Software Engineer vs. Computer Engineer: What’s the Difference

Software Engineer vs. Computer Engineer

A software engineer deals with the application of computer science to build software systems that are functional and helpful to people. On the other hand, a computer engineer is adept at building and designing computers. 

Though the two engineering disciplines have distinctive specifications, computer science is their mutual correlation. 

Some people find it confusing to identify the actual differences between a software engineer and a computer engineer. Software engineers and computer engineers further vary in their internal prerequisites and specializations.

The main differences between software engineers and computer engineers become clearer when their functions are highlighted and broken down to the smallest details. 

Furthermore, software engineers and computer engineers have their designated areas of expertise. 

The Difference Between a Software Engineer and Computer Engineer 

Software engineering is a particular branch of computer science that covers the building and development of applications and computer systems software. 

Professionals under the degree deal with the different compositions of operation systems and computing utilities. 

They are also the minds behind application software, which comprise of user-focused programs, database programs, and web browsers. 

Computer engineering graduates have a niche in developing, integrating, solving, and analyzing computer-oriented issues. They have a thorough knowledge of both the software and hardware components of a computer. 

A computer engineer’s understanding of the “body” and “mind” of a computer equips them to maneuver machines from a system-wide scale down to the microscopic level. 

To become a software engineer, one must acquire at least a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, computer science, and other similar fields. 

Computer engineering is the foundation of software engineers. While the latter must have a firm background in computer science and computer engineering, software engineers are a lot less focused on hardware systems than computer engineers. 

What Does A Software Engineer Do?

Using the principles of computer science and mathematical analysis, software engineers apply their knowledge to develop and design computer and application software. 

Development is the main area of responsibility for software engineers. A software engineer renders his or her service in developing computer games, network control systems, operating systems, middleware, and business applications.

The ever-changing industry of technology calls for software engineering professions to evolve at an escalating pace. 

To start a project, software engineers hear and analyze their clients’ product requirements, tests, and designs to meet the expected outcome successfully. 

Software engineers also work with hardware tasks such as recognizing its limits, computing systems, and software structures. 

Software engineers encounter complexity in every project. Each time, they try to sustain their consistency and efficiency by using flowcharts, diagrams, and most especially, algorithms. 

After the instructions are set, computer programmers will shoulder the task of translating them into the language of coding and programming. 

To be able to test, train, and debug software to produce a quality end-product, software engineers are required to have effective communication and interpersonal skills as users play a role during the training, development, support stages, and testing. 

Also, software engineers can be classified into two categories: 

  • System Engineers – Software engineers collaborate on the growth of an organization or business computer systems’ creation, growth, and maintenance. 

They are responsible for setting up networks that may link up computers with the company, coordinating the needs of a department, and suggesting technical directions. 

  • Application Engineers – By analyzing the user’s needs, application engineers adapt or create applications for organizations and businesses. 

The requested applications are to be maintained, installed, designed, and built by application engineers. 

What Does A Computer Engineer Do?

Computer engineers are skilled in both hardware and software systems. 

The largest portions of their responsibilities include researching, designing, developing, and testing computer systems and components such as circuit boards, processors, memory devices, routers, and networks. 

They utilize working or theoretical models that are built with computer simulation to construct, modify, and test product prototypes. 

Apart from computer structural tasks, computer engineers are also proficient in designing and developing computer hardware and support peripherals, custom integrated circuits, disc drives, or microprocessors. 

As correct specifications must be strictly met, computer engineers monitor the functionalities of the operating systems and provide modifications or adjustments if the need arises. 

Computer engineers can work hand in hand with software engineers in terms of developing, designing, and applying for software programs. 

Software engineers and computer engineers collaborate closely in networking, operating, and processing system speeds in a rapid manner. 

Computer engineers are known to be specialists in electronics, computers, engineering, technology, physics, mathematics, and design. 

They also have impressive skills in effectively communicating to others, solving complex problems, analyzing operations, listening actively, rational decision making, and other abilities critical to any industry. 

