Your Guide to Data Science vs. Software Engineering

4 min read
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Data scientists and software engineers are popular, high-paying positions that offer tremendous career growth and the ability to work within a variety of industries — but which career is right for you? In this guide, we break down all the similarities and differences between the two, including salary, education requirements, top companies hiring for these roles — and much more.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?

A data scientist possesses a combination of coding, math, statistical, analytical, and machine learning skills. Their work involves using data expertise to create impact for the organizations they work for.

Here’s a more comprehensive definition from edureka!:

“Data scientists are those who crack complex data problems with their strong expertise in certain scientific disciplines. They work with several elements related to mathematics, statistics, computer science, etc (though they may not be an expert in all these fields). They make a lot of use of the latest technologies in finding solutions and reaching conclusions that are crucial for an organization’s growth and development. Data Scientists present the data in a much more useful form as compared to the raw data available to them from structured as well as unstructured forms.”

There are two main camps of data scientists, according to Sequoia: product analysts and algorithm developers. In general, data scientists focus on data insight and the development of data products.

The role of data scientist is also a popular one, ranking #3 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Technology Jobs.

What Does a Software Engineer Do?

A software engineer develops systems and software for businesses and works with users to determine specific software needs, according to Indeed. They design, develop, and test systems or applications, in addition to recommending software upgrades.

As CareerExplorer explains: 

“A software engineer applies mathematical analysis and the principles of computer science in order to design and develop computer software. Software engineering is a branch of computer science that includes the development and building of computer systems software and applications software.” 

Data Science vs. Software Engineering Comparison Table

Let’s take a quick look at the similarities and differences between these two popular roles:

Data ScientistSoftware Engineer
Main Career FocusData-centered position that uses data to create an impact Develops systems and software for businesses and organizations 
Skills RequiredMath and statistics, programming, data visualization, data compilation, basic machine learning skills, predictive modeling, good communicationMath, science, engineer, and design techniques, strong analytical and problem-solving skills, good communication, programming, and coding languages 
Education RequirementsAn advanced degree is typically required A bachelor’s degree in a related field; an advanced degree is not typically required
Salary Range$105,000–$165,000$64,840–$174,660
Career OutlookCareer outlook for positions are expected to grow 22% between 2020 and 2030 
Companies Hiring for These Roles Fidelity Investments, Booz Allen Hamilton, Amazon, Microsoft, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The New York TimesDoorDash, Saks Fifth Avenue, Netflix, Amazon, Adobe, Capital One

Sources: LinkedIn, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster, the University of San Diego and

Main Career Focus

A data scientist is a data-centered position that uses data to create an impact. This position works with data to generate valuable business insights and solve real-world problems. A software engineer, on the other hand, works closely developing systems and software for businesses and organizations and applies engineering concepts to software development, as explained by Career Karma.

Skills Required

The skills required for both positions do overlap, specifically when it comes to knowledge of mathematics and statistics, programming and soft skills such as good communication and the ability to effectively problem solve. But there are some distinct differences, as outlined below:

Data Scientist Skills 

Compiled from KDnuggets:

  • Mathematics and statistics
  • Programming (Python and R)
  • Data wrangling and preprocessing skills
  • Data visualization
  • Good communication, being a lifelong learner, team player, business acumen, ethical skills

Other skills commonly deployed by data scientists include machine learning, predictive modeling, data visualization, text mining, programming (including Python, R, SQL, Spark, Hadoop, Julia), and many more. Data scientists also need soft skills, especially oral and written communication, to present often complex concepts to stakeholders.

Software Engineer Skills

Compiled from LiveAbout:

  • Math, science, engineering, and design techniques
  • Strong analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Experience in various programming languages
  • Fluency in one (or more) computer coding languages
  • Multi-tasking, team player, strong attention to detail

Education Requirements

When it comes to advanced education, a master’s degree is considered invaluable (if not essential) with the majority of data scientist positions requiring an advanced degree. A software engineer, on the other hand, typically needs a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as computer science) and strong programming skills. Internships are highly recommended, according to LiveAbout.

