Electrical Engineering vs. Computer Science: Which Career is Best For You?

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A smiling electrical engineering student holds a tablet.

Electrical engineering and computer science degrees differ in many ways, and understanding the defining characteristics of each choice can help individuals make the right decisions as they start on their career path.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), electrical engineers design, develop, test, manufacture, and repair electronic components. They work in various settings, ranging from offices to manufacturing or product development facilities. Electrical engineers are pertinent to a wide variety of industries including consumer goods manufacturing, government work, telecommunications, research and development, travel, and more.

A computer science degree prepares an individual to develop applications, work with networking infrastructure, design operating systems, or manipulate the code that drives computers and other devices. Computer scientists work with the foundational frameworks that operate servers, internet protocols, small electronics, large pieces of equipment, and more.

What Is Electrical Engineering?

Electrical engineering focuses on the creation, development, implementation, and execution of various electronic devices and components. Because it involves electricity, this branch of engineering embraces a broad range of devices of varying complexity, from massive power stations to microscopic computer components. Those in electrical engineering roles can also design electrical systems of larger, more complex machinery, such as cars or airplanes.

Electrical Engineering Coursework

Since an electrical engineering degree may apply to a wider variety of careers, it can include a diverse range of course offerings. Electrical engineering programs commonly include computer engineering courses, and they can also include other application-based courses including manufacturing, navigation systems and devices, digital signal communication, vehicles and locomotion, nanotechnology, health care, and more. Communication classes such as technical writing, management, and team-based communications may also be part of the curriculum.

Key Skills in Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers should possess strong technical knowledge, which can include keeping abreast of current technological innovations so their designs can remain at the forefront of their industry. They should also have advanced math skills due to the precise nature of the systems and devices. Because these components can also be intricate, it’s crucial for electrical engineers to have well-developed concentration skills. In addition, they also need solid verbal and written communication skills, since most related careers are team-oriented.

Electrical Engineering Careers

Because of the broad application of electrical engineering, professionals in this field can work in a wide array of positions in a host of different industries, such as telecommunications, aerospace, consumer goods, and construction. More career options mean electrical engineers can seek roles that closely match their individual preferences and tailor their work environment to their liking.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science focuses on the nuts and bolts of computers and computing systems. This can range from developing tangible items like hardware and software, to more abstract concepts such as algorithms and computational theory. Those in computer science can often leverage their skill sets to transform these abstract concepts into these tangible products, services, and solutions. This can lead to the creation of new technologies that can be applied to a wide range of fields, from video games to machine learning.

Computer Science Coursework

Most computer science curriculums cover courses involving core concepts such as computer languages, software development, data analysis, and operating systems. They can also discuss concepts pertaining to computing theory, professional computing, and computing ethics.

Key Skills in Computer Science

Computer science professionals need strong analytical and technical skills to build efficient systems and equipment that optimize performance and accurately meet end goals. It’s also fundamental to keep current with various programming languages as they penetrate and change the market. Computer science professionals also need strong detail-oriented and problem-solving skills, along with strong oral and written communication skills that can convey key information to less tech-proficient individuals.

Computer Science Careers

Because computer science connects with fundamental aspects of computing and information technology such as software design and data analysis, computer science professionals can pursue jobs in a wide range of industries. They can also pursue career paths strictly built around computer science concepts, such as video game development. Regardless of the industry, computer scientists typically work in an office setting.

Electrical Engineering or Computer Science: Which Career Path Is Right for You?

Electrical engineering and computer science can both be appealing career paths for individuals intrigued by the notion of using technology to create new things. While creation and development sit at the core of both professions, the differences that do exist require individuals to consider which is the right career path for their sensibilities.

Ask yourself these three questions to determine what route is the best fit for you.

1. What’s My End Goal?

Look for positions that appeal to you and do some research to find out what degrees are typically required to perform the duties. The answer might surprise you, but it will provide valuable insight to help you make a strategic decision. According to Jeff John Roberts, a reporter at Fortune, some of the most successful software developers earn degrees unrelated to computer science – including electrical engineering.

2. What Type of Work Do I Want to Do Each Day?

Knowing what types of tasks, responsibilities, and job environments you enjoy will help you choose a graduate degree program. Speak to electrical engineers and computer scientists about their work to learn what you might expect on the job.

3. What Are My Strongest Skills?

Take inventory of your natural abilities before choosing a master’s degree program. By defining your skills, you can match them up with those required for each job you are researching.

A computer science degree offers the in-depth knowledge of computer theory and programming necessary to aid your career in a programming setting. If your interests extend beyond writing code, an electrical engineering degree will help you develop a wide range of skills to prepare you for many career possibilities. Research both options carefully before choosing a degree.

Explore a Career in Electrical Engineering

At the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, graduates of the online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program are equipped with the skills to research, design, develop, and test new technologies and industry applications — and to position themselves as leaders.

Learn more about how Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering can prepare you to pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

Women in Electrical Engineering: Opportunities and Resources for Pursuing an Engineering Career

Digital Circuits Overview for Electrical Engineers: What You Need to Know

Embedded Systems Engineer: Job Outlook & Salary Information

Sources:

Fortune.com, “This App Guy Thinks Computer Science Degrees Are a Waste of Money”
Interesting Engineering, “Top 3 Industries for Highest Electrical Engineer Salary”
New Scientist Jobs, “What Does an Electrical Engineer Do?”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Electrical and Electronics Engineers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Software Developers