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Decoding The Top 8 Computer Science Occupations

Written by Courtney Cameron

In today’s digital world, going to school for computer science is a smart move. Not only have advancements in technology helped contribute to social progress and innovation, but they’ve also created a high demand for IT professionals. That means, your chances of landing a job once you graduate are high.

But, whether you’re just beginning or nearing the end of your computer science degree, you’re probably wondering what options you have and what your career path could look like long term. Where do you want to focus your efforts? What aspects of computer science interest you most? What are some of the major differences between the different Information Technology (IT) careers, anyway?

We get it. Exploring these types of questions can be confusing. So, we’ve compared some of the top computer science gigs among recent grads in Canada so that you don’t have to.

Computer Engineer vs. Software Engineer

Computer engineers (or, ‘computer hardware engineers/computer network architects’ as they’re commonly called within the field) integrate computer science with electronic engineering to research, develop, and test computer or computer-related equipment. They focus on computer hardware design, the integration between hardware and software systems, firmware, and embedded systems. While both professions focus on software systems, computer engineers and software engineers are quite different. Typically, computer engineers have extensive experience and training in hardware and highly specialized knowledge with respect to the hardware-software interface.

On the flip side, software engineers apply engineering principles to build and maintain software systems. Their work is (quite obviously) more software-oriented and is focused on large software applications. Software engineers are also more applied in their duties than general computer scientists, placing greater emphasis on the entire software development process, from initial idea to final product. They use modeling language and other tools to devise solutions that can often be applied to problems in a general way, as opposed to solving for a specific instance or client. Software engineering is sometimes referred to as ‘software design’ or ‘software architecture’.

Software Engineer vs. Software Developer

“Basically, if a software engineer architects, a software developer implements.”

 A software engineer is engaged in software development, but not all software developers are engineers. Software developers have a less global role than engineers or designers and are often closely involved with specific project areas (including writing code). They drive the overall software development lifecycle — including working across functional teams to transform requirements into features, managing development processes, and conducting software testing and maintenance. They collaborate with the client to create a theoretical design and then work with computer programmers to create the code needed to run the software properly, providing project leadership and technical guidance at every stage of the software’s development. 

They’re typically (but not always) creative thinkers and problem solvers. Software developers apply the patterns and practices they’ve learned on their own, on the job, through reading books and blogs, or through taking courses on specific aspects of the development life-cycle. On the other hand, software engineers often have a foundation in engineering principles, and it is through the application of engineering concepts that they create solutions. Basically, if a software engineer architects, a software developer implements

Computer Programmer vs. Interactive Media Developer

Computer programmers, through working very closely with computer engineers and software developers, have a slightly smaller scope. They are mostly concerned with writing and testing code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow. Plus, programmers test newly created applications and programs to ensure that they produce the expected results. If they don’t work correctly, computer programmers check the code for mistakes and fix them. Computer programmers can be application developers and programmers, software developers and programmers, OS programmers, or mobile programmers. 

Interactive media developers write, modify, integrate, and test computer code for interactive media specifically. Their job includes the development and programming of Internet applications, computer-based software, games, film, and video. Whether they develop software, mobile applications, operating systems, or web-based applications, these programmers and developers are IM developers. The exception however, is a web developer. 

Web Designers vs. Web Developers

Web developers use HTML, JavaScript, and other programming languages to turn a design made by a web designer (or client) into a website. The web designer is typically concerned with creatively designing the architecture and aesthetics of the site with a focus on the user of the product, while the developer is concerned with implementing and constructing the website. The developer creates the interactive components of the website that allow it to function according to the web designer’s plan.

Web designers and developers work extremely closely on the architecture and execution of websites and commonly, web designers are also trained web developers. However, there are some general differences between the main duties of these two jobs. If you’re considering a career in web development or design, take a peek at the types of activities that will be a part of your daily routine:

Web Designer

  • Consult with clients to develop and document Web site requirements
  • Prepare mock-ups and storyboards
  • Develop Web site architecture and determine hardware and software requirements
  • Source, select and organize information for inclusion and design the appearance, layout and flow of the Web site
  • Create and optimize content for the Web site using a variety of graphics, database, animation and other software
  • Perform quality assurance assessments and user design (UX) testing
  • May lead and co-ordinate multidisciplinary teams to develop Web site graphics, content, capacity and interactivity

Web Developer

  • Plan, design, write, modify, integrate and test Web-site related code
  • Conduct tests and perform security and quality controls
  • Monitor and maintain Web site functionality
  • May participate in Web site architecture and design in collaboration with designers or clients
  • May research and evaluate a variety of interactive media software products.

Are you a woman interested in STEM? The feilds need you.

Most of us can agree that traditionally, computer science and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and computer science) could have benefited from being more inclusive, especially towards women. But today, things are changing.

According to Statistics Canada in 2019, only 18% of computer and information science graduates were women. While this is up from recent years, it still showcases the lack of female representation within the industry. Unequal representation may not only discourage qualified women and other groups from entering an otherwise male-dominated space, but it also limits the amount of diversity, perspective, and unique walks of life necessary for innovative thought and change.

But if you’re a woman interested in STEM, fear not. There are a variety of scholarships, resources, and support systems out there to help you make informed decisions, set yourself up for success, and make strides towards a more progressive future.

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.