From a layman’s perspective, both mechanical engineering and software engineering may sound similar in terms of the type of work that the engineers in both realms do. While that might be fairly true in reference to the challenges they face and perhaps remuneration, their specific roles and duties at their places of work vary. This article will help you understand the differences between a mechanical engineer vs. software engineer so you can make a more informed decision when weighing your options for future career paths.
Key Difference Between Mechanical Engineering And Software Engineering
Let’s start by highlighting the key differences between these two career paths in terms of education requirements, salary, job outlook, and future prospects.
1. Education Requirements
One needs a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology or mechanical engineering to become a qualified mechanical engineer. These programs focus more on math, science, engineering, and design than anything else. In addition, they are tailored more on the practical side than on the theoretical side. Many colleges and universities offer a variety of internship or co-op programs so that when you graduate, you will be well-equipped to enter the workforce.
While most engineering programs take four years, some colleges offer programs that last up to six years for a student to get a master’s degree along with their bachelor’s degree. If you are planning to become an engineer, get accreditation from the American Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). Those who select schools that the ABET does not accredit might not be able to become licensed engineers.
Computer programmers and engineers don’t need to have as much technical knowledge as their mechanical engineering counterparts. They may have a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree in computer science, or any other related field. Specializing in a few different programming languages is vital to getting a good software engineering job.
Schools teach students to code in several languages, and then they start to specialize in one or more of those languages. Getting good at writing code and putting it through a few tests can help programmers learn different programming languages faster.
Studying in a school that offers a program that allows students to work while they are studying or to have a paid internship is invaluable because employers, in most cases, only hire employees who already have some work experience. Learning new programming languages and embracing recent industry trends are used in the industry is key to programming success. Suppose a programmer or software engineer specializes in a particular field, such as healthcare or finance. In that case, they may want to take courses in those fields to better understand end users’ needs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers or software engineers were paid an average of $86,550 in 2019. That meant half of all these engineers earned more than this amount, while half of them earned less. The top 10% of these engineers earned more than $140,250 each year, and the lowest 10% earned less than $50,150 each year. The highest-paying industries in that year were:
- Software publishers who got $98,560
- Insurance and financial service providers who earned $85,340
- The manufacturing sector got $86,620
- Computer systems designer who earned $85,640
On the other hand, in 2019, mechanical engineers earned an average of $88,430 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Top earners in the US made more than $138,020 per year, while the lowest earned less than $57,130 per year. The industries that paid the most in 2019, according to their median wage, were:
- Scientific research and development field who earned $101,780
- Electronic manufacturing got $95,260
- Architectural engineering earned $90,560
- Transportation and manufacturing who got $90,350
- Machinery manufacturing who earned $80,720
These numbers show that these professionals earn almost the same in different industries.
3. Job Outlooks
There were 316,300 jobs in mechanical engineering in the United States in the same year. BLS estimated that the number of mechanical engineers jobs was bound to increase by about four percent in the next decade, which is about average for all job opportunities across the United States. However, there will be significant differences between different industries, and some will see job opportunities increase while others will see the same jobs decline.
There were 213,900 software engineering or programming job opportunities across the country in 2019. The BLS projected that these jobs would decline by nine percent over the next decade. This decline was attributed to the fact that people are increasingly considering outsourcing their jobs overseas because living and working conditions in other countries are generally cheaper and more stable. However, this outsourcing trend may or may not be sustainable over the long term.
It will depend on how much companies save by hiring software engineers or programmers from overseas, compared with the increased costs involved in managing their in-house engineers.
4. The Future
There was some concern that the need for mechanical engineers would decrease due to the increasing influence of computers. There are no indications that this will happen, but it will happen very quickly if technology changes dramatically. Therefore, mechanical engineers ought to be constantly updated to stay on top of changes that are happening around the world.
There are also a lot of opportunities for those who are highly educated. For instance, in electric vehicles, mechanical engineers will tackle new challenges like creating torque, reducing energy use, designing new electrical systems, and working on designing new robots and assembly lines.
In manufacturing, even the technologies used in modern manufacturing plants are constantly being improved to keep up with consumer demand and keep costs as low as possible. It is becoming increasingly difficult for manufacturers to find employees with good mechanical parts manufacturing experience. Technology is changing rapidly, and as a result, workers who have more recent training could find themselves in a better position than those who have not kept up with the times.
In the Nanoengineering industry, components, tools, and resources developed using nanotechnology will require mechanical engineers to put them to work. This includes stronger composite materials, renewable energy storage systems, and new biomedical devices.
In IT today, the only constant seems to change. Many experts had predicted that software developers or engineers would see major changes in the next few years, but it appears that this is occurring now. The change is prompted in no small part by the speed at which new technologies were being developed in the run-up to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Much of this is due to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), which will enable programmers to write less code in general and focus more on their core duties
Artificial intelligence (AI) experts will be very much in demand over the next several years, as AI is now integrated into many other technologies. For example, if robots start to write programs using Python, it will become less repetitive and less boring to do repetitive tasks.
