Understanding The Difference Between Data Science & Computer Science

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Many people wonder what the difference is between data science and computer science. For those who are pursuing a degree in either field of study, it is pertinent to understand the differences to ensure the most appropriate degree is being earned. And while many people consider data scientists to be the same as computer scientists — aka software engineers — the two actually differ from each other quite significantly. Yes, there are some duties performed by both types of professionals that are similar, but overall, the two roles are quite distinct from each other.

If you are considering a degree in data science or computer science, you will want to know the differences between the two fields of study. Below you will find a clear understanding of their similarities and contrasts.

What Is Data Science?

According to Jeannette M. Wing with Columbia University, one of the best descriptions used to clarify the meaning of data science comes David Blei and Padharaic Smyth, both of whom are distinguished professors at two of the nation’s top universities. They define data science as being “the child of statistics and computer science.” They go on to say:

“Data science focuses on exploiting the modern deluge of data for prediction, exploration, understanding, and intervention. It emphasizes the value and necessity of approximation and simplification; it values effective communication of the results of a data analysis and of the understanding about the world and data that we glean from it; it prioritizes an understanding of the optimization algorithms and transparently managing the inevitable tradeoff between accuracy and speed; it promotes domain-specific analyses, where data scientists and domain experts work together to balance appropriate assumptions with computationally efficient methods.”

Using this definition, the “child” metaphorically implies that data science inherits its capabilities from its parents, but then goes on to separate itself and develops into its own entity.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science involves the exploration and study of computers as well as computational systems. Those who become computer scientists are often referred to as computer engineers, and they spend their time studying various aspects of computers, including:

  • Theory
  • Design
  • Development
  • Application

A person who studies computer science will learn how to perform a variety of tasks, especially those relating to:

  • Programming languages
  • Theory of computing
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Software engineering
  • Vision and graphics
  • Network systems
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Bioinformatics

Beyond programming, computer science also involves design algorithms that can be used to solve complex computer hardware and software-related problems.

How Does Data Science Differ From Computer Science?

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the definitions of computer science and data science, it is now time to take a look at their differences. The first notable difference can be seen in the approach each form of science takes. For example, data science has two first-class concepts that form its foundation: uncertainty and approximation. Computer science, however, has a foundation built on symbolic logic. Another difference can be seen in the concentrations found in each field. Computer science focuses more on cybersecurity and software engineering. Data science, on the other hand, focuses more on computational biology as well as bioinformatics.

According to a guest post found on Wall Street Oasis, if you become a data scientists, you will “work with a lot of data (SQL + variants, Hadoop + Spark + variants), you probably work with distributed computing systems like Amazon Web Services to quickly expand your computing power on the fly, you fine-tune algorithms to reliably achieve some predictive power on that data, and you drive decision making from a purely theoretical perspective. You’re the guy who “knows things”.” This guest poster goes on to say that data science is different from computer science in that “Computer science teaches you things that you still need to know as a data scientist, like how processors work and why memory management in programming is important. But, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Think of data science as a combination of a math and computer science major.”

Choosing a Major

As you go about choosing between a data science or computer science degree, make sure to compare the following pieces of information.

Computer Science

Computer science shapes the science of technology. During your degree program, you can expect to learn about advanced computing, security solutions, enterprise-scale applications, automated systems and database systems. You will go on to use your degree to develop new technologies that revolutionize the software industry by enhancing cybersecurity. You’ll find much success with this degree because computer science propels the latest innovations in technology.

Data Science

Data science is used to make meaning out of the massive amounts of data that are available to consumers and businesses. When earning a degree in data science, you will learn about the mathematics used in computer science. You will also learn how to mine, collect, store and analyze data. Much of your studies will focus on data visualization as well as predictive analysis. This type of degree is preferred by companies that have access to data and want to make meaning out of it. You will find success with this degree because data is important to all companies. You can find employment as a data scientist in any industry.

Understanding Your Career Options

Data scientists and computer scientists can find employment under many different titles. Some of these titles are the same, while many of them are different. Here is a closer look at the titles you can find employment under as either a data scientist or computer scientist.

Computer Scientist

  • Mobile specialist
  • Database architect
  • IT engineer
  • Network engineer
  • Database developer
  • Application developer
  • Network administrator
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer engineer
  • Web developer
  • Data center manager

Data Scientist

  • Data analyst
  • Data strategist
  • Database developer
  • Clinical researcher
  • Health informatics analyst
  • Computational biologist
  • Business intelligence manager
  • Financial analyst
  • Risk analyst
  • Marketing analyst
  • Statistician

Salary Differences Between Data Scientist and Computer Scientist

With a degree in computer science, you can expect to earn anywhere from $68,000 to $146,800 a year. The more experience you have and the higher level of degree you have, the better. As a data scientist, you can expect to make up to $124,000 a year. These salary potentials make it clear to see that regardless of the degree you pursue, you are going to make a comfortable salary.

The Takeaway

You don’t have to be a math-whiz to become a data scientist or a computer scientist, but a passion for mathematics will most definitely make these careers more enjoyable. If you are considering a degree in either field of study, it is highly recommended that you understand the differences discussed above to help you make a better-informed decision on the educational and career path that is best for you.


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