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Data science vs software engineering: What is the right role for you?

Hi, I’m Olga! I have years of experience in data science, most recently at eBay and now I work as an industry mentor at Pathrise, helping data scientists land a great role through technical workshops and 1-on-1s. Check out my article where I compare and contrast data science vs software engineering so you can see which is right for your skillsets and goals. Once you narrow down your job search, you can find a job in 50% less time.

If you are graduating from college or a bootcamp, transitioning careers, or just looking to break into the tech industry, you might be wondering where you fit based on your background and interests. We have helped over 1,000 people land great jobs in tech. One of the biggest issues we see comes when people are too broad in their search. It is important to focus on specific roles that match your skills, education, and experience so you can speed up your search and find the right role for you. 

If you have a programming and math background, you might be trying to decide if data science or software engineering is a better match. To help you narrow down your search, we have outlined the similarities and differences between software engineering and data science as well as included information about the skills, tools, and salaries for each role.

What is data science?

Data science is one of the fastest growing fields, especially in the tech industry. Data scientists, with the help of analysts, and engineers, collect, process, analyze, and visualize data sets. They use algorithms and programming languages like SQL and Python to come to conclusions and make recommendations for solutions to business problems. Data scientists often create decks so they can present their findings to stakeholders and team members and then run tests to prove their hypotheses and make changes as needed. Learn more about what data scientists do in our article.

What is software engineering?

One of the most well known industries in tech, software engineering encompasses everything that goes into building websites and apps. Software engineers work closely with web developers, webmasters, product designers, product managers, project managers, and external stakeholders to code and create fully functional products and platforms. A lot of software engineering time also goes into finding and squashing bugs in the programs as well as iterating on their code to create new versions and solve problems. There are many different languages that software engineers can learn, so you need to make sure you know the best programming languages for each type of role so you can narrow down your search.

Similarities and differences between data science and software engineering

Data science and software engineering are both highly technical fields that are currently in demand.


  • Candidates looking to be successful in software engineering or data science need to have a strong background in math and programming.
  • Both fields are collaborative and require soft skills along with hard skills.
  • Data scientists and software engineers should be analytical and enjoy problem-solving.


  • Data scientists need to have more knowledge of statistics while software engineers should learn, and become fluent in, at least one programming language.
  • Software engineering focuses on building websites, apps, and other products through code, often working hand-in-hand with designers and other team members.
  • Data scientists take metrics, often from those platforms and apps that the software engineers have built, and analyze the data to form conclusions and make decisions.

Photo of data science vs software engineering

Skills: Data science vs software engineering

Recruiters and hiring managers are looking to make sure that new employees will provide impact and be an asset for the team. Oftentimes they are looking for specific skills, so in order to land a great job and be successful in these roles, data scientists and software engineers should have the following skills.

Data science skills

  • Statistics
  • Probability
  • Multivariable calculus 
  • Linear algebra
  • Collecting, sorting, and analyzing data
  • Data visualization
  • Ability to create presentations and successful distill findings to technical and non-technical team members and stakeholders
  • Machine learning (especially for more advanced data scientists)
  • Programming (specifically in R, Python, and SQL)

Learn more about data science skills needed to land a great job in our article. 

Software engineering skills

  • Fluency in one or more programming language (such as Java, C++, Javascript, HTML/CSS, C#, React, Angular)
  • High level of math education or knowledge
  • Some design sensibilities (especially for front-end developers)
  • Organization
  • Analytical mindset
  • Outside the box thinker
  • Collaborative worker, typically with experience working on interdisciplinary teams
  • Ability to multitask, prioritize, and work on many different projects at once
  • Time management skills

Learn more about software engineering skills needed to land a great job in our article. 

Tools: Data science vs software engineering

Both of these fields are highly technical and require knowledge of a variety of different tools. By having these tools on your resume, you can let recruiters and hiring managers know that you have the right knowledge for the role.

Data science tools

  • Programming and database querying languages like SQL, R, Java, Python, C++, JSON 
  • Data gathering, processing, and visualization tools like Hadoop, Apache Spark, MongoDB, Geospatial, Redis
  • Statistics and data analytics tools like Microsoft Excel, TensorFlow, Tableau, MATLAB, SaS (Statistical Analysis System), KNIME, Python pandas, TensorBoard
  • Machine learning tools and technologies like Random Forests, Naive Bayes, Regression Models, PyTorch, Keras, DataRobot, BigML, RapidMiner

Learn more about data science tools needed to land a great job in our article.

Software engineering tools

  • Programming languages like Java, C++, Javascript, HTML/CSS, C#, React, Angular
  • Collaborative coding platforms like GitHub, Atom, Cloud 9, NetBeans, Node.js, Bitbucket
  • Agile project and product management tools like Jira, Asana, Notion, Discourse

Salaries: Data science vs software engineering

Since data science and software engineering are both highly technical fields, which typically require at least an undergraduate education and sometimes graduate school, you can expect the average salaries for the roles to be on the higher end of the spectrum.

Average salary for data science

According to Glassdoor, average compensation for data scientists is $117k. Data analysts, which is a position that requires a less extensive background, has an average salary of $67k. On AngelList, the average salary for a data scientist is $94k. This is likely a more well-rounded salary average because it includes startups. Learn how to increase your data science salary above the average through negotiation.

Average salary for software engineering

If you look on Glassdoor, the average compensation for software engineers is $92k. The low end of the spectrum is around $63k and the highest reported is $134k. On AngelList, the average salary for a software engineer is $91k. This includes startups, which makes it more well rounded, but neither account for geography, which can often alter compensation. Read our outline with important tips for negotiating your software engineering salary, which includes an email template you can use.

If you are looking for more guidance, check out our career guides, which outline all of the steps you need to take to land a great job, including how to optimize your resume, send compelling cold emails, prepare for behavioral interviews, practice for technical interviews, and negotiate.

If you want even more support, Pathrise is an online mentorship program that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 to optimize each step of the job search so they can land a great role. With our tips and guidance, fellows in our program see 3x as many responses to their applications, 2x higher interview scores, and a 10-20% increase in offered salary through negotiation alone.

If you want to work with our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with any aspect of your job search, join Pathrise.

Apply today.

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