Computer science, IT and software engineering: what’s the difference?


We’ve put together some points to help you explain the different career pathways in computer science, IT and software engineering.

Computer science

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  • Computer scientists understand the ‘why’ behind computer programs and use algorithms and advanced mathematics to invent new ways to manipulate and transfer information.
  • Computer scientists work to identify and solve problems using technology.
  • In computer science you learn about the fundamental concepts and theories relating to the design of digital technologies.
  • This discipline involves the study of computational thinking (the language of computers) and discrete mathematics (logic).
  • Key majors in current hot topics such as cyber security, machine learning, and data science.
  • Simply put, computer scientists understand how computers work and can create a program or operating system that can help solve problems.

​​Information technology

  • IT professionals know how to design and create information systems and are more likely to interact with clients.
  • IT is the application of computer science and software engineering theory and practice into the design of digital solutions to problems in industry and the broader community.
  • Strong focus on user design and innovation, and there are links to application areas with dual degrees.
  • UQ’s Bachelor of Information Technology is accredited by the Australian Computer Society (ACS). ACS was the first computer society to be recognised under the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3).

Software engineering

  • Software engineers understand and can create the background computer systems such as operating systems and computer systems used in rigorous production and management of large scale software systems.
  • Sometimes called the ‘practice’ of computer programming whereas computer science is the theory of computer programming.
  • Upon completing UQ’s Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) with a major in Software Engineering, you will have a four year accredited degree with Engineers Australia.
  • Software engineers develop, operate, maintain and retire software.

To sum up

  • Computer scientists design and develop computer programs, software, and applications – they have a deeper understanding of all aspects of computer technology. 
  • IT professionals then use and troubleshoot those programs, software, and applications.
  • Software engineers design and build high-quality computer software systems.

These three professions all work together to ensure hardware, software, and user experience come together smoothly so that computers can carry out the tasks businesses and individuals require of them.

Download our Careers in Technology flyer (PDF, 142.1 KB) for more information on exciting career pathways in the technology sector.

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