What is the Difference between Information Technology and Computer Science?

What is the Difference between Information Technology and Computer Science

I.T. vs. computer science: What is the difference between the two terms, and which field holds the best opportunity for a promising career? There is an overlap in the two fields, but there are some major differences, and you might be drawn to one or the other because of your personality and aptitudes.

Computer science is focused entirely on efficiently programming computers using mathematical algorithms. Jobs in computer science often require independent work.

An IT career involves installing, organizing, and maintaining computer systems as well as designing and operating networks and databases.  Information technology may appeal more to people who prefer to work in teams, or directly with clients and customers.

It is as though computer science creates building blocks, and IT stacks those blocks up to form buildings, bridges, and other structures necessary for a city to function. The “city” in the illustration is our global community. That includes businesses, health systems, recreation and art, and other elements of society that have become digitalized.

An IT career doesn’t necessarily require a computer science (CS) degree, although a CS degree opens certain doors that otherwise would not be available. IT professionals typically work in a business environment installing internal networks and computer systems and perhaps programming. Computer scientists work in a wider range of environments, ranging from businesses to universities to video game design companies. Both of these careers have excellent growth potential and high salaries, with software developers somewhat ahead of IT professionals in earnings.

A Career in Computer Science

A computer science degree gives students a rigorous education in discrete mathematics and computer science theory. Most CS graduates go on to become software developers or web programmers, and those who continue on to graduate-level schooling have the chance to do research or work in more specialized roles, such as advanced artificial intelligence programming.

“Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.” —Ray Kurzweil (Forbes, July 2017)

With a four-year CS degree, students can find employment as programmers, software engineers, or IT professionals. However, to become a software developer, graduates usually must teach themselves quite a bit of programming on their own. A CS education prepares students to choose the correct design patterns, algorithms, and data structures for programs, but most students graduate knowing only one or two programming languages, usually C++, Python, or Java. For most corporate programming jobs, C++ alone may suffice, but a professional software developer should know several other languages, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, MySQL, PHP, Python, and Java.

Some popular computer science jobs are:

Programmer: Programmers create codes for software programs using the “languages” mentioned above.

Hardware Engineer: Hardware engineers are the professionals who design computers, supervise their manufacture and installation, and do new product testing.

Software Developers, or Software Engineers: Software developers and software engineers are concerned with designing and building programs, applications, and operating systems for the computers.

Systems Managers: A systems manager job involves planning, using, and maintaining computer-related activities and coordinating technologies so that they function smoothly together. This particular job, according to the BLS, is predicted to grow by 11 percent in the next ten years.

Web Developer: Web developers design websites, both the appearance and the functioning. This involves using artistic design principles and creating links to related information.

Database Administrator: The job of a database administrator centers on building a pertinent database for an organization or business, organizing and updating data, understanding and using cloud storage, and troubleshooting.

Skills Needed

People who work in computer science designing and building computers must have project management skills that include time management and the ability to see tasks through to completion. Being able to recognize and attend to small details is vital as well. Those who are employed in information technology should have some “people skills” as well. For instance, one job in information technology is a computer support technician. For that position, people must have communication and customer service skills.

Both fields require a knowledge of programming languages, though more is needed for computer science jobs.

Education Needed for Job in Computer Science and Information Technology

There are entry-level jobs in computer science and in information technology that can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, for some of these jobs, experience and hands-on learning are as important as the college coursework. Still, the general rule is that job applicants will need at least an undergraduate degree in either computer science or information technology.

People enrolling in these programs should be detail-oriented and have an aptitude for math because mathematics is the language of computing. They must also be adept problem-solvers with critical thinking skills.

Bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences or information technology usually include courses in data structures, algorithms, network architecture, database systems, statistics, applied probability, computer engineering, mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering in addition to school or university core courses.

Top 50 Bachelor’s in Computer Science Degree Programs

There are also undergraduate certificates available in areas like cloud computing and big data.

Graduate degrees in computer science and information technology go by many names. Some of the most common are Master of Computer Science, Master of Science in Computer Science, Master of Information Technology and Computer Science, Master of Information Technology and Master of Science in Information Technology. These degrees all have the same courses in fundamentals such as applied data analytics and advanced mathematics plus specialization courses.

Top 50 Master’s in Computer Science Degree Programs

There are graduate certificates, as well, in things like advanced information technology and cybercrime investigation. These certificates are proof of advanced study in these areas of specialization and add to a resume.

