CS vs. Computer Engineering

Pat Gardner

Those interested in the technology sector will probably consider both Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (COE) majors when enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh. Each discipline has their advantages and disadvantages, making the decision different for any given individual. In addition, both are constantly changing - COE is currently undergoing a massive curriculum change, so I cannot talk too much about what it will be like.

I am a class of 2021 COE, so the COE experience in my year and older will be very much different from those below. Our schedules basically consisted of engineering classes (think hardware, circuits, physics, engineering analytics) and CS classes (the core ones that CS majors also have to take, and then whichever advanced electives one chose). This was the best option for me: I wanted to have an engineering degree with a focus on software and a basic understanding of hardware.

I had learned from talking with those in the industry that many employers see an engineering degree as being able to solve most any problem, making COE potentially more versatile than CS; however, I now think CS is definitely close to if not as versatile as COE. Interestingly enough though, I was initially enrolled in CS, wanting to double major with some business degree, but I was told this would take 7 years because nothing overlapped. [Aside: If you want business knowledge, the only options I found are Econ minor, Supply Chain certificate, or “tell the business school you will double major and then just end up not finishing the degree” (I chose the former two).]

From what I have heard from underclassmen, the COE curriculum is becoming much more hardware-software integrated. This could be right up your alley, or the opposite of your desires. It seems the CS and COE schools are becoming further apart, so I am not sure a future COE major will be able to take all the CS classes that he or she desires. Right now, a COE can enroll in CS classes where no exact match exists in the COE school.

Therefore, I would boil the decision down to whether you want to have an engineer’s approach to learning how everything works even at the physics level and learn a lot about both hardware and software (COE), or if you would like to specialize in everything software (CS). Another option is majoring in Electrical Engineering (EE) and minoring in CS. The classes in the CS minor should give you the core knowledge you would need for most Software Engineer (SWE) interviews.

Would I change my decision back in 2017? No, COE was right for me at the time. Do I know whether I would choose the new COE over CS? I am not sure - luckily I do not have to make that decision! I am more interested in the software side, so the new curriculum may make me lean toward CS. Can you go wrong with either? No, you can easily end up in the same job with either degree so long as you prepare for interviews and do some outside learning.

Last updated: Jul 14th 2020