While both involve the study of computers, computer engineering takes a broader approach.

Engineering bridges together science and technology, two of the leading disciplines that are impacting the world today. It contains many subfields and subdisciplines, and notably among them are computer engineering and software engineering.

Knowing the differences between the two may be a challenge, as both involve the study of computers. However, software engineering and computer engineering have several key differences. 

Computer Engineering vs Software Engineering

To begin with, software engineering studies computer systems and applications software; its primary goal is to create a solution to a problem with a system or application.

Meanwhile, computer engineering studies both software and hardware. It utilizes a more general understanding of computers—often involving theory and practical approaches—to develop a computer system. 

While the two may share some concepts, software engineering involves more of the technical skills involved in software such as design elements, testing, and maintenance. 

What do Software Engineers do?

Software engineers work on and modify applications software. They can work on a wide range of products, from games to network control systems. 

Two types of software engineers are applications software developers and systems software developers. Applications software developers may create word processors or games. Meanwhile, systems software developers work on systems that focus on maintaining computer functions.

Though these engineers need to have strong programming skills, it is also important for them to have strong analytical and problem-solving skills. That way they can develop software applications that can perform specific tasks.

Rather than work alone, software engineers that work in a company will often be part of a team, since it requires a collaborative process. However, some software engineers also have the flexibility of being able to work from home.  

Programming languages that are often used by software engineers include C++, Python, Java, and even JavaScript. Most who work in the field have obtained a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering, but a few require a master’s degree to work at a specific company. Furthermore, those who would prefer to work on research would need to obtain a doctorate in the field.

According to Husson University, some examples of notable software engineers are Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, and Bjarne Stroustrup the creator of C++.

Software Engineers Job Outlook

Salaries tend to vary between applications software developers and systems software developers. Those who develop applications tend to earn a lower salary than those who work on systems. 

According to Indeed, which based their estimates on 25,909 salaries, the average salary a software engineer earns annually in the United States is $107,780 as well as a $4,000 cash bonus. The research also found that some of the highest paying cities in the U.S. were San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. 

Top companies for software engineers included in the research by Indeed were Citi, Facebook, and Oracle. 

What do Computer Engineers do?

Computer engineers work on building networks and finding ways to improve computer performance. Since they have a thorough understanding of hardware and software, these engineers can solve computer-focused problems, being able to look at the bigger picture in order to figure out what might be a good solution.

They can also work in a wide range of technical areas such as cybersecurity, machine intelligence, or networking.

Computer engineers can choose to specialize in a specific area for their career choice, becoming a software engineer, hardware engineer, or network engineer.

As a hardware engineer, they would be researching or developing computer components like circuit boards, processors, or routers. Meanwhile, a network engineer designs solely computer networks. 

Computer engineering involves many of the same core skills as software engineering; strong communication skills, logical thinking, and problem-solving are all important skills that are necessary for it. 

Some programming languages that are often utilized by computer engineers are Java, C, Python, and C++. Computer engineers also tend to obtain degrees in computer science or computer engineering, taking theory courses to help develop a more complete understanding of computers. 

Computer Engineers Job Outlook

The average salary for a computer engineer is a bit lower than a software engineer. According to Indeed, the average annual salary is $95,144 and a cash bonus of $5,500. 

Cities that paid the most in the U.S. were also different. While software engineer salaries were higher on the west coast, east coast cities Washington D.C., and Arlington, VA were the highest paying cities in the country. 

Furthermore, top companies for computer engineers included the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. government, and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Finding the Right Fit

Computer engineers have a more general understanding that includes both software and hardware, whereas software engineers focus on computer systems and applications. Once one knows the differences between them, it is easier to distinguish which one might be the best fit. 

Ultimately, computer engineers and software engineers are both important to computer technology and can be an excellent choice to pursue.

Sophia Acevedo

Sophia Acevedo is a journalist based in Southern California. She is a 2020 graduate from California State University, Fullerton, and a proud Daily Titan alum.