Since they work hard on the computer interface, others may have an impression of them being antisocial. But actually, they are excellent in transmitting information to their subordinates and supervisors — whether by phone, through email, or even face-to-face.

In an information technology working environment, computer engineers also share their ideas, art direction, and creativity with the team to assist the design or development of a product. 

Computer engineers are so in-demand that their niche is also essential in other industries aside from the IT sector. 

High-tech manufacturing labs and offices need support from a computer engineer with their research and other computer-based requisites. 

Computer engineers mostly work for 40 hours a day and sometimes take time to work on weekends due to rush deadlines or extensive technical needs. 

Advantages of Being a Software Engineer 

Remote living

Software engineers can accomplish a ton of work despite not being required to report in a physical office. 

They can work anywhere and anytime they please as long as there have a stable internet connection and enough space for concentration.

Software engineers can save money on gas, fare, lunch fees, etc. They even save time since commuting or travelling to work is none of their concerns. 

Plus, remote workers like software engineers can land international clients, which will add more zeroes to their bank accounts. 

Programming fosters thinking skills and creativity 

Object-oriented programming is the core fundamental of all software engineers. They need it to be able to build an application. 

The exposure to digital tools will enhance the mind of such professionals to think critically and generate concepts for complicated topics since they already have an intensive understanding of how back-ends operation work. 

Build your own business

If you prefer to be your own boss and not rely on mid-month paydays, being a software engineer unlocks your capability of building your own business. 

Web and application software products are in demand in all industries. With your knowledge and experience, you can assemble your start-up business structure and begin creating your tech brand. 

Boost your confidence and patience

Software engineers deal with complicated technical issues that challenge one’s patience and confidence.

It also requires perseverance and hard work, considering that the product you are working on must meet the needs of the clients and end-users. 

The grit and patience of a software engineer develop during technical tasks and this gears them to face life and future growth aspects.

Side hustles 

Other than the option of building your own business, you can also apply for a position in an IT company and still receive extra work from external clients. 

Though this part is a little tricky as you have to balance your time and maintain a certain performance that will not affect your permanent job. 

Regardless, being a software engineer allows you to be flexible in your career path. 

Advantages of Being a Computer Engineer 

Job security 

Computer engineering jobs are seen to be more secure than other professions. 

For over 20 years, the high demand for computer engineers has been increasing and there are no reported signs of it slowing down any time now. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 5% of job growth is dominated by computer engineers and software developers. 

Constant innovation

Because technology and computers are persistently evolving, computer engineers keep their working standards at a certain quality and ensure that their skills are updated. 

Computer engineers are exposed to different hardware and software modernization. The industry molds every computer engineering professional to become the oracles of ever-changing technology and social innovation.

Extraordinary career 

While the demand for computer engineering jobs has risen because of the birth of technology-oriented businesses, the number of people who venture into computer science degrees is also a top factor. 

The computer engineering course is not appealing to the majority since it has the impression of being technical and difficult. 

However, the drawback is a good advantage to those who are in the said industry because they can easily find a job and acquire high-paying positions. 

Travel anywhere

Computer engineers have the privilege to work and live where they want. The freedom to choose is within reach for most computer engineers because there are major cities from all over the world that massively need their expertise. 

Internet-connected cars and appliance manufacturers, for example, require support from someone who has a background in computer systems. 

Great income

Information and computer technology are undeniably one of the sectors that pay well. In 2017, there was an estimated income of $84,580 for positions under computer technology careers. 


Software engineering and computer engineering differ in terms of their areas of focus and work specifications. Both, however, are the pillars of technological advancement and revolution.

Choosing which career path you should pursue would depend on your current skills and interests. Regardless of which among these two you choose, you’re guaranteed to have a fruitful career journey.

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes is a writer for HKS Siblab, an education and business blog. He has a MSc in Cyber Security & Digital Forensics from the University of Hertfordshire and has been working in the cyber security industry since 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing guitar and spending time with his family.

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