Software engineers will no longer have to do repetitive and mundane tasks to code as AI will soon be able to do these tasks for them. This could be a liberating thing for programmers or software engineers, as AI will eventually perform a lot of the repetitive and mundane tasks that programmers currently do. Engineers will be able to return to the days when programming was more about designing and thinking than simply typing out lines of code all day.
Which Is Better: Mechanical Engineering Or Software Engineering?
While computer science students may experience difficulties while designing CAD, the same can happen to mechanical engineering students when executing certain projects in their field of study. There is no easy way out of being either a mechanical engineer or a software engineer! It all depends on your passion, how hard you work, and what you want to achieve.
There are many companies out there in different industries that pay hefty salaries for both professionals. All you have to do is to keep yourself up to date. It’s all about doing what you love to do because if you don’t do that, your money will be meaningless.
Remember, both software and hardware need each other for things to run seamlessly. My software wouldn’t work if it weren’t for a computer, a network, a series of sensors, and a lot of data centers. However, mechanical engineering is probably more secure or lucrative than others because the barriers to entry are higher, and fewer qualified people want to work there.
In addition, software engineers are more prominent than mechanical engineers in the news, which means fewer people try hard to become mechanical engineers to get rich quickly. This can be advantageous or disadvantageous to a student depending on what they intend to achieve in life. It really depends on whether you like designing and building physical things or if you like inventing things to make them digital.
Interestingly, many mechanical engineers become better software engineers because they can visualize things clearly and efficiently. A student who can use computers to visualize how software products work and what they do is more likely to become very efficient and productive in software engineering.
Which Is Hard: Software Engineering Or Mechanical Engineering?
It depends on the type of work that you do, how much you have trained yourself, and how much you are interested in doing it. Overall, software engineering is more complex than mechanical engineering because everything is done on computers. Software engineering touches almost every field of science and engineering; this is not the case with mechanical engineering. While mechanical designs can be done on a computer, they do not have much value until they are physically made and tested in the real world.
A software engineering degree is way easier than mechanical engineering because you can easily visualize data structures and know how to write programs. The tasks you execute in software engineering don’t require you to do a lot of math because programming is not as hard as physics.
Maybe it is more about how you work than whether one discipline is easier than another. It is easy to become a software engineer if you can quickly figure out how to solve a problem using differential equations. Basically, if you can easily break big problems into small steps and if you can clearly see how to use various kinds of data structures, software engineering may sound like an easier career path.
Is Mechanical Engineering The Same As Software Engineering?
Like mechanical engineering, software engineering has to take a mathematical approach to come to a conclusion.
Mechanical engineering is an old and diverse engineering discipline that applies various mathematics, physics, and chemistry principles to design and build equipment or machinery. Mechanical engineering designs and builds things that move and are durable. The field also provides the basis for more advanced manufacturing and engineering activities. It entails applying engineering principles and problem-solving techniques to products that are designed to operate efficiently and safely. Therefore, mechanical engineers are professionals who can design machines that move quickly and efficiently, using the concepts of momentum and force to create efficient machinery that works reliably, securely, and effectively.
Software engineering is a branch of computer science that involves designing and developing software to help businesses run more efficiently. This includes programs that are used to run computers and software that will be used to build applications that will aid users. Applications software consists of user-oriented programs that help businesses manage their business operations. It includes programs that help people create web pages, store their data, etc.
There is a lot of investment required in the world of software engineering presently, considering the increase in complexity of technology, an increasing reliance on mobile technology, and emerging industries. Demand for skilled and qualified software engineers is growing as a result of the changing economic climate and, as a result, the need for technology solutions. Today, billions of devices are connected to the internet and constantly storing and sharing data, and all industries are rapidly becoming technology-driven.
Software engineers are professionals who are equipped with extensive experience in computer programming languages and operating systems, and they apply engineering principles to the creation of software. Software engineers apply these critical principles of systems engineering to every step of the software or application development process. This enables them to create custom systems for individual customers.
In the same way, a civil engineer will make sure that a good foundation properly supports a bridge. Software engineers take the time to meticulously study the requirements and plan the development process so that each stage of the development process is managed well.
It helps to know that mechanical engineers are usually tasked with designing, developing, and testing mechanical devices such as machines, engines, and tools. On the other hand, software engineers or computer programmers are tasked with designing, writing, and testing computer software solutions. But, while mechanical engineers use software and various computerized applications when working on devices, software engineers write the software that those mechanical engineers use to execute their projects.
Christian Rodgers is the founder and SEO of Smart Software Advice, an online publication focused on providing expert advice on various software solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. With a software development degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA, Rodgers is experienced with software development, leadership, business strategy, accounting, and operations with an emphasis on building great teams and increasing profitability.