I've known for a long time that whatever field I ended up in, I wanted it to involve working with and on computers. However, when I first came to Iowa State, that was about all I was sure of. The difference between Computer Engineering and Computer Science seemed very blurry, and I wasn't at all sure which field was better suited to my desires. Over my 4 years here at Iowa State, the disctinction has become clearer; luckily, I made the right choice. The curious may review my original Educational Objective Statement and see how clearly I my interests pointed in the engineering direction; if you're so inclined, feel free to chuckle. Even I don't see how I could have been so unsure.

I suppose it must have been because, superficially, engineers look a lot like scientists. They take a lot of the same classes, do a lot of the same tasks in their daily routine, and very often share a lot of the same interests. Furthermore, both tend speak a language so filled with jargon that it's nearly incomprehensible to the uninitiated; yet they seem to understand each other. However, the fact that the differences between the two groups are subtle does not make them less important in understanding the distinctly different roles of the scientist and the engineer.

Scientists trade in ideas, radically new approaches, and breakthroughs. Engineers trade in products, or at least designs which will soon become products. Thus, the difficulties of the two groups have far less in common than the simple comparison might indicate; scientists can, for the most part, leave aside the issue of end-users. This is not a luxury engineers often share; instead, the engineer's purpose is to bring the fruits of such science to the average individual in a way which is simple, reliable, and safe.

I say this, though, with no ill will; every grand new idea must have a beginning, and engineers certainly have been known to experiments, and to fail. I do, howver, find it to be an important step in my professional development to have finally recognize the fundameental difference between the two professions, and decided which one is to be my focus.


Engineers, like most other professionals, frequently find themselves on mixed teams containing both technical and nontechnical members. Integrating technology into products that benefit ordinary users requires a broad view of the goals of a project; simply knowing the latest & greatest new technologies is far from sufficient.