If you want to work in a technology-related field, there are a number of higher education options.
From full-fledged degrees in computer science and cybersecurity to self-directed learning, there is no shortage of learning opportunities for those who are inclined to work in the field.
And given that demand is high across the board for individuals with skills in computer science and engineering, it only makes sense to further one’s education in a computer-related field. But which is the best choice?
In some cases, it’s obvious: Someone who wants to work in cybersecurity is best suited to focus their studies in that realm. When it comes to general computer technology and software engineering, though, the choice isn’t quite as clear-cut. Because there is some significant overlap between the two disciplines, it can be difficult to choose a program that puts you on the right path.
While it’s hard to go wrong either way, there is a growing school of thought that, when it comes to career flexibility and long-term growth, earning a master’s in computer science is actually a smart decision.
Computer science vs. software engineering in a nutshell
To start the discussion about the flexibility of a computer science degree, it’s useful to compare it to software engineering and highlight some of the similarities and differences.
In general, computer science is the study of computer technology, and focuses on the principles of computer design and development and the practical applications of the technology.
According to the Association for Computing Machinery, that study usually focuses on several different areas of knowledge, including architecture and organization, computational science, information management, networking and communications, operating systems, platform-based development, programming languages, software development fundamentals, and software engineering.
Software engineering, on the other hand, is mostly concerned with the application of engineering processes to the development of software. Some of the topics covered in software engineering programs include the fundamentals of math, engineering and computing, as well as software design, verification, validation, processes, quality and security.
While there isn’t usually any training on hardware development in a higher education software engineering program, you can expect to learn about how hardware and software work together in both computer science and engineering programs.
Most anyone who works in a technological field has an opinion in the computer science vs. software engineering debate. Usually, their preference comes down to either the degree that they themselves hold, or the specialization that one wants to work in.
For example, if you aspire to work in game development, a software engineering program with a specialization in game design is likely to be a more direct path.
In many cases, though, a computer science degree can provide a path to almost any specialty in the technology field. In fact, even the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that individuals who wish to become software engineers consider earning a computer science degree.
Some argue that a computer science degree is best suited for those who wish to work in an academic or research capacity, but a review of job descriptions and qualifications indicates that individuals with computer science degrees have far more options.
Some of the most common job titles include computer network architects, computer programmers, systems analysts, security analysts, and even, yes, software and web developers, which are the most common jobs for those with software engineering degrees.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s important to understand what computer science is not. Some people have the misconception that computer science equates to IT, the people you call when your printer won’t work or you think you have a virus. While some people with CS degrees do work in that capacity, studying computer science is more than just learning to troubleshoot.
Computer scientists use technology to solve problems. They design networks and write code to help computers do new things and perform tasks more efficiently. They create websites and applications, and program devices and software so that they do what people need them to do.
At the end of the day, both computer science and software engineering degrees are worthwhile and useful for a potential career. For the most flexibility, though, and the ability to work in multiple capacities, computer science has a slight advantage — especially since in most cases, you can do the same work as a software engineer.
Jackie Roberson is a content coordinator for Seek Visibility, which contributes high quality content on various topics, including technology, IT and education.