Computer Science: Counts as Engineering?

Here’s whether computer science counts as engineering:

In many cases, computer science is technically classified as a branch of engineering. 

This mostly happens at the collegiate level where it is common for computer science programs to be managed by schools of engineering. 

Still, there are instances where computer science is clearly separated for grants and regulations.

So if you want to learn all about computer science and its relation to engineering, then you’re in the right place.

Keep reading!

Computer Science: Counts as Engineering? (All the Info)

What Are the Differences Between Computer Science and Engineering? (2 Points)

If we’re really going to break down whether or not computer science (CS) is an engineering discipline, there’s an easy place to start. 

What are the real differences between these two professions and fields of study?

#1 Regulations

Engineering and computer science are not regulated in the same ways. 

By default, engineers are civilly (and sometimes criminally) responsible for the use of their designs. 

So, if a bridge collapses, the engineer is liable for the damages. 

Actually, it’s more extreme than that. 

If a kid chokes on a toy, the engineer is responsible for that too (which is why warning labels are so common).

With computer science, liability is possible depending on what damages are caused by a software design, but it’s not as straightforward. 

Since there is not always automatic liability attached to computer science, it creates stark differences in how the fields are regulated.

And because of that, many engineering disciplines have special qualifications that are needed before you can work in the field. 

The most prominent examples of this are the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams.

Not all engineering fields require these exams, but they are common for many engineering disciplines. 

The FE is an exam that is taken by college students (usually in their junior or senior year of study). 

It tests a wide range of engineering fundamentals, and unless you pass it, you cannot work as an engineer (assuming your field requires it).

Even after you pass the FE and graduate, you will work under a Professional Engineer. 

Every design you make has to be approved by an engineer with professional certifications. 

In order to get those certifications, you have to pass the PE. 

This is a substantially more intensive test that certifies anyone who passed it is competent to oversee engineering projects. 

Once you have the PE certification, you can sign off on designs, and when you do, you are professionally liable for them.

All of this is to say that there is not a good analog for these certifications in computer science, and it’s one of the major reasons why a lot of people don’t consider computer science to be an engineering discipline.

#2 Funding

Another good distinction between computer science and engineering is how they get their funding. 

You can look at funding for education (like at universities).

You can also consider research grants and professional funding.

It can get rather convoluted, so I’m going to keep everything pretty simplified.

Generally speaking, you can find examples where computer science and engineering groups are funded separately. 

Just compare this list of computer science grants to a comparable list of engineering grants and scholarships

A lot of funding sources aren’t on both lists.

At the same time, there are plenty of funding resources that will put engineering and computer science in the same category, like the Pell Grant

There are a lot of conflicting opinions on the topic, but as long as significant financial resources categorize the fields differently, there’s a compelling reason to say that they might not be the same thing. 

Likewise, as funding sources become more common, it gets easier to say that they are under the same umbrella.

When Is Computer Science an Engineering Discipline? (3 Things)

Computer science can clearly go both ways, so let’s explore situations where it makes sense to consider computer science an engineering discipline.

#1 At School

A lot of schools combine computer science and engineering. 

Or, to put it more correctly, a lot of computer science degree programs are handled by a learning institution’s college of engineering.

According to a Stanford article, roughly 60% of computer science programs follow this pattern and are managed by schools of engineering. 

It means that they get engineering funding, and computer science majors are counted as engineering students at these institutions.

It’s a compelling argument to say that in the majority of the United States, at least, computer science is now considered a branch of engineering.

As I take you through a little more of the details of engineering, that might become less surprising.

#2 When You’re Doing Electrical Engineering

Most engineering disciplines will require students to learn at least a little bit about computer programming and algorithms. 

As engineers regularly use computers to solve problems, it helps to understand how computers solve problems.

Among the hardcore traditional engineering disciplines, none encounter coding and programming to higher extents than electrical engineers. 

This wasn’t always the case, but electrical engineering has been a core component of the development of computers and all of the digital systems we use today.

Considering all of this, it’s not surprising that electrical engineers (and students in the field) spend a lot of time writing computer code and software. 

If you want to build a robot, you have to program its actions.

If you want to make any digital circuit, programming is part of the job.

Because of that, electrical engineers often end up working in tech and IT spaces. 

There are even hybrid degrees that cover electrical engineering and computer science.

In fact, computer engineering (while a unique degree at many schools) is basically a hybridization of electrical engineering and computer science. 

On top of that, many electrical engineers and computer scientists end up working in computer engineering, and their roles in those positions often blur.

#3 Software Engineering

I just said that electrical engineers write the most code, but there’s a caveat to that statement. 

I was referring to older, more traditional engineering roles. 

Software engineering and computer engineering are both real disciplines, and both of them involve even more coding than your average electrical engineering position.

As you might imagine, it means that software engineers definitely write a lot of code, and there’s a ton of crossover between computer science and software engineering. 

In fact, a lot of computer scientists end up filling software engineering positions.

What you might not know is that software engineering often has crossover concepts and skills when compared to systems engineering

Both put a heavy focus on big-picture planning while specialists handle many aspects of the individual jobs involved in a project. 

So, a software engineer might coordinate a whole team of programmers.

Oddly enough, software engineering is not always technically classified as engineering (because individual schools have a lot of say in this). 

There are programs where you can get a bachelor’s of science in software engineering, and some schools would put that degree in their school of science.

It’s all convoluted.

But overall, it should be clear. 

Software engineering definitely can be considered engineering, and computer science is closely related enough to fall under the same umbrella.

When Is Computer Science Not Engineering?

Are there ever times when computer science is not engineering? 

We’ve gone over instances where grants or scholarships might distinguish between the two, but generally speaking, a computer science major under the purview of a school of engineering can still get computer science grants and scholarships.

For the most part, the distinction isn’t terribly important. 

These are fields with a lot of crossover, and computer scientists work alongside other types of engineers every day.

There is one distinction that might matter, though, so let’s go over it.

When ABET Says So

For those unfamiliar, ABET is the organization that accredits college degree programs. 

The difference between having ABET accreditation and not is massive in the world of higher education.

Without getting too deep in the process, a college, university, or institution can set up degree programs more or less how they like. 

That means the college has a lot of say in the curriculum and organization of the degree program. 

So, if a college wanted to put all arts and sciences in the same school, they could (and this actually happens a lot).

ABET simply reviews the degree programs at colleges. 

They look at what concepts are covered and how. 

They review student competency, and if the review finds that the degree program is acceptable, then it gets the accreditation stamp, and that’s that (programs are reverified over time).

Here’s the real point to all of this. 

Colleges more or less decide if they want to treat computer science as an engineering degree or not. 

But, the ABET certification is what really makes the determination. 

If a college’s school of engineering is better equipped to handle computer science, then that’s where the degree program will end up. 

The ABET stamp is the final arbiter for this question. 

So, if ABET doesn’t certify a computer science program in a school of engineering, then it’s not an engineering degree.

Please keep in mind that this is a case-by-case kind of thing, and major universities are not in the habit of failing or losing ABET accreditation.