With technology playing an ever-growing role in our lives, many students debate whether to study electrical engineering or computer science. Both fields offer rewarding careers designing, building, and improving tech products and systems.
But each field also has distinct skills, subjects, and specializations to consider when choosing a major. This comprehensive guide examines key similarities and differences between electrical engineering and computer science in areas like required courses, career paths, salaries, and more.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Electrical engineering focuses more on physical devices and systems like circuits, electronics, electromagnetics and communications technology. Computer science concentrates on software, apps and programming for computational solutions.
While there is some overlap, electrical engineers work extensively with hardware while computer scientists deal predominantly with software.
Typical Courses in Each Major
Electrical Engineering Courses
Electrical engineering is a discipline that focuses on the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. As such, the typical courses in an electrical engineering major cover a wide range of topics related to these areas. Students can expect to take courses such as:
- Circuit Theory and Analysis
- Digital Logic Design
- Electromagnetic Fields and Waves
- Power Systems
- Control Systems
- Signal Processing
These courses provide a solid foundation in understanding and manipulating electrical systems, preparing students for careers in areas such as power generation, telecommunications, and electronics manufacturing.
Computer Science Courses
Computer science is a field that deals with the study of algorithms, data structures, and the design and development of computer systems and software. The typical courses in a computer science major focus on building a strong technical foundation in programming and computer systems.
Some of the courses that students can expect to take include:
- Introduction to Programming
- Data Structures and Algorithms
- Operating Systems
- Database Systems
- Computer Networks
- Software Engineering
- Artificial Intelligence
These courses equip students with the necessary skills to develop software applications, design computer systems, and solve complex computational problems.
Overlapping Foundation Courses
While electrical engineering and computer science are distinct majors, there are some overlapping foundation courses that both majors may require. These courses provide a common knowledge base and help students develop a broad understanding of both fields. Some of these overlapping courses include:
- Mathematics for Engineers and Scientists
- Physics for Engineers
- Introduction to Digital Systems
- Computer Architecture
These foundation courses ensure that students have a solid understanding of the fundamental concepts and principles that underpin both electrical engineering and computer science.
For more information on the specific courses offered in each major at different universities, you can visit their respective websites:
- Electrical Engineering Curriculum at Columbia University
- Computer Science Curriculum at Columbia University
Career Paths and Specializations
Electrical Engineering Careers
Electrical engineering is a diverse field with a wide range of career opportunities. Graduates with a degree in electrical engineering can work in industries such as telecommunications, power systems, electronics, and automation.
They may find employment as electrical engineers, telecommunications engineers, power systems engineers, or electronics engineers.
Electrical engineers are responsible for designing, developing, and testing electrical systems and equipment. They may work on projects such as designing electrical circuits, developing power distribution systems, or working on renewable energy technologies.
With the increasing demand for sustainable energy sources, electrical engineers have the opportunity to make significant contributions to the field of green energy.
Some popular career paths in electrical engineering include working in the telecommunications industry, where professionals design and develop communication systems, including wireless networks and satellite communication.
Another career option is power systems engineering, where electrical engineers work on designing and maintaining power distribution systems for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes.
Computer Science Careers
Computer science is a rapidly growing field with numerous career opportunities. Graduates with a degree in computer science can work in a variety of industries, including software development, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and data analysis.
Software development is one of the most popular career paths for computer science graduates. They can work as software engineers, mobile app developers, or web developers. These professionals are responsible for designing, coding, and testing software applications for various platforms.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also emerging fields within computer science. Professionals in this field develop algorithms and models that enable computers to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence.
With the rise of automation and smart technologies, the demand for professionals with expertise in artificial intelligence is on the rise.
Cybersecurity is another critical area in computer science. As cyber threats continue to increase, companies are investing in cybersecurity measures to protect their data and systems. Computer science graduates specializing in cybersecurity can work as cybersecurity analysts, network security engineers, or ethical hackers.
Jobs Requiring Knowledge of Both Fields
There are certain career paths that require knowledge and skills in both electrical engineering and computer science. These interdisciplinary roles often involve developing and implementing innovative solutions that integrate both fields.