Salary Range

The outlook for all types of data-related jobs is extremely promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, management analysts earned an average of $93,000 in The salary for each position will depend on the specific job responsibilities, how much experience is required, location of the job itself and several other factors. But to give you an idea, here are some average salary ranges for each position:  

Data Scientists

Salary will also increase depending on the experience required and whether there is a supervisory role. For example, a Level 3 Data Science Manager, which typically supervises at least 10 employees, can earn anywhere from $210,000 to $275,000

>>> Looking for a complete breakdown on data scientist salaries? Learn more about high pay in this exciting, in-demand field.

Software Engineer

Career Outlook

The future for both positions is extremely favorable. The job outlook for computer and information research scientists (which include data scientists) is projected to grow 21% from 2021 to 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for software developers (which includes software engineers) is projected to grow at the same rate during the same time period.

Companies Hiring for These Roles

Since these positions are valued across most industries, you will likely see job postings for both of these positions at the same company. For example, Fidelity Investments, Facebook, and Amazon (among many others) recently listed openings for data scientists and software engineers. 

While job postings change every day, here is a snapshot of some top companies that are hiring for both positions:

Data ScientistSoftware Engineer
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • The New York Times
  • NikeMicrosoft
  • Walmart
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Tripadvisor 
  • Instagram
  • Spotify
  • NFL
  • Moderna
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Kohl’s
  • Ford Motor Company 
  • Capital One
  • Chewy
  • Wayfair
  • Apple
  • eBay
  • USAA
  • PepsiCo
  • Lincoln Financial Group
  • DoorDash
  • Adobe
  • Hulu
  • Twitter
  • Sam’s Club
  • Chewy
  • Audible
  • Groupon
  • Mastercard
  • General Motors
  • DraftKings
  • Disney Streaming
  • PayPal
  • IBM
  • Zoom
  • PlayStation
  • Massachusetts General Hospital
  •  Johnson & Johnson 
  • Boeing 
  • Zillow
  • Squarespace


What is the difference between a data scientist and software engineer?

A data scientist works with data to generate valuable business insights and solve real-world problems. A software engineer develops systems and software for businesses and organizations and applies engineering concepts to software development.

How important is a master’s degree for either position?

A master’s degree is typically not a prerequisite for a software engineer position, but it is often required to become a data scientist.

What is the average data scientist salary?

Salary will range depending on a number of factors, but the average salary is anywhere from $115,000 to $123,000 — with high-level positions earning well over $200,000.

What is the average software engineer salary?

The average salary for a software engineer is anywhere from $99,000 to $113,000, with some positions earning much more depending on the level and experience required.

What are the most popular industries for data scientists and software engineers?

These in-demand positions are available in practically every industry, including technology, retail, entertainment, sports, health care, hospitality, transportation, and finance. For example, companies hiring for these positions include Nike, Microsoft, DraftKings, The New York Times, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Twitter, which reinforces the reality that data scientists and software engineers are needed in all types of fields.

How do I know which career path is right for me?

That’s a great question! If you are more of a data-focused individual who enjoys using numbers and data to solve problems, the career of a data scientist might be a good option. A software engineer might be a better fit if you enjoy software development, programming, and coding. In either case, our enrollment advisors are always happy to help and discuss your career goals. Contact us today to get started.

Discover How an Advanced Degree Can Elevate Your Career

This career guide is brought to you by the University of San Diego — a highly regarded industry thought leader and education provider. Motivated by the challenge of helping to train current and future data scientists for the important work ahead, the University of San Diego offers this innovative, online degree program — the Master of Science in Applied Data Science — through USD’s Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. This degree program features practical, cutting-edge curriculum taught by expert instructors who share insights drawn from highly relevant industry experience.

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