Individuals who want to pursue a career in computer science have a number of paths to choose from. For example, those with an affinity for developing smartphone apps and computer programs may be interested in software engineering. On the other hand, students who are interested in cybersecurity and want to help businesses protect their networks from security threats, such as computer viruses and spyware, may find that security engineering is more aligned with their goals.
Individuals interested in either field will find that a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline and an advanced degree such as a master’s in cybersecurity, data science, or software development can prepare them for challenging careers.
Security Engineer vs. Software Engineer
Security engineers and software engineers have similarities in their roles. They both design and develop computer programs. The difference is that security engineers work exclusively in developing computer solutions to increase the security of an organization’s systems, while software engineers work on projects from app development to writing website code.
Security engineers develop, plan, and execute security measures designed to protect an organization’s network and computers from hackers, malware, and spyware. In addition to creating new ways to improve network security protocols, such as installing or updating firewall software, they perform regular security checks to test for vulnerabilities.
Cybersecurity experts are in high demand, and the trend is likely to continue. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of information security analysts will grow by 32% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the projected average growth for all jobs (5%). While the BLS does not specifically provide data for security engineers, and there are some differences between the two roles, this projection suggests that there is a similar demand for security engineers. According to September 2019 PayScale data, the average median annual salary for security engineers was around $88,500, and those in the top 10% reported annual earnings as high as $129,000.
Software engineers use a variety of programming languages, such as C++, Python, and Java, to write code and create computer programs. Some design programs that perform a specific task, such as word processing or accounting functions, while others work to ensure that the totality of a computer’s or network’s functions work as a unified whole.
The job outlook for this field is also favorable. The BLS projects the employment of software developers, a category under which the BLS categorizes software engineers,s will increase by 21% between 2018 and 2028. September 2019 PayScale data indicates the median annual salary for software engineers was around $84,000, with the top 10% reporting annual salaries of $125,000.
Educational Paths for a Security Engineer vs. Software Engineer
Those considering either of these careers will need to start with the right education. For example, an online bachelor’s and master’s in data science or an online bachelor’s and master’s in cybersecurity can provide students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed.
Aspiring security engineers often start by pursuing a bachelor’s in cybersecurity or a similar field. Completing an advanced degree, such as a master’s in cybersecurity, can help professionals refine their skills and prepare for career advancement opportunities.
Master’s students explore the advanced intricacies of cybersecurity. For example, coursework in mobile device hacking and forensics teaches students about how data can be retrieved from cellphones and tablets, while coursework in incident handling and breaches focuses on industry standard computer emergency response team (CERT) processes, including vulnerability assessment, incident response, and incident investigation. Courses on penetration (pen) testing teach students how to assess networks and hosting platforms for security vulnerabilities using ethical hacking methodologies.
For example, master’s programs often provide an introduction to the programming language Python, including data types, statements, expression, and control flow, as well as an introduction to SAS programming, covering topics related to the SAS programming language, such as reading, exporting, sorting, printing, and summarizing data. In further R programming coursework, students learn about debugging R codes, Jupyter Notebook, and cloud computing — helpful skills for software engineers ready to take the next step in their careers.
How an Online Master’s in Data Science or Cybersecurity Can Prepare You for Your Dream Career