Cybersecurity and software engineering are both rapidly growing fields in the field of technology. However, it can be difficult to determine what the difference is between them — and which is the right career path to pursue.

Though cybersecurity and software engineering often have a collaborative relationship, the main difference between the two is how each discipline is applied. 

Cybersecurity professionals develop embedded security systems, test for potential weaknesses, and respond to cyber attacks. 

Software engineers create and implement software programs. The most robust software programs are developed by skilled software engineers and protected by vigilant cybersecurity practices. Software engineers and cybersecurity professionals work together to generate efficient, secure software.

This guide will explain what cybersecurity and software engineering are, potential jobs for each, and why a master’s degree will likely be beneficial to your career, no matter which you choose.

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a branch of computer science focused specifically on detecting, responding to, and preventing cyber attacks. It requires a high level of technical skills to understand computer systems, networks, and data privacy. Cybersecurity professionals build platforms and programs, test for vulnerabilities in existing systems, or respond to threats as they occur.

Cybersecurity is crucial to the safety of any organization’s computing infrastructure. Every industry — including healthcare, finance, state and local governments, and fitness and hospitality — needs cybersecurity. It protects electronic data, applications, networks, and other information from online threats and hackers. 

Different Types of Cybersecurity Specializations

Just as the meaning of the internet has expanded over time, so too has the need for — and definition of — cybersecurity. As we continue to rapidly innovate, the broad field of cybersecurity has evolved to include multiple specializations adapted to the newest technologies. 

These are a few different types of cybersecurity jobs that help keep us and our systems safe:

  • Critical infrastructure security – focuses on the preparedness and response to cyber attacks involving the critical infrastructure of a region or a nation, including education, agriculture, water supply, public transportation, electricity and financial services 
  • Application security – improves safety practices to find, fix, and prevent security issues within software applications
  • Network security – protects a system’s software infrastructure by developing policies, processes, and practices to detect and monitor unauthorized access or misuse or a network
  • Cloud security – keeps systems, networks, and data safe any time internet services are involved. This includes policies, technologies, applications, and controls used to protect data, applications, services, and the infrastructure of cloud-based systems.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) security – develops standards and guidelines to improve the protection of cloud-connected systems like smart home devices

Job Responsibilities in Cybersecurity

If you’re considering a career in cybersecurity, you have a broad range of options to pick from.

 Cybersecurity experts are in high demand. Some of the career examples above may give you a few ideas of what to expect, but your responsibilities will vary depending on the type of job. Whether you’re interested in building secure platforms and programs, testing for vulnerabilities in existing systems, responding to threats as they occur, or developing broader policies to apply to larger infrastructures, there are plenty of pathways to explore. 

What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering involves designing, constructing, and maintaining software applications. Our world is increasingly reliant upon these systems, such as computer programs, applications, websites, and even video games. 

Every industry benefits from software engineering. It has become the foundation for multiple business functions and adapting to emerging technologies is important to staying ahead of the curve. Businesses, companies, and organizations rely on software engineers to provide quick, efficient, and effective solutions to the demands of today’s digital world.

Different Types of Software Engineering

Software engineering is a broad and diverse field. It includes systems programming, data structures and algorithms, cloud computing and communications, and web development. These are some examples of different types of software engineering:

  • Application software development – the process of designing and developing computer and mobile applications that perform specific functions, such as Microsoft Word and Excel, Spotify, Zoom, Slack, and internet browsers
  • System software development – creates the operating systems that allow computers and other hardware to function effectively. This typically involves the hardware and software requirements during the development process. 
  • Video game development – designs and implements engaging and interactive gaming systems by programming environments, characters, and dialogue. It includes coding all the factors that create user gameplay experience. 
  • Full-stack engineering – requires both front-end and back-end coding skills to create fully functional web apps, from the front-facing user experience to the functions behind the user interface 

Job Responsibilities in Software Engineering

Like cybersecurity, software engineering skills are in high demand. Software engineers analyze and modify existing software, as well as designing, constructing, and testing applications to meet user needs.

Some software engineers love being involved in a process from start to finish, while others prefer to focus on coding specific components. Similarly, software engineers have the option to choose between working behind the scenes, such as back-end development, or have the opportunity to work on more customer-facing projects, such as user experience. In many instances, you can find a mix of both!

Education Path for Cybersecurity

Most cybersecurity positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a similar field.

However, a master’s degree in computer science or a more specialized degree in cybersecurity can provide you with greater preparation, more career options, and better pay. While the demand for cybersecurity experts is high, the field is also competitive and a master’s degree can help you stand out.

A master’s program in cybersecurity will provide students with the knowledge and skills to plan, manage, and maintain the security of an organization’s computer infrastructure, networks, and applications. 

The cybersecurity graduate program at Harvard Extension School offers courses such as:

  • How to Assess and Communicate Risk in Information Security
  • Cryptography and Identity Management for Cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) Applications
  • Systems Programming and Machine Organization

You have the option to customize your experience and include stackable degrees or certificates, like the Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate or the Programming Graduate Certificate.

Education Path for Software Engineering

Much like cybersecurity, most software engineering career pathways benefit from a master’s degree in addition to a bachelor’s degree. 

In the computer science graduate program at Harvard Extension School, for example, you take courses that apply systematic engineering principles to the design, construction, and maintenance of large software applications in a range of industries.

Sample courses include:

  • Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science 
  • Data Structures and Algorithms 
  • Cloud Services, Infrastructure, and Computing

Consider stackable degrees like the Data Science Graduate Certificate, the Back End Web Development Graduate Certificate, and even the Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate.

Should You Pursue a Master’s in Cybersecurity or Software Engineering?

The demand for knowledgeable cybersecurity experts and proficient software engineers is at an all-time high. Technology is changing at a faster pace than ever and skilled experts are at the forefront of innovation.

While most cybersecurity and software engineering jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree can offer more options to pursue career advancement. Continuing your education with a master’s degree can open many doors, including opportunities for a higher salary, greater proficiency in your skillset, and a variety of job options across every industry. 

Which Career is Best for You?

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which career path suits your interests and strengths best. Read our blog on How to Choose a Graduate Program to get started and explore what cybersecurity and software engineering master’s programs entail.