I have just case the final vote to close


I think it's not the first question of this kind, and it'll probably not be the last. Closing it is correct because the question is subjective. However, I think it is worthwhile to investigate the underlying issue independently of career issues:

How do computer science and software engineering relate and differ?

I think it may be useful to have a reference question around for that to point people to. The answers on above question go in that direction, hence I propose to edit the question into such shape.


  • $\begingroup$ think as newly edited by the poster, the original question has been steered closer to your idea & is acceptable, think its worthwhile & a basic question in the field, & vote to reopen, & intend to contribute an answer if it is reopened. it is a question I struggled with long ago & have long pondered various angles on it $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ and is it just me or, why is it on stackexchange the questions that seem verging on the most interesting (to me) frequently get the most pushback & most rapidly closed? maybe hanging out on the wrong site, but alas there are no others like it =( $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @vzn I do think you are hanging out on the wrong site. Again and again, you seem to be looking for a discussion forum. Stack Exchange isn't a place for discussions, it's a place for questions and answers. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Gilles & Raphael: Reading the question, I don't think it's about CS vs SE anymore, but rather about training for computing professions. If the question can be sufficiently generalized and demands data, I think it could be a worthwhile question. Thoughts? $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Patrick87 As the question stands now, I'm not sure we are qualified to answer it. I would think it should be on Software Engineering but they can also offer only one perspective. Tough one. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 11:38

2 Answers 2


I think we've tried to meaningfully distinguish between computer science, software engineering and programming in the past, and failed miserably to unanimously agree to anything. It seems clear that this will be a question without a single correct answer.

That said, I'm open to having such a reference question, provided that answers are strictly moderated to ensure that answers be backed by acceptable references - publications, and reputable ones at that. There are plenty of sources one might cite.

If we do a CS vs SE reference question, would it be a good idea to throw Programming into the ring as well? Several of the sources I can think of which would distinguish between CS and SwE could be used to distinguish among the three.

  • $\begingroup$ think its not accurate that stackexchange is only for questions with "a single correct answer". it is designed inherently to allow multiple answers. $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @vzn True, although the "accept" mechanism seems to imply that one answer will be basically more helpful, useful, correct, or whatever than the others. Provided that multiple good answers are given, I'd rather not see one of the competing versions chosen arbitrarily, even if it happens to get more votes. Of course, answers could periodically by collected into a CW answer which we select as the accepted answer; that would be fine but would require someone to curate. $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ "accept answer" is not so commonly used actually. its a nice feature. but its used by the author and is based on subjective/personal judgement. re "backed by refs & citations". that reminds me of this important se subtlety that imho, is often misapplied even by se regulars, being unnec/unfairly restrictive, eg in this question case, good subjective vs bad subjective $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Patrick87: I think CW could clarify that a) we expect contentious answers and b) eliminate a voting "competition". Aggregation of answers, on the other hand, has not been taken well in the past. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 6:47

Career choice questions are never going to work on Stack Exchange because they're too specific to the poster. Programmers offers this great diagram:

Programmers.SE audience diagram

“Should I study this or that” falls under the “just you” category. Very few career-related questions fall into the “all programmers” category. Furthermore, on this site, I don't think there's any analog of “all programmers”: this is a site about computer science, not about computer scientist.

“How do computer science and software engineering relate and differ?” goes in the right step of generalizing over individual issues. But I fear that it's far too broad, and it isn't directly applicable to education and career choices anyway.

Every university will have its own breakdown between fields. Computer science may be bunched with mathematics or with software engineering or with electical engineering. It may be a matter of core courses or electives. There's no general rule as to what course belongs or doesn't belong in which program.

Furthermore, your educational background doesn't lock you into a career path. Just to give an example, at my job (embedded software development), we have people with PhD's, people with an electrical engineering degree and people with a CS/programming degree. We're all doing broadly the same job. Sure, we tend to ask the PhD's when there's an architecture to design, and the EE guys when there's soldering to do. But that's determined by competence rather than by asking people what degree they have.

The difference between CS and SE is a broad topic, and the answer wouldn't be useful for career choices. I also foresee turf debates. (Try dropping it on Meta Stack Overflow and you'll get a popular response that software engineering is what's useful and CS is “useless theoretical wankery”.) I don't see what this reference question could achieve.

  • $\begingroup$ 1) I agree about the career part, and my intention was to drop that completely. 2) I maintain that this in an important thing to be vocal about, in particular because so many non-computer-scientists have strong and loud opinions. If all we can do is give different perspectives (!= subjective, imho) on the matter, I feel have already added to the larger discourse. Put differently, should a curious/confused person not at least find something on the matter here (as opposed to read only on Software Engineering)? $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 11:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Raphael I don't think asking that question will produce worthwhile content. More focused questions, maaaaaaaaaybe. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ We could ask the question on Meta with the express purpose not of generating interesting CS content, per se, but as a way of helping generate better and more focused questions for this site. If people find the question more broadly useful or interesting, all the better. $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ -1 because the question has been totally reworked by author away from "what should I study" & this answer not really applicable any more $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 17:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @vzn The rewording hasn't changed much, and my answer is just as applicable as before. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ huh?!? he changed it from "which should I pick" to "what is the difference between these two in universities"....? or maybe nobody is interested in changing their subjective opinion on question relevance even after they are fixed.... the judges hath spoken! $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 8, 2013 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @vzn: 1) I seems your comments refer to the question I linked above, which is completely out of place here. 2) Changing posts to they can remain open is part of the SE process. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 6:49
  • $\begingroup$ "completely out of place here"? you mean the question? thought that you wanted to discuss that, hence this meta thread? or is it just a place for self-justification without dissent? "remain open"? huh? the question is closed aka "on hold"... we both know it is exceedingly rare for questions to be reopened! think the stackexchange concept of it is misleading & mostly a bluff... recent superficial stackexchange chgs dont really seem to chg chat... maybe the real issue is that computer scientists dont want to discuss "software engineering"... sweep it under the rug... $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 14:44
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @vzn 1) Note that this meta question does not ask to discuss the linked question, but the idea of another, related thread. If you want to discuss the fate of the linked question, feel free to open a new meta question. 2) "remain open" should read "be reopened" here. 3) Please cut the constant flaming. It's tiresome and not constructive. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ ok! got it! & plz cut the constant/predictable rejection of any disagreement by lower-ranked members, imho its tiresome & not constructive $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 17:38

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