Data science and computer science are often conflated, but there are key differences. This guide provides comparison of two fields across required skills, tools, applications, knowledge required, and more.
Defining Data Science and Computer Science
Let’s first look at what constitutes data science and computer science.
What is Data Science?
Data science is an interdisciplinary field focused on extracting insights from data through scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and systems.
Some key aspects of data science include:
- Focus on statistics, machine learning, and data mining to discover patterns in data
- Designing and applying algorithms to produce data-driven predictions and insights
- Data warehousing, ETL, and pipeline development for data collection and analysis
- Data visualization to communicate data insights effectively
- Applying advanced analytics techniques like regression, classification, and clustering
- Expertise in tools like Python, R, SQL, Spark, Kafka, TensorFlow, etc.
Data science combines areas like statistics, computer science, and domain expertise to solve analytical problems in areas like sales, finance, healthcare, etc.
What is Computer Science?
Computer science is the study of computation, algorithms, programming, and the theoretical foundations of computing and software.
Some key aspects of computer science include:
- Designing, analyzing and optimizing computer algorithms to solve problems efficiently
- Study formal languages and automata theory used in programming languages and compilers
- Operating systems, computer architecture, and distributed computing concepts
- Building software systems through analysis, requirements specification, design, coding, and testing
- Database management, data structures, computer networks and security
- Expertise in languages like C/C++, Java, Python, etc. and frameworks like .NET, Spring, etc.
In essence, computer science focuses on the theoretical and technical aspects of developing software and computational systems.
Data Science VS Computer Science
Here is a comparison table highlighting 10 key differences between data science and computer science:
|Basis of Comparison
|Deriving insights from data
|Software systems, computation
|Predictive analytics for BI
|Real-world messy data
|Abstract data structures
|Applying existing algorithms
|Analyzing and optimizing algorithms
|Software engineers, IT professionals
|Data tasks, visualization, ML
|Software efficiency and robustness
|Requires understanding business domains
|Heavily statistical and probabilistic
|Not as math intensive overall
|Statistical inference from samples
|Precise computational logic
|Variable and uncertain
|Fixed and precise
Key Differences Between Data Science and Computer Science
Key differences between data science and computer science are briefly described here.
Data science focuses on extracting actionable insights from data, whereas, computer science focuses on computation, algorithms, and software systems. Building optimized systems is the primary goal.
Type of Problems
Data science tackles analytical problems for business intelligence – sales forecasts, customer segmentation, predictive maintenance, etc. Computer science addresses computational problems like search, rendering, compilers, filesystems, etc.
Data science is heavily data-oriented and deals with messy real-world data. Techniques like data cleaning, NLP, and computer vision are used to handle different data types. Computer science thinks in terms of abstract data structures and models.
Application of Algorithms
Data science applies existing algorithms as-is for predictive modeling and statistical inference. Computer science involves deep analysis, improvement, and optimization of core algorithms.
The consumers of data science output are business users and executives. Computer science targets software engineers, IT professionals, and computation systems.
Data science utilizes programming for data wrangling, visualization, and ML model development. Code optimization is not critical. Computer science focuses heavily on code efficiency, robustness, and performance.
Data science requires understanding the business domain – sales, healthcare, etc. – to identify and define the right analytical problems. Domain knowledge is not a prerequisite for core computer science.
Data science relies heavily on math, statistics, linear algebra, and calculus. Core computer science is not as math-intensive, apart from areas like cryptography, graphics, and quantum computing.
Type of Analysis
Data science performs predictive analysis on sample data to generalize for the broader population. Computer science does not involve statistical inference – the focus is on precise computational logic and flow.
Treatment of Data
Data science treats data as variable and uncertain. Statistical models capture relationships among data. Computer science views data as fixed and precise as per program logic.
Overlapping Areas Between Data Science and Computer Science
While distinct disciplines, data science and computer science share some overlapping areas and common foundations.
Understanding and implementing algorithms is important for both fields. Data science relies on ML algorithms while computer science focuses on efficient data structure design and analysis.
Both data scientists and computer scientists code programs, build APIs, maintain codebases, use version control, etc. though the programming focus differs.
Modern computer science curriculums include ML concentrations focusing on neural networks, computer vision, NLP, etc. These are core data science skills as well.
While the orientation differs, both fields require working with varied data types – structured, unstructured, time-series, graphs, etc. Big data systems are also common.
Data science models business problems and computer science models computational logic, but model building is integral to both, whether statistical, logical or process flow.
Basic math like discrete math, matrices, calculus, etc. are shared foundations, though data science utilizes more advanced statistics and probability.
Cloud platforms like AWS and Azure are ubiquitous for deploying systems designed by computer scientists and hosting data pipelines created by data engineers.
Languages like Python, Java, C++, and R are used extensively in both fields, though for different application areas like systems vs. analytics.
Career Paths and Transitions
The overlapping areas open up avenues for transition between the two fields:
From Computer Science to Data Science
A computer science graduate looking to switch to data science should pick up statistical analysis, exploratory data analysis, and machine learning skills. Learning Python libraries like Pandas, Scikit-Learn, TensorFlow, etc. is key.
From Data Science to Software Engineering
For a data science professional looking to transition to software engineering, gaining expertise in system design techniques, architectures, object-oriented programming, databases, etc. would be important.
The intersection of the two fields has also given rise to specialized roles like machine learning engineer, data platform engineer, scientific programmer, and bioinformatician.
Another option is pursuing double majors or minors in undergraduate studies to gain knowledge in both data science and computer science. This provides a strong base for specializing further through electives or graduate studies.
Experienced professionals from either background can evolve into technology leaders managing multidisciplinary teams of data scientists, engineers, designers, etc.
The Future of Data Science and Computer Science
As data and software continue to transform society, the synergy between data science and computer science will grow. Here are a few trends to expect:
- With the exponential growth of data, data science techniques will become integral to most computer science systems and solutions.
- Problems like big data processing, complex analytics, and intelligent systems require tight integration between the two domains.
- Concepts like MLOps, DataOps and AIOps will drive further convergence of data science and software engineering.
- Low code analytics, data science automation, and AutoML solutions will allow non-specialists to apply data science.
- Specialized niches will emerge at the cutting edge like quantum machine learning, intelligent robotics, and bioinformatics.
- Cloud platforms and open source ecosystems will continue to unify tools, languages, and capabilities across the two domains.
- Both fields will evolve to incorporate responsible AI practices as systems impact real-world processes and decision making.
More to read
- Introduction to Data Science
- Brief History of Data Science
- Components of Data Science
- Data Science Lifecycle
- Data Science Techniques
- 24 Skills for Data Scientist
- Data Science Languages
- Data Scientist Job Description
- 15 Data Science Applications in Real Life
- 15 Advantages of Data Science
- Statistics for Data Science
- Probability for Data Science
- Linear Algebra for Data Science
- Data Science Interview Questions and Answers
- Data Science Vs. Artificial Intelligence
- Data Science Vs. Statistics
- DevOps vs Data Science
- Best Books to learn Python for Data Science
- Best Books on Statistics for Data Science