One such career path is embedded systems engineering. Embedded systems are computer systems that are designed to perform specific tasks within larger systems. Professionals in this field need a deep understanding of both electrical engineering and computer science to design and develop efficient and reliable embedded systems.
Another career option is robotics engineering. Robotics combines elements of electrical engineering and computer science to design and develop robots that can perform tasks autonomously. Professionals in this field need to understand both the hardware and software aspects of robotics to create advanced robotic systems.
Salary Prospects for Graduates
Electrical Engineering Salaries
Electrical engineering is a highly lucrative field, offering graduates competitive salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for electrical engineers in the United States is $100,830 as of May 2020.
However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and industry.
In the technology industry, electrical engineers can expect to earn even higher salaries. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Intel offer attractive compensation packages to electrical engineering graduates. Additionally, specialization within the field can also impact salary levels.
For example, electrical engineers specializing in power systems or telecommunications may earn higher salaries compared to those in other areas.
Computer Science Salaries
Computer science is another field that offers excellent salary prospects for graduates. The demand for computer science professionals is high, leading to competitive salaries in the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $93,750 as of May 2020.
The technology sector, including companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, is known for offering substantial salaries to computer science graduates. Additionally, specialized skills such as artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity can further boost earning potential.
With the rapid advancements in technology, the demand for computer science professionals is only expected to grow, leading to even better salary prospects in the future.
Salaries by Industry and Specialization
Both electrical engineering and computer science graduates have the opportunity to work in various industries, each with its own salary ranges. For electrical engineers, industries such as manufacturing, telecommunications, and research and development tend to offer higher salaries.
On the other hand, computer science professionals can find high-paying positions in industries like software development, finance, and healthcare.
Specialization within these fields can also have a significant impact on salary prospects. For example, electrical engineers specializing in renewable energy or robotics may earn higher salaries compared to those in other areas.
Similarly, computer science professionals with expertise in machine learning or software engineering may command higher salaries.
It’s important for students to consider their interests and career goals when choosing between electrical engineering and computer science. While both fields offer excellent salary prospects, the decision should be based on individual preferences, strengths, and long-term career aspirations.
Recommendations for Choosing Between Majors
Assess Interests in Hardware vs Software
One of the key factors to consider when choosing between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is your interest in hardware versus software. Electrical Engineering focuses more on the design and development of electrical systems, circuits, and devices, while Computer Science primarily deals with software development and computer programming.
If you enjoy working with physical components and have a passion for understanding how electronic devices function, then Electrical Engineering may be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you are more inclined towards coding, algorithms, and software applications, then Computer Science might be a better fit.
Consider How Abstract vs Applied You Prefer
Another important aspect to consider is your preference for abstract or applied concepts. Electrical Engineering often involves working with complex mathematical models and theories to design and analyze electrical systems.
If you enjoy diving deep into theoretical concepts and applying them to practical problems, Electrical Engineering might be a great fit. On the other hand, Computer Science tends to be more focused on problem-solving and practical applications.
If you prefer hands-on projects and enjoy building software solutions to real-world problems, then Computer Science may be the better choice for you.
Weigh Theory vs Hands-On Learning
When choosing between Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, it’s crucial to consider your preferred learning style. Electrical Engineering programs often emphasize theoretical knowledge and require a strong foundation in mathematics and physics.
If you excel in academic settings and enjoy delving into complex theories, Electrical Engineering may be the right path for you. Conversely, Computer Science programs generally offer a more hands-on approach, with a focus on coding assignments, programming projects, and practical problem-solving.
If you learn best by doing and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing your code come to life, then Computer Science could be the ideal major for you.
It’s important to note that these recommendations are general guidelines and your personal interests and goals should ultimately guide your decision. Additionally, it can be helpful to speak with professionals in the field, academic advisors, and current students in both majors to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day work and career prospects in each field.
In summary, while electrical engineering and computer science have some overlaps, electrical engineers generally focus more on physical hardware and systems while computer scientists concentrate on software and computational solutions.
Key factors in choosing a major include your interests in working with hardware versus software, preference for abstract theory versus hands-on applications, and desired career path and specialization.
Both majors can lead to rewarding technology careers – choose the one matching your talents and interests.