore benefit financially from rapid growth of the company you own or work for.

    The only barrier to entry to building wealth in real estate is money. Real estate is not rocket science, it simply takes money to buy property and bare minimum common sense to manage it. But, no one will lend to you or invest in your deals unless your interests are aligned with the interests of your capital sources which simply means having a significant amount of one’s own capital invested and at risk as well. Also, working for a real estate company probably pays better when compared to average incomes in a given region, but its very rarely the case that the owner of that company is going to compensate you with a percentage of ownership of a property that they purchased with their money.

    So, all career paths being equal, I would advise that you become a software developer and make a lot of money that one can than you to purchase property and than start your second career as a real estate investor or developer.

  19. angel precious
    February 22, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    yea……..this page was really helpful
    thanks so much

  20. Rongum Wahab
    February 14, 2019 at 12:53 am

    I was so confused with these two courses,as such people kept asking me about the difference about the two and I had no answer for them.Thank you very much for that information you have provided.Atleast am going to raise my head up when answering those questions.God bless you

  21. January 6, 2019 at 11:59 pm

    Both majors are heavy in theory and practical application, which is vital for building a strong knowledge base for a range of IT careers, however, the key difference is that computer science focuses on software, while computer engineering is more about the hardware.

  22. January 3, 2019 at 1:58 am

    good information regarding the computer engineering and computer science. thank you for such valuable information

  23. October 26, 2018 at 3:51 am

    This is Great Advice! Very honest and practical. i was confused and didn’t know that what is the difference between computer science and computer engineering. but your post helped me. Enjoyed reading this blog , really explains everything in detail, the post is very interesting and effective. nice to read your all blogs and learnt a lot of new knowledge.Thank you sir.

  24. October 17, 2018 at 4:50 am

    Thank you For this blog…I have lot of confusion in between computer science and computer engineering..But from this blog you clear my doubt..can you please give blog on career opportunities in these two field and the certification which are necessary for good career opportunities in these field..looking forward for favourable reply from your side..thank you once again..

  25. Hrushikesh
    June 26, 2018 at 9:26 am

    Computer engineering or computer science which is best.

  26. Steven
    May 29, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Am very thankful to you all but i have one more question. do you mean that computer science concerns with more software part..and how it interacts with computerised devices and perpherals than computer engineering which actually concerns on hardware making, electrical and electronic view of computer system. right, then what about Information Technology BSIT .

  27. May 23, 2018 at 11:09 am

    so, can someone who studied computer engineering in ND still studies computer science in HND, or can someone who studied computer in Nd study Computer science in HND????

  28. Rachel La Madrid
    February 28, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    It couldn’t be clearer.
    Thank you for the explanation Dr. Ray Klumphelped It helped me decide what to study.

  29. September 15, 2017 at 12:15 am

    it is very informative article, it is interesting blog for computer science. thanks for sharing. keep sharing such nice blogs.

  30. June 8, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Great read and very well explained. I believe in professionals so this is a very useful article for everyone. Many thanks for your share.

  31. Debjit Roy
    May 28, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Hi ! I am from India. I will be starting my undergraduate this year. I want to pursue a doctorate in Computer Science. For that, which course will give me a stronger foundation, computer science or computer engineering ?

  32. Adrew
    May 22, 2017 at 7:12 am

    Please also I would like to ask what is the difference between B. Sc. Computer Science and B. Sc. Mathematics and Computer Science.

  33. Manuel
    May 10, 2017 at 11:05 am

    I have a computer engineering/computer science a social science or a natural science?

    1. May 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

      That is a very good question. There is no consensus on the kind of science Computer Science is. A very good book on the subject is The Science of Computing: Shaping a Discipline by Matti Tedre. Personally, I see Computer Science as an engineering discipline. Like Electrical Engineering, it applies the laws of Physics and Math to solve problems.

    2. Mesin Tempur
      December 19, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Computer Science(CS) are Formal Science…like Math, Statistic, or Logic
      But Computer Engineering are another thing, CE are branch of Electrical Engineering which is a “kids” of Engineering….Why Computer Engineering siting in layer 3 of “Engineering” not like CS ? Because CS need to use some of Electrical Engineering stuffs(like chips) to interact with other entities, like human or another machine.

      They both are not Social or Natural Science, They are Formal & Engineering

  34. German Diago
    February 2, 2017 at 3:48 am

    Computer Engineering and Computer Science can mean different things to different people. I think this article may be explaining the American view. In Spain, the degree, at the time I did it, was called “Computer Science Engineering”, literally translated, and it lasted for 5 years. Actually, the amount of work is the same as for a 6 years degree (in number of Credits standardized for the EU).

    They teach from math (quite a bit) to databases, software, hardware and all. I think this is the equivalent of a Degree + Master in the US. Now education in Spain changed the programmes so I am not up to date, I just know they issued some kind of “more lightweight” degrees that are 4 years. Later go and buy a master, without knowing nearly as much as you knew when you had the degree before about the fundamentals. What a business they built on top of education! I find it a bit of a shame actually. But it gives older engineers a competitive advantage in my opinion.

  35. January 6, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Simply want to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your post is just nice
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    your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

  36. December 8, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I like it wheneve people come together and share views.
    Great site, continue tthe good work!

  37. December 8, 2016 at 5:22 am

    The assistive technology benefits outcomes writing is definately the most effective i’ve
    read today.

  38. u
    November 10, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.

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