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Both electronic and computer engineering are fields that deal with the physical hardware components of systems. The amount of overlap that occurs in the two fields means professionals in both areas share many common skills for designing and understanding the hardware that goes into computers, household items and machines. Although electronic and computer engineering professions understand how computers and their components work together, electronic engineers do not limit themselves to traditional computer systems. While electronic engineers also might work on such items as electrical equipment and microwaves, computer engineers might work on digital media players, artificial intelligence, laptops and desktop computers.
When one obtains a college degree related to electronic and computer engineering, the majority of the required classes are similar because both professions require studies in calculus, programming, logic design, electronics, physics and electrical theory. The main difference in the two programs lies in the engineering specialization that the student chooses. Those with a computer engineering specialization will study computer operating systems, computer hardware, networking, algorithms, software and database design. Electronics engineers will take more advanced courses in microprocessor architecture, signal processing and the control of mechanical systems; therefore, electronic engineering narrows itself down to the smallest components that make up the computer systems we use in our homes and offices.
Professionals in both fields perform a variety of programming tasks, but the components they program usually differ. Electronics engineers write the algorithms used for programming microprocessors, but computer engineers usually write the operating systems used to communicate with computer hardware. This is not a requirement though, and both electronic and computer engineers might write basic computer programs at times. Both types of professionals may also be responsible for programming the interfaces people use to communicate with the systems.
The main difference between electronic and computer engineering is that electronic engineers place more focus on the diodes, circuits, semiconductors and other small components that are used for a computer's circuit board. Computer engineers have a working knowledge of these items and may even work with these components in their daily jobs. Their main focus, however, lies in computers and the networks they use to communicate with each other. Although electronic engineers might work with networks or computer systems, they deal with the complex details of the computer's hardware and may design microprocessors or components for the motherboard. Computer engineers work primarily with computers and might not always deal with the other types of household electronics that electronics engineers handle.
@NathanG - Well, it depends on where you work really, assuming you know that in advance. I work at a software company where most of the programmers have a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electronic Engineering.
However, they have to develop software. The software is for protective relays that are used in the electrical utility industry. So the background in electronics helps them, and they have been able to make the transition into computer programming without necessarily having the computer science or computer engineering degree.
I think that computer engineering technology is more in demand than it used to be for one simple reason: everything is moving to mobile computing platforms.
No longer is the main development environment the desktop or even the laptop. Processors are becoming smaller and smaller, and I believe that as that happens companies look for ways to create embedded computer chips in cell phones and personal digital assistants.
Therefore if you have a choice, I would pursue the computer engineering degree over a regular electronic engineering degree.
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