It’s common to find people mistaking these two to be similar disciplines. However, they are quite different from each other. But they are intertwined at some places. So, how do they compare and contrast to each other?
Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science: What they Are
Let’s start off with Computer Science. It is basically an umbrella term that encompasses 4 areas of computing:
- Theory (computation concerns, the meaning and complexity of algorithms, in addition to the limits of exactly what can be computed in principle);
- Algorithms (it’s essentially the study of efficient and effective procedures that are used to solve problems on a computer);
- Architecture (structure and functionality of computer systems) and;
- Programming languages and software systems (involves everything from the languages and paradigms, to the programming environments, the compilers, all through to the operating systems).
Computer Science is basically the study of the processing and storage of data and instructions by computing devices, and how these devices communicate with each other. You can call it the modern descendant of Applied Mathematics and Electrical Engineering. This systemic study of the algorithmic methods covers everything from theory and design to implementation, application and efficiency.
Let’s cross over to computer engineering. Engineering in layman’s terms usually means design and building. So, put simply, computer engineering involves designing and building computer systems and devices. Yes, is all about the hardware. This program can be looked as a marriage between Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. It covers everything from microprocessors to supercomputers. Its main branches are:
- Networks (local area networks all the way to the World Wide Web);
- VLSI systems i.e. Very Large Scale Integrated Circuits;
- Multimedia Computing (the likes of taking data from text, speech, music, still image and video and blending it into a data stream, coding and decoding, in addition to display) and;
- Reliable Computing and advanced Architectures (features for fault tolerance in hardware and software, parallel and optical computing).
As far as this goes, the computer engineers get a more physical and work experience (especially in the last 2 years as an undergraduate). Computer science is more theory based.
Which should you choose?
Computer Science being closer to the underlying theory of computation is preferred by students interested in the true nature of symbols, information and their manipulations, the forms and limits of algorithms and data structures. However, if you have a desire for building things and measuring how they work in the lab, and are drawn to math, chemistry and physics, computer engineering is for you.
Whichever of the two appeals more to you, you have to have good math skills to pursue it.
As you can tell, you can’t just go around picking a program based on the name of its department. However, institutions have become away of this and have began standardizing the names of their programs and courses. This piece should have put you in a good place to decide which computing you want for your career. Getting into the right program is always crucial in the pursuit of your goals.