Computer Science vs. Engineering: Which Technical Track Should You Take?
You’ve heard all the hype about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers again and again, and you’re starting to consider them pretty seriously. Your analytical nature and problem-solving abilities have you thinking a career in technology or engineering may be the right move.
But you’re having trouble deciding on computer science versus engineering. Your initial research suggests either route can lead to a bright future. So how can you determine which best aligns with your personal skills and interests?
We’re here to help with this side-by-side comparison of the two fields. Below you’ll find all of the basics, from education requirements to job titles to earning potential and more. Use this information to help you decide if you’re destined for a career in computer science or engineering.
Computer science vs. engineering: The basics
You may have an idea of what each of these fields entail, but it’s important to have a fundamental understanding before deciding your fate. Both fields require logical thinkers and methodical minds, and they both offer a huge array of career options. But there are still some differences that set them apart from each other.
Engineering as an industry tends to focus on building things out of tactile materials. Engineers draft plans to build everything from helicopters to sewer systems, from medical devices to motherboards. They might even focus on forging new composite materials for building purposes.
Computer scientists do somewhat similar work—but in the digital realm. They wield digital technology as well as computing languages to create, improve and build software systems. They often collaborate with engineering professionals in an effort to solve problems and streamline the technology engineers need in order to build structures in actual space.
As you can see, the line between these two worlds is very thin, and there are a few professions that straddle the intersection completely. For example, computer hardware engineers seem to fit better in the engineering industry, but a computer science degree could also be accepted for entrance to the profession.
But for a very general guide, computer science primarily concerns itself with the landscape of the digital world, while engineering focuses on the landscape of the physical world.
Computer science vs. engineering: Common job titles
Now that you have a better understanding of the driving forces behind computer science and engineering, you’re probably curious about the careers in each field. Both industries offer a variety of positions, so you’re bound to find something that intrigues you.
We used real-time job analysis software to examine job postings from the past year in each field. This data helped us identify the top five job titles in each industry.
Most common computer science positions1
- Designs and customizes computer applications software
- Modifies existing software to optimize operational efficiency or correct errors
- Evaluates software requirements and user needs to determine software feasibility
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 19% (much faster than average)
Median annual salary (2015): $98,260*
- Analyzes data processing problems to improve computer systems
- Develops and tests system design procedures
- Enhances system compatibility so information can be shared easily
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 21% (must faster than average)
Median annual salary (2015): $85,800*
- Writes, designs and edits web page content, or directs others producing content
- Identifies and corrects problems uncovered by testing or user feedback
- Backs up website files for immediate recovery in case of problems
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 27% (must faster than average)
Median annual salary (2015): $64,970*
- Installs and supports an organization’s network system
- Examines website functions to ensure performance without interruption
- Performs data backups and disaster recovery operations
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 8% (as fast as average)
Median annual salary (2015): $77,810*
- Tests and administers computer databases
- Coordinates changes and corrects errors to computer databases
- Applies security measures to safeguard information
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 11% (faster than average)
Median annual salary (2015): $81,710*
Most common engineering positions2
- Oversees installation, operation, maintenance and repair of mechanical equipment
- Reads and interprets blueprints, computer-generated reports or technical drawings
- Investigates equipment failures or issues to diagnose faulty operation and recommend solutions
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 5% (as fast as average)
Median annual salary (2015): $83,590*
- Researches, develops and tests the manufacturing and installation of electrical systems
- Creates technical drawings or topographical maps to help guide installation and operations
- Directs efforts to ensure compliance with specification, codes and customer requirements
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 0% (little or no change)
Median annual salary (2015): $93,010*
- Oversees the overall integration of technical activities in architecture or engineering projects
- Consults with various stakeholders to discuss project specifications or procedures
- Prepares and presents proposals, reports or findings to clients
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 8% (as fast as average)
Median annual salary (2015): $82,220*
- Designs, develops and evaluates integrated systems for managing industrial production processes
- Estimates production budgets and cost-saving methods for management review
- Maps out the layout of equipment, materials and workspace to achieve maximum efficiency
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 1% (little or no change)
Median annual salary (2015): $83,470*
- Designs chemical plant equipment and devises processes for manufacturing chemicals and products
- Conducts research to develop new and improved chemical manufacturing processes
- Develops safety procedures to protect employees
Projected job growth (2014–2024): 2% (slower than average)
Median annual salary (2015): $97,360*
Computer science vs. engineering: Salary and job outlook
The list of job titles goes to show the variety of careers available in the fields of computer science and engineering. Knowing what you’ll be doing day in and day out is important, but the practical side of you is wondering about job security and stability.
Let’s start with the earning potential. You’ll be happy to know that regardless of which track you take, you will have the opportunity to earn an above-average income. It’s important to note that salary ranges vary depending on the actual position you pursue, but evaluating an average for each field can give you an idea of the possibilities.
The median annual salary for all occupations in 2015 was $36,200, according to the BLS. The average annual earnings for computer science-related positions in 2015 was about $81,430.* Professionals in the engineering field earned an average of $76,870 in that same year.* As you can see, you’ll have the ability to earn an above-average paycheck in computer science or engineering careers.
Projected job growth
Earning potential means nothing if there aren’t jobs available, which is why it’s important to weigh in projected job growth percentages. For comparison, keep in mind that the average growth for all occupations is 7 percent through 2024, according to the BLS.
Computer science careers boast optimistic growth estimates, with some positions projected as high as 27 percent. The average growth for all positions in the field sits at 12 percent. On the other hand, engineering jobs are expected to grow slower than usual, with an average projected growth of 3 percent.
Judging by this category, it’s clear that computer science positions have a commanding lead. This is due to the explosive growth of the tech industry in general, with many businesses upgrading their computer systems and securing their existing databases.
Computer science vs. engineering: Education requirements
The above-average earning potential detailed above isn’t up for grabs for just anybody. Working in computer science or engineering requires an in-depth understanding of technical concepts. This means you’ll need to prove you’re qualified for the job by acquiring some formal education.
Our job posting analysis uncovered the preferred education levels indicated by employers hiring for computer science and engineering positions. The data revealed that 81 percent of employers required computers science candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree.1 Comparably, 83 percent of employers were looking to fill their engineering vacancies with Bachelor degree holders.2
It’s clear that education is a critical component of finding employment in computer science or engineering. A Bachelor’s degree program will help you acquire the technical knowledge and hands-on training you’ll need to succeed in either field.
The choice is yours
In the question of computer science versus engineering, only you can decide which career path is right for you. The information above should help you weigh your options in order to determine which best aligns with your specific abilities and aspirations.
If you wish to leverage your logical mind in an industry that’s on the rise, it’s worth taking a closer look into computer science careers. Learn more about the many opportunities available in our article, What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree?
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 562,195 computer science job postings, February 01, 2016–January 31, 2017).
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 415,504 engineering job postings, February 01, 2016–January 31, 2017).
*Salary ranges represent national averaged earnings for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Ranges do not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
Rasmussen College does not offer programs to prepare students for every occupation profiled in this article; please see www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of the programs we offer. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.