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Comp. Engineering Breakdown

  1. Sep 5, 2009 #1
    Computer Engineering Breakdown

    So what exactly is computer engineering? I've been looking at the university descriptions of CMPSC(computer science) and CMPEN(computer engineering) so far and it seems that CMPEN is basically like CMPSC with a lot of electrical engineering courses involved. So what does it actually entail? You're designing or repairing circuit boards for computers or something, with some knowledge of programming? Obviously it's more than that, but I like to start out with a general picture that progressively gets more in-depth.

    I'd like it if someone could really breakdown CMPEN for me and tell you what skills you get from it and where it may lead for a career. I know I'm asking you a lot, but I'd greatly appreciate it.

    P.S. I've read other threads dealing with CMPEN but they don't really ask what I'm asking.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2009 #2
    Well since no one has answered so far, I'd appreciate any information that you could give on computer engineering. My main concern is that I'll be taking a bunch of electrical engineering courses only to find out that I don't like it.
  4. Oct 18, 2009 #3
    I'm also concerned as well. Good question.
    How much more valuable is a CE degree in the industry, than a CS degree?

    If it all basically comes down to, "there's not much of a difference," might as well go for the one that lets for more free time in college, so you can learn about other things to broaden your knowledge.
  5. Oct 18, 2009 #4
    My understanding is that, in a nutshell, with CE your focus is hardware. With CS, your focus is software. Obviously in one of these you will learn some stuff about the other. With CE, you'll not get quite as much about programming or theory, but you'll be studying a little bit of EE and a lot about computer processor architecture.

    One thing to note about CE is that it is an engineering degree. It will probably be a bit more difficult than CS. I could be wrong in this, but it seems that engineers are generally paid more than CS guys. On the other hand, there is probably a greater pool of CS jobs. I think just about every large company hires programmers, while only companies that are explicitly involved in hardware design will higher CE guys. Not that finding a job with a CE degree would be any more difficult, because I imagine there are much more CS graduates than CE graduates, as well as the fact that math majors, physics majors, etc. often have adequate programming skills for a lot of code monkey jobs.

    But I'm a physics and EE guy, so I'm not an expert on either of these fields.
  6. Oct 18, 2009 #5
    A lot of people say that "Computer Engineering focuses on hardware and Computer Science focuses on software", well that's true, but what does it really mean? I'll share what I've gathered by talking to a few of my professors about it.

    For computer engineering, you design things like iPods, iPhones, etc and you program them. For instance, the touch screen from an iPod touch is done by computer engineers. A big part of computer engineering has to do with sound like amplifiers etc, but they also deal a lot with chipsets and program the hardware to do things. You learn machine code languages like Assembly. GPS in cars are also done by computer engineers. Basically, anything that requires a computer to tell the user something (Audio levels on headsets/speakers, touch screens, etc) is what computer engineers do. Now, this is only one example, they do many more things that I can't remember at the moment.

    For computer science, you are much more concerned with software. Artificial intelligence is computer science, as is database management, also security products like Norton, Kaspersky, etc are Computer Science. Any program you've ever used (.exe) are mainly done by computer scientists.

    A crossover is computer networking.
  7. Oct 18, 2009 #6
    Well, I think it might be wiser to go with what is the better "long-term investment" (in the sense that you won't be as much of a commodity when you get older)...

    I'm not sure about any of this since I'm only a senior in high school contemplating computer engineering vs computer science (different departments, must go in with only one for now...)

    It seems that a good CS student can get a job at Microsoft, Goog, Facebook, but what happens when he's finished with a particular project? It seems that programmers are treated as commodities and can get replaced by fresh grads when the company decides that they could extract the same amount of productivity with less spending.

    Comp Engineers, however, seem like they're closely tied to the hardware, thus are easier to find a specialization than programmers/CS grads. I don't want to enter academia. Isn't it true that in order to compete against newer, younger grads, you have to find a way to specialize and thus gain the most knowledge possible about your field? Please correct me if I'm wrong. It seems like Comp Engineering is the better "long-term" investment compared to Comp Sci considering the passion is there for both.

    A degree in Comp Sci, in order to become a programmer in the industry and not academia, seems like a great choice as a 20's lifestyle, but more like suicide as you get older, even if you know how to learn really fast. It just doesn't seem like there's as great an opportunity to specialize and thus increase your value to a particular field.

    Please let me know if I'm wrong because this is one of the biggest factors in which major I will initially enter when I go to college!!! I know I can always transfer, but it's always good to have that initial sense of tranquility when sending in the applications... :)
  8. Oct 18, 2009 #7

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    Ahem. Software engineers, not computer scientists. Computer science divorced itself from the mundane task of solving real problems quite some time ago. This is one reason why the BLS (avant-garde has been posting quite a bit about BLS projections) projects a low demand for computer scientists, a declining demand for computer programmers, but a strongly rising demand for software engineers.
  9. Oct 19, 2009 #8
    Computer Engineering is a blend of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In place of physics-heavy courses that EE's take (such as Fields & Waves, or Semiconductor Devices & Materials) you will take courses such as Network Engineering and Intensive Software Integration. As a senior you may specialize in areas that overlap both EE and CompSci.

    My school (I'm a Junior EE student at UMass) has an ECE department (Electrical & Computer Engineering). People are required to choose during their sophomore year, as there is one pre-requisite to Junior courses that is different depending on which area you choose (a math course - Multivariate for EE's and Discreet Mathematics for CompE's).

    Its important to recognize that both are quite similar, and that a lot of overlapping occurs between the two. Computer Science on the other hand is much more software specific. You will certainly learn more hardware in EE/CompE. That said, you probably won't get into very advanced coursework concerning software as a CompE - such as designing operating systems or programming languages.

    While EE's and CompE's get experience in both Analog and Digital systems, EE's do tend to focus more on Analog and CompE digital. However, even things you would think CompE's specialize in actually lie more in the EE domain. An example is designing CPUs or memory - which is heavy on device physics (an EE strength).

    Then you have school to school variation. Your best bet is to look at the course descriptions for each major and choose that way. Also consider the market. We were told that most companies prefer potential employees to have a B.S. in one of the four traditional fields (EE, CE (Civil), ChemE, or ME), and then a focused degree at the M.S. level (such as CompE, Env.E, AerospaceE., etc.).
  10. Oct 19, 2009 #9
    The boundaries between the three fields are ever relaxing, especially between computer science and software engineering, I guess it's all about what you think the definition of each field is, and what particular program you attend.

    I think it's better to start with computer science because it's such a broad field, you take the software, hardware and programming classes, and you can decide which one you like most.
  11. Oct 19, 2009 #10

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    Really? I see it the other way around. Software engineering started within computer science. Early developers of software engineering principles such as Boehm, Brooks, and Dijkstra were computer scientists who adapted systems engineering principles to the problem of creating software. Nowadays the fields are diverging. Many schools have separate software engineering and computer science departments. Papers to journals and conferences dedicated to software engineering are primarily authored by software engineers rather than computer scientists.
  12. Oct 20, 2009 #11
    I think "Software Engineer" is more of a job title than a major. I could be wrong, but I don't think many schools offer engineering degrees in software. I'm also pretty sure that you can't get a P.E. license as a professional with a degree in "Software Engineering" (at least not in the states).

    If I was really interested in computers I would choose Computer Engineering with lots of electives in the Computer Science department (at least at my school).
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