CS or COE?

April 9, 2023 - 1266 views

3 min read

Wissam Fawaz

This blog post addresses the following question, which I receive all the time:

What is the difference between computer science and computer engineering?  

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In recent years, we have witnessed a remarkable surge in technological advancements, which were fueled primarily by the exponential growth of computational power and data transmission capacity. This progress has sparked a growing interest in the fields of Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (COE). While these two areas of study have similarities, subtle distinctions set them apart. As a computer engineering instructor, I often get asked about the differences between the two fields. Therefore, this post aims to explain their key differences to help students make an informed decision when selecting one of these majors.


1. Curriculum:

- Computer Science: A CS degree delves into theoretical principles that are at the heart of software and computer systems. Students pursuing this major enjoy a deep dive into programming languages, algorithm design, data structures, artificial intelligence, computer organization, and other related subjects. The curriculum is designed to sharpen a student’s problem-solving abilities and software development skills.

- Computer Engineering: In contrast, a COE degree combines some of the CS focus areas with hardware and communication principles. This interdisciplinary approach addresses the design and development of computer hardware and software systems. Students get to explore in-depth topics such as digital systems, computer networks, operating systems, telecommunication systems, computer architecture, and other related subjects. Additionally, they study programming languages, data structures, database systems, artificial intelligence, and software engineering. The curriculum primarily emphasizes the integration of hardware and software systems.


2. Career opportunities:

- Computer Science: CS graduates have a myriad of career opportunities at their fingertips, including software development, mobile/web/game development, data analytics, data science, Information Technology (IT), and cybersecurity. They can find fulfilling roles in various industries, such as finance, healthcare, gaming, and education, to name just a few.

- Computer Engineering: COE degree holders, on the other hand, can secure positions as computer, telecommunication, software development, embedded systems, and artificial intelligence engineers, among other possibilities. They often find employment in sectors like telecommunications, robotics, transportation, and information technology, again, to cite just a few.


3. Residency requirement:

- Computer Science: Compared to their COE counterparts, CS students often have a shorter path to graduation. They can anticipate completing their coursework and earning a CS degree in as little as three years, allowing for a quicker transition into the job market.

- Computer Engineering: In contrast, a COE degree requires a longer duration, with a minimum requirement of four years and three summer terms. However, this additional time commitment is offset by the ability of COE graduates to register with professional engineering organizations, such as the Order of Engineers.


In conclusion, both computer science and computer engineering degrees can lead to fulfilling careers in the tech industry, but they differ significantly in terms of focus, residency requirements, and career paths. The decision to choose one over the other largely depends on your interests, financial situation, and envisioned career trajectory. Specifically, if your financial circumstances necessitate a shorter study period and/or you are passionate about software development, a computer science degree may be the better option. On the other hand, if both hardware and software excite you and you are willing to invest more time in your education, computer engineering could be the ideal major for you.