With as rapidly as advances in modern technology take place, it is important to keep up with the latest trends and information in the fields of computer science and information technology.  The following journals and blogs are popular among computer science and IT professionals:

Annual Conferences are also a good way to stay informed.  Here are some popular annual IT and computer science conferences:

Professional Certifications

In addition to certifications offered by tech schools and universities, professional certifications help to make job candidates stand out to possible employers. Though there is no national organization that licenses or certifies computer scientists or information technology specialists, there are two basic types of professional certifications. One is the vendor-specific certificate and the other is the vendor-neutral Certificate.

The vendor-specific certificate is one that is awarded by a computer tech company such as Microsoft or Cisco Systems. These certificate programs teach skills in using the products of the sponsoring company. They encourage businesses to use their products, platforms, and processes by offering the courses. The result is that some companies rely solely on one brand of products and job applicants must have expertise in those products. So, a company that uses Microsoft programs would require their employees to have or to obtain Microsoft certification in those platforms or products. Cisco Systems offers the following certifications:

  • Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)
  • Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)
  • Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE)

A vendor-neutral certificate is one that is offered by an organization and does not promote any one brand. That makes it possible for anyone in the computer sciences or information technology field to gain expertise without being restricted to one employer or system.

Entry-level certificates typically do not have any prerequisite courses. Those intended for experienced professionals may require the individual to have taken certain coursework or to have a minimum level of work experience. The experience threshold shouldn’t be a problem because most employers in both fields prefer a minimum of three years’ experience in applicants anyway. These certificates generally also require the candidate to pass an exam.

The certificates take from three-to-twelve months to earn. Some are self-paced and self-directed online, and some are presented in a five-day online or face-to-face program. Self-directed certificates may cost as little as $500, and the face-to-face presentations could run into the thousands of dollars.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tends to lump computer sciences and information technology jobs together under the heading of “Computer and Information Technology Occupations.” As a whole, it predicts that employment in these types of jobs will grow by 12 percent by 2028.

Software developer jobs are projected to grow 21 percent by 2028, well above average. In 2018, the median annual salary of a developer was $105,590, with the highest-earning 10 percent making almost $167,000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest-paying employer of computer scientists is software publishers. These companies are often the developers as well. They include providers of operating systems, data refining technologies, educational programming, and even gaming.

The demand for programmers is declining. These are still, however, lucrative jobs paying a median wage of $84,280. Hardware engineers or architects earn $109,020. Database administrator jobs are expected to increase by nine percent. These professionals earn a median wage of $90,070.

Web developers, who fall at the lower end of the salary scale at $69,430, have one of the highest projected growth rates. The job demand is expected to increase by 13 percent, which is much higher than the BLS average of five-to-eight percent.

Working in Information Technology

With a two- or four-year IT degree, graduates can find work in a number of occupations, including information security, network architecture, database administration, systems administration, and computer support. However, some of these jobs require advanced computer science and programming knowledge, so graduates must enroll in specialized programs or take elective courses. For example, information security requires knowledge of discrete math and algorithms, and database administration requires knowledge of programming. Also, information security analysts usually have certifications, such as CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker) or CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).

Examples of IT jobs are:

IT Consultant: Information Technology consultants work anywhere companies rely on a digital network. To put the job simply, they research and experiment with systems to make the best and most cost-effective use of programming to meet organizational goals. Consultation is generally billed by day, by consultant. Many IT consultants work for consulting firms, but some are independent contractors.

Cloud Architect: The “cloud” is a storage place that cannot be seen or touched. It is like a virtual closet that must be kept organized and cleaned. Cloud architects do that job. The position involves a basic knowledge of operating systems and networking, programming languages, and security.

Computer Forensic Investigator: The intriguing title of computer forensic investigator refers to professionals who search for and retrieve specific data from computers. The analysis of that information is often used in criminal investigations.

Computer Security Specialist: A computer security specialist is responsible for the security of a company’s data. He designs software for specific machines and monitors the computers for security breaches like cyber-attacks and viruses, malware, and unauthorized data mining.

Health IT Specialist: Health IT specialists are the professionals in healthcare organizations like hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, and others who coordinate pertinent data concerning health records, charges and payments, referrals, and physician’s notes and other information.

In general, IT professionals need to stay abreast of new technology, and they must be very familiar with how to use operating systems and server software, including Linux, Apache, OpenSSL, Windows Server, Oracle, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server. According to the BLS, IT jobