Master’s in Computer Science vs. Electrical and Computer Engineering

In 2018, IBM built a supercomputer the company called Summit, which became one of the most advanced computing devices in the world. Summit is the size of two tennis courts, and it runs about a million times faster than the average consumer-grade laptop. It’s also a perfect example of how the disciplines of electrical engineering and computer science intersect.

Supercomputers: It Takes a Village (of Engineers)

Looking at how even a few of the smaller components of a computer like Summit was built, it’s easy to see how a diverse range of disciplines interact within electrical engineering and computer science. Summit was designed to handle highly advanced and data-intensive machine learning processes. One of the challenges with machine learning in particular is that it often requires purpose-built hardware to be efficient. For example, one of the common hardware-centric questions for training machine learning algorithms is whether to use graphics processing units (GPUs) or central processing units (CPUs). The problem is that the best option depends on kind of technique being used and the goals behind the application.

Computer science covers the knowledge needed to write and train a complex algorithm, but it does not necessarily cover the expertise for building the hardware that can make it run efficiently. On the other hand, electrical and computer engineering builds an understanding of the structure, design and power requirements for running complex machines. Because the two fields are closely related, however, it is common for those with graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering to perform work more closely associated with computer science and vice versa. For example, PayScale shows that software engineering is a common career path for graduates from either discipline.

Beyond the layout and design of individual components, computer and electrical engineers need to make considerations for the materials they’re made from, and the way these components communicate with each other. As the technology matures, these systems will become even more complex and likely include other types of processors. For example, some research has highlighted the potential application for digital signal processing to play a key role in lowering the heat density of supercomputers.

What is Computer Science vs. Electrical Engineering vs. Computer Engineering?

Computer science is commonly defined as the study of computational systems, and, as a discipline, it typically focuses on the software layer of technology. Electrical engineering is a broad field that includes computers as well as other electrical devices, systems that transmit and store electricity, and communications signals.

Computer engineering is a field where both disciplines frequently intersect, and many computer engineers have training in both computer science and electrical engineering. Computer engineers are often responsible for designing the layout of complex systems, building embedded computers and sensors, and developing firmware.

Related content: Careers with a Master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering

Master’s in Computer Science vs. Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree

master's in computer science vs ece
The structure for graduate programs in electrical engineering, computer engineering, and computer science will vary by program, but, broadly speaking, students can expect computer science programs to focus more on programming, networking, databases, and other computer systems.

Electrical and computer engineering degree programs will have a mix of foundational coursework in key engineering concepts, such as applications of random processes, embedded computing systems, as well as classes in more specific areas such as nanotechnology.

For example, the University of UtahMS in Electrical and Computer Engineering degree offers courses that cover areas such as:

  • Nanotechnology
  • Power system design and analysis
  • Digital signal processing
  • Techniques and materials for building sensors and embedded computing systems
  • Radio frequency integrated circuits

Electrical and Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science Salary Potential

In many cases, the salary potential for similar positions across computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering graduates is similar. PayScale shows that software engineers with each type of degree earn an average salary of a little more than $90,000. However, the different fields do show slightly different common career pathways, which are summarized below, in order of their position on PayScale for the relevant degree.

For more information about development and career opportunities, please visit our electrical and computer engineering careers page.

Master’s in Electrical Engineering Jobs

  • Electrical Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Senior Electrical Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Radio Frequency Engineer
  • Senior Systems Engineer
  • Electrical Design Engineer

Master’s in Computer Engineering Jobs

  • Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Firmware Engineer
  • Software Developer
  • Embedded Software Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Designer Verification Engineer

Master’s in Computer Science Jobs

  • Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Software Developer
  • Senior Software Developer
  • Principal Software Engineer
  • Data scientist
  • Information Technology Director

Electrical and Computer Engineering Salary Considerations

With the majority of roles listed above, salary potential varies significantly by years of experience. For example, mid-career electrical engineers earn an average of 10% more than electrical engineers overall, and those in the later stages of their career earn over 40% more, on average.

As more compact and complex systems become more common across all areas of society — from autonomous vehicles to smart home technology to embedded computing devices for industrial systems — the need for engineers who have both the specialized skills relevant to their areas of interest and familiarity with multiple disciplines will grow. As Glassdoor noted in an article earlier this year, some of today’s top engineering jobs, like electrical engineer, have become long-standing roles within the field, while other roles have emerged due to evolution in technology.

As burgeoning technology markets like supercomputing, embedded smart technology, and others mature, they may give rise to entirely new specialties within electrical and computer engineering.While some of the specialized skills for electrical and computer engineers may evolve, building proficiency in the core electrical and computer engineering knowledge areas and learning to apply those principles to specific technology applications will help engineering professionals future-proof their careers.

Elevate Your Job Prospects with the University of Utah’s Online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering

The University of Utah online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE) degree equips students with advanced skills in solving engineering problems, building effective systems, and leading multidisciplinary teams. Utah is a tier one research university, listed at No.11 for Best Value in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings and among the nation’s best engineering schools by U.S. News and World Report.

Our faculty offer individualized mentorship and draw insights from their own cutting-edge research to teach the latest methods and tools. You can complete your MSECE entirely online, fitting a world-class education into your schedule while discovering opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship. The University of Utah Career and Development Center helps students achieve their long-term goals with a variety of resources and career coaches who are available for online appointments.

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