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Mechanical Engineering (ME) vs. Computer Science (CS)

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It might seem odd to draw a comparison between computer scientists and mechanical engineers. What could these professionals possibly have in common? A lot, it seems. When one considers it, both fields design, develop, and test tools that make our lives and work easier—one just happens to do it in the digital realm and the other in the physical one. From their mathematical and scientific roots to the tools that make their work possible, mechanical engineers and computer scientists share a lot of common ground, even if their specializations diverge. For example, mechanical engineers may find themselves researching nanotechnology, robotics, vehicle systems, energy usage and sustainability, and thermodynamics. By contrast, computer scientists focus their work in areas such as modeling and simulation, artificial intelligence and deep learning, human-computer interaction, and visual analytics. Read on to learn what distinguishes both fields, including important education and career information.

Similarities & Differences: CS vs. ME

One must know what mechanical engineers and computer scientists do before understanding how they relate to (and differ from) one another. Some general background:

Mechanical Engineers

All engineers identify and solve problems using math, science, and engineering principles. For mechanical engineers specifically, that means designing, developing, and testing physical tools and machinery, whether they are used in factories and power plants or hospitals. Their skills are applicable to a diversity of industries and often put them at the leading edge of new industrial advances.

Computer Scientists

Like mechanical engineers, computer scientists identify and solve problems using many of the same mathematical and scientific principles. They also design, develop, and test tools, only their work advances computing solutions rather than physical devices. While some computer scientists focus on improving existing programs and technologies, many thrive in the research and development of whole new concepts and abilities.

Mechanical engineering and computer science certainly share many of the same intentions and problem-solving processes, if in different dimensions. However, this is where many of their similarities end. They must nurture different skills and knowledge, for example, and that affects their education. A mechanical engineer might be able to design some of the hardware upon which computer scientists rely, but only the latter can typically put those components to practical use. The reverse is also true. The next section offers a clear side-by-side comparison of mechanical engineering and computer science .

A Side-By-Side Comparison

The following table provides an easy comparison between mechanical engineering and computer science jobs and degrees.

Mechanical EngineeringComputer Science
What they doMechanical engineers design, develop, and test physical machines and devices while computer scientists do so with digital concepts. Both strive to solve complex problems in their fields using a foundation of math and science Mechanical engineers and computer scientists also have a place in many industries. Some choose to focus primarily on research while others aim for practical applications of their skills.
Recommended degreeMechanical engineers generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, but employers increasingly prefer to hire candidates with master’s degrees. According to O*Net, as of May 2016, 89 percent of mechanical engineers held bachelor’s degrees.Computer scientists typically need a master’s degree in computer science or a related field. Students who intend to work in research may have to earn doctoral degrees. As of May 2016, 59 percent of computer scientists had master’s degrees.
Academic department overseeing most programs
  • College of Engineering
  • Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
  • Dept. of Mechanical Science and Engineering
  • Dept. of Computer Science
  • Dept. of Computer & Information Science
Examples of degree tracks and specializations
  • Energy & Sustainability
  • Engineering Management
  • Nanotechnology
  • Robotics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • Vehicle Systems
  • Heat Transfer and Thermodynamics
  • System Dynamics & Control
  • Joins & Welds
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Machine Learning
  • Information Management & Analytics
  • Computational Robotics
  • Computer & Network Security
  • Computing Systems
  • Modeling & Simulation
  • Software Theory
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Data & Visual Analytics
Concepts taught Colleges seeking accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) must develop a curriculum that prepares students to:

  • Identify and solve complex engineering problems using math, science, and engineering processes
  • Know the engineering design process and the savvy to use it in a myriad of industries
  • Keep a working knowledge of the latest engineering concepts and best practices
  • Design, conduct, and analyze mechanical engineering research
  • Know—and be able to follow—professional responsibilities in an ethical way
According to ABET, computer science graduates should be able to:

  • Apply knowledge of computing and mathematics as appropriate for their discipline
  • Identify, analyze, and solve computer programs
  • Design, implement, and evaluate computer-based systems, processes, programs, or components
  • Understand and comply with the latest professional, ethical, legal, and security practices.
  • Communicate their ideas clearly to audiences of varying computer knowledge
Five colleges that offer such degrees
Possible career titles
  • Mechanical engineer
  • Design engineer
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Auto research engineer
  • Robotics engineer
  • Systems design engineer
  • Automotive engineer
  • Computer scientist
  • Data scientist
  • Robotics scientist
  • Computer engineer
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer systems architect
Emerging opportunities in the fieldAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Oct. 2017), mechanical engineers are often involved in the very latest industrial pursuits, including alternative energies, nanotechnology, automation, and robotics.Computer scientists take the lead in the rapid, ongoing evolution of computer technologies. Some of the most promising areas for future graduates include more sophisticated cybersecurity solutions, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Additional resources and professional organizations
The bottom lineMechanical engineers and computer scientists advance the limits of what we can do, if on a different plane. The professionals also support one another in a number of ways. Mechanical engineers use nanotechnology to build the ever smaller and more capable computer chips upon which computer scientists rely. Computer scientists, meanwhile, help develop the computer programs and processes that allow mechanical engineers to analyze important data and conduct analyses.

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