Computer science, IT and software engineering – what’s the difference?

Posted on 7th Oct 2020 in University Study, Australia

Are you interested in a future career in technology but aren’t really sure of what your options are? The University of Queensland has some useful tips to help you choose and differentiate the career pathways in computer science, IT and software engineering.

Computer Science

If you’re someone who wants to help shape the world’s digital future, and design platforms that support and enhance almost all functions of modern life, a degree in computer science might be the right choice for you.

  • Computer scientists understand the ‘why’ behind computer programs and use algorithms and advanced mathematics to invent new ways to manipulate and transfer information.
  • Computer scientists work to identify and solve problems using technology.
  • In computer science you learn about the fundamental concepts and theories relating to the design of digital technologies.
  • This discipline involves the study of computational thinking (the language of computers) and discrete mathematics (logic).
  • Key majors in current hot topics such as cyber security, machine learning, and data science.
  • Simply put, computer scientists understand how computing works and can create software or apps that can help solve problems.

“I find a computer science degree best suited for those who want to gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of computing technologies including both their theoretical underpinnings as well as their construction and applications.

UQ’s Bachelor of Computer Science will give you the ability to complete foundational courses about, for example, algorithms and the theory of computation as well as advanced courses looking at more applied problems like Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity or data science”, Gianluca Demartini, Associate Professor in Data Science at UQ.

Information Technology

Do you have great interpersonal skills, are passionate about innovation and thrive when solving problems? A career in IT could be the one for you.

  • IT professionals know how to design and create information systems and are more likely to interact with clients.
  • IT is the application of computer science and software engineering theory and practice into the design of digital solutions to problems in industry and the broader community.
  • Strong focus on user design and innovation, and there are links to application areas with dual degrees.
  • UQ’s Bachelor of Information Technology is accredited by the Australian Computer Society (ACS). ACS was the first computer society to be recognised under the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3).

“IT focuses on the application design, deployment and configuration needs of people and organisations. IT has a distinctive focus on fulfilling the human aspects that occur from computing technology. IT professionals ensure that developed hardware, software, and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) meets the user’s needs.

They work with software engineers and computer scientists to ensure that systems fulfil these needs so that computers can carry out the tasks businesses and individuals need. IT professionals work in a variety of areas, including (but not limited to) web design and development, application development, user experience designer, game and front-end developer,”

Dr Chelsea Dobbins, Senior Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at UQ.

Software Engineering

Software engineers are multi-disciplinary professionals who use principles of computer science, engineering, design, psychology and sociology to develop, manage and design software systems. From developing complex network control systems that connect to the physical world, as well as apps and games, software engineers oversee projects from idea generation to finished product.

  • Software engineers understand and can create the background computer systems such as operating systems and computer systems used in rigorous production and management of large scale software systems.
  • Sometimes called the ‘practice’ of computer programming whereas computer science is the theory of computer programming.
  • Upon completing UQ’s Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) with a major in Software Engineering, you will have a four year accredited degree with Engineers Australia.
  • Software engineers develop, operate, maintain and retire software.

“Software engineers work with other engineers to build and deliver large scale complex software systems. One example would be a ‘smart city’, which uses sensors and devices, and cloud-based software systems, to provide sustainable development practices to address challenges of growing urbanisation. Software engineers build the systems that enable sophisticated management of infrastructure in a city, such as: transport, electricity distribution and load management, population modelling, and civic planning.

Software engineering graduates work in leading high technology companies, major software companies and high technology startups. This includes working on cutting edge cyber-security projects, robotic systems, key mobile technologies, and innovative business platforms,”

Richard Thomas, Senior Lecturer School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at UQ.

To sum it up

  • Computer scientists design and develop computer programs, software, and applications – they have a deeper understanding of all aspects of computer technology.
  • IT professionals then use and troubleshoot those programs, software, and applications.
  • Software engineers design and build high-quality computer software systems.

These three professions all work together to ensure hardware, software, and user experience come together smoothly so that computers can carry out the tasks that cities, businesses and individuals require of them.

For more information about study options for future careers in technology, visit the University of Queensland’s Future Students website