Software Development vs. Computer Science: 9 Main Differences Every Beginner Needs to Know

Up until today, the debate between computer science vs software engineering remains one of the most controversial topics in the IT sector.

While both fields may have some similarities, aspiring IT professionals need to know their key differences. For example, computer scientists focus more on the theoretical and mathematical principles behind the fundamental structure of information technology. On the other hand, software engineers carry out the scientific concepts in designing, developing, and maintaining applications.

So, between Computer Science and Software Engineering, which program fits you best? By the end of this article, you’ll be able to make an informed choice.

What is Computer Science?

It is the study of computers and their theoretical as well as practical applications. It applies the concepts and principles of Engineering, Mathematics, and logic to many functions, such as:

  • Building software and hardware
  • Algorithm formulation
  • Artificial Intelligence etc

It is a systematic application of scientific and engineering concepts to the design, building, and maintenance of software systems. The Software Engineers usually aim at creating Software products to solve real-world problems.

What is Software Engineering?

It is a systematic application of scientific and engineering concepts to the design, building, and maintenance of software systems. The Software Engineers usually aim at creating Software products to solve real-world problems.

9 Main Differences between Computer Science and Software Engineering

9 Main Differences between Computer Science and Software Engineering

#1 Core Studies

Although Computer Science and Software Engineering share some core studies, a keen eye will notice some differences. Computer Science students focus their studies on the science behind the working of computer systems. They learn the computing, analysis, and application of data in the computer and software systems. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) describe the following knowledge areas in Computer Science:

When it comes to Software Engineering, students concentrate on applying computer science and mathematical principles in creating software and hardware programs.

According to world-renowned professional bodies such as ACM, Software Engineering, and Development focuses on the following core areas:

#2 Typical Job Tasks

A Computer Scientist will typically be responsible for analyzing and monitoring computer applications and processes. You will also be responsible for maintaining the security networks, computer infrastructures, and data systems running a company’s operations. 

On the contrary, a software engineer’s tasks include designing and developing specific programs or applications. In collaboration with other team members, you’ll be responsible for planning, researching the requirements, prototyping, designing, and developing the product. 

You’ll also carry out quality checks and maintenance to ensure it serves the company as planned.

#3 Career Paths

A variety of jobs exists for Computer Scientists, both as full-time employees of a company or contracted workers. Some of the career options include:
Conversely, if you are looking to narrow down your career path, we recommend studying Software Engineering. It allows you to specialize in creating programs and applications for businesses and mid-size companies.

#4 Software and Hardware Interactions

Computer Scientists get the opportunity to understand the interplay between software and hardware systems. For example, they may study how to develop programs that are compatible with computer hardware. However, they don’t specifically learn how to build hardware systems. On the other hand, Software Engineers apply the knowledge about this interaction to create, design, and maintain a compatible software. They, too, don’t get the specific studies when it comes to computer hardware.

#5 Software Design

Computer Scientists approach software design by understanding the algorithms and theories that will help them know:

Therefore, mathematical principles and programming languages guide Computer Scientists when making decisions on how an application should be designed.

Software Engineers deal with software design by borrowing computer scientists’ analyses and information. They usually receive specific program requirements to apply when creating a Software design.

#6 Engineering Concepts

Computer Science students may need to understand mathematical and engineering principles as it applies to computer systems. For example, they may study how to create an entirely new framework for an application. 

However, the real-world application of engineering concepts happens in Software Engineering and Development. Their studies focus more on these engineering principles to prepare students to create new applications.

#7 Engineering Concepts

When it comes to scientific theories, computer science takes the lead. It focuses its studies on scientific theories behind:


Then software engineering takes these theories to develop real-world software programs and applications.

#8 Product Management

A computer scientist’s approach in product management involves concentrating on the algorithms and complexities of programs and analytics like:

A software engineer will apply these scientific concepts in following the Product Development Life Cycle to develop a product. The typical steps in this cycle include:

The product may undergo regular tests and quality assurance checks at every step after the prototyping and designing stage.

#9 Computer Coding

Computer scientists study coding in relationship with computer languages. Additionally, various computer coding allows them to calculate the compatibility between software and hardware applications. 

However, more in-depth learning of coding occurs in Software Engineering courses. 

The engineers need it so that they can develop programs and systems that can handle specific tasks. Conclusion Choosing a Computer Science vs Software Engineering is not a hard nut to crack. 

If you’re looking to broaden your focus on the theoretical, scientific, and mathematical concepts, studying Computer Science will be suitable. 

If you have a passion for designing, developing, and testing software systems, you’re probably looking to study Software Engineering. 

Still unsure of what field to pursue between Computer Science and Software Engineering? Comment below, and we will be glad to help you choose your courses well.

Frequently Asked Questions!

#1 Is software engineering the same as computer science?

While the courses appear similar initially, you’ll notice their differences when you do more investigation. The main difference is that Computer Science is more theoretical and focuses more on the Mathematics and Science behind the fundamental structure of computer systems. Conversely, Software Engineering applies engineering and scientific concepts in designing, developing, and maintaining software applications for various purposes. A software developer builds a tailor-made application that serves the specific needs of an organization.

#2 Can I be a Software Engineer with a Computer Science Degree?

Yes, the flexibility of Computer Science can allow you to become a Software Engineer. As we saw in this article, Software Engineering borrows a lot of Computer Science concepts and principles.

#3 Is a degree in software development or engineering worth it?

Yes. The degree will broaden your horizon in the IT industry. Additionally, Software Engineers and developers tend to enjoy stable careers, both on contract/ outsourced and as full-time employees.

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