May 13, 2016 | Last updated on March 1, 2024

The Difference Between A Software Engineer And A Computer Scientist

Written by Pete Nystrom

What is the difference between a software engineer and a computer scientist? Let’s discuss.

A computer scientist and software engineer are both professionals that promote technological advances in computer software. While they usually don’t work directly together, they both build off each other. More importantly, they both have critical roles in shaping the internet and computer landscape.

When we are building an application or web platform, we benefit from the work of both parties. Computer scientists work to study how computers work and where computer technology can go. Software engineers work by applying the knowledge the computer scientists discover.

Here is a breakdown of the two professions:

Computer Scientists

A computer scientist pushes the envelope of where computer technology can go. She writes the algorithms, designs the frameworks, and comes up with new programming languages. She creates new models of computer systems that are faster, better, and cheaper.

What a computer scientist produces rests on concentrated assignments — just like any scientists would do. They spend months or even years on one or a few theoretical ideas. They might create new operating systems, like Linus Torvalds and Linux, algorithms, programming languages, or theories of computation. The value that computer scientist brings to the tech realm doesn’t stop in their “laboratories.” Their advancements do affect a software engineer’s job and everyone’s life.

A computer scientist creates tools that allow software engineers to get their job done. For example, computer scientists provided software engineers with the technical abilities to encrypt data. Software engineers write encryptions libraries based on algorithms that computer scientists created.

As far as education, most computer scientists, are well, scientists, and will typically hold a doctorate or master’s degree in computer science, or a related field such as mathematics. Much of the foundation for computer science lies in mathematical research. A computer scientist may spend most of her time writing equations rather than code. In the years before the outbreak of World War II mathematicians were looking for practical applications for their work. They started to create machines that were able to decode and perform a set of instructions, and that’s how computer science started.

Software Engineers

A software engineer applies the principles of software engineering to create and maintain pieces of software or programs that tell a computer how to do what it should. Think about these individuals as someone who is designing a house. This person might not be researching the forces that are exerted on a building, but he or she knows how to design a building that will last.

Where computer scientists are rooted in the theoretical side of software and hardware, software engineers are anchored in solving real-world problems — whether that’s building a platform that connects individuals or a healthcare solution that manages a patient’s health medical records. Software engineers are responsible for source code management, the architecture of software, risk management, and software assurance.

By using a set of tools and libraries, a software engineer designs, builds and maintains software. They work in teams and work from a set of protocols. By going off a set of features usually found in a specification document, he builds a set of commands a computer needs to perform through coding and creating data calls. He bridges the gap between the low-level commands the computer understands and the high level functions the user sees.

Before the mid–1960s, software engineers called themselves computer programmers and software developers, no matter what their actual job responsibilities were. Many software engineers started to call themselves engineers to escape the ‘hacker,’ ‘do-it-yourself’ stigma attached to programming. As far as education, about half of all software engineers have degrees in computer science or information technology.

But not all software engineers have degrees relating to computers or mathematics. One of Seamgen’s senior software engineers holds a B.A. in Economics and Music theory and an M.A. in Ethnomusicology and Systems Theory. He’s amazing at what he does. It just goes to show that education, while important, is not a prerequisite for being a talented software engineer

In summary, the work that both computer scientists and software engineers are vital to the progress of technology. While computer scientists dream of future, the software engineers build in the present, and we wouldn’t be able to create web and mobile applications without them.

Pete Nystrom
Written by
Pete Nystrom
VP of Engineering, Seamgen
Software architect, full-stack web/mobile engineer, and cloud transformation expert
Top Application Development Company San Diego and web design company in San Diego

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