Computer Science vs. Electrical Engineering: Exploring the Difference

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Society’s reliance on computers and electronics has never been more apparent. Whether we’re using GPS to find a new restaurant or taking a class via Zoom, technology is omnipresent in our lives.

Careers that rely on and develop that technology, such as computer science and electrical engineering, impact a range of fields, from healthcare and manufacturing to finance and the arts. However, while computer science and electrical engineering roles are similar in some aspects, including the use of programming and mathematics, their work is very different.

A computer scientist codes on a screen

Definitions: Computer science vs. electrical engineering

Computer science and electrical engineering are both rooted in mathematics and technology, and both influence how society functions and interacts, but in different ways. For example, computer scientists develop software programs such as web browsers and artificial intelligence, while electrical engineers develop and design tangible technology such as electronic motors and radar systems.

Computer science defined

Computer science is the study of computers and their theoretical foundations such as software. Computer scientists focus on researching and creating new uses for technology through the study of algorithms, data structures, artificial intelligence, and computer design. Some specialties include robotics (creating programs to control robots) and programming (developing programming languages, such as Java), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The field impacts not only individuals’ digital lives but society as a whole. Improving artificial intelligence to combat discrimination against people of color, enhancing algorithms that make predictions, and building better software for online schooling are a few examples of computer science’s impact.

Electrical engineering defined

Engineering is the practical application of electricity. Electrical engineering focuses specifically on heavy currents — or light and power systems. Professionals in the field design and develop electrical equipment such as communication systems, electrical systems of automobiles and aircraft, power generation equipment, and electric motors.

Their work affects almost every aspect of modern life, from powering our homes to how we travel. For instance, communication and computer specialists in the electrical engineering field have advanced microwave, satellite, and wire circuits to improve voice and data transmissions. Additionally, specialists focused on power and electric light have created advanced turbines, motors, and lighting systems.

Similarities between computer science and electrical engineering

With common roots in mathematics and science, a number of similarities can be found between the computer science and electrical engineering fields beyond their capacity to create technical innovation.

Education level

Jobs in both fields require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS, although further specialization is available in both fields through advanced degrees and certifications. Jobs in the computer science sector requiring a bachelor’s degree include computer systems analyst and computer programmer, while computer and information research scientists typically need a master’s degree. Electrical engineers may pursue advanced careers in specialized areas such as computer or telecom engineering.

Computer scientists who choose to specialize have a large number of certifications they can pursue. Computer programmers may focus on specific platforms or programming languages to gain certifications such as Microsoft Technology Associate Developer or Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect. Electrical engineers may pursue the Professional Engineering (PE) license or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) certification.

Computer expertise

Both career paths require extensive computer use and a deep knowledge of programming languages. Computer science focuses on the algorithms, programs, and software of computer devices, relying on programming languages such as C++ and Python to design, implement, and test code. Electrical engineers work closely with electric light and power systems, and use a variety of programming languages to develop and automate devices.

Specialized skills

Each field requires strong technical, analytical, math, communication, and critical thinking competencies. A program such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science offers students a foundation in these skills. Courses such as Applied Linear Algebra, Web Design, UX/UI Design, Deep Learning, Ethical Hacking, and Designing for Meaning help students cultivate the specific skills they’ll need to excel in a technology career.

Differences between computer science and electrical engineering

While computer science and electrical engineering roles are similar in some respects, their daily tasks are rooted in different specialties.

Theoretical vs. application

Computer science focuses on nontangible concepts like computer programs, while electrical engineering concentrates on physical products such as circuits. Computer scientists develop and design computer systems, focusing on software. Electrical engineers work with electricity and electrical currents, which are typically tied to the design and development of electrical equipment such as radar or communication systems.

Educational focus

Computer science curricula focus on concepts such as cybersecurity, data science, and artificial intelligence, while electrical engineering curricula focus on technical concepts involving digital systems and electric circuits. Curricula in undergraduate computer science programs include classes such as Database Design, Machine Learning, and Blockchain Networks.

Pay level

While both fields can be lucrative, computer science roles typically have higher pay than electrical engineering roles. According to BLS data, in 2019 computer scientists made a median salary of $122,840, while electrical engineers made a median salary of $98,530. The difference in pay can be a reflection of the preferred level of education in each position. Salaries can also vary by location, industry, and experience levels.

Pursue a career in technology at Maryville University

Discover more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science program and how it can help students pursue exciting careers in a range of technology fields, including blockchain and cybersecurity. Through the program, students learn core skills such as critical thinking, mathematics, and problem-solving, positioning them for success in their careers.

Maryville’s faculty are passionate about computing, and use their expertise to help students build a foundation in computer architecture, security, programming, and web design. Customize your education and bravely achieve your career goals at Maryville.

Recommended Reading

Designing Our Daily Lives: Computer Science vs. Mechanical Engineering

The Role of Blockchain Technology in the Sports Industry

Understanding the Differences: Data Science vs. Computer Science


Britannica, Computer Science

Britannica, Electrical and Electronics Engineering

Indeed, 15 Programming Certifications for IT Professionals

Interesting Engineering, “Top 10 Latest Technological Innovations

FreelancingGig, “The Best Programming Languages for Electrical Engineers”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Research Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Technology Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Electrical and Electronics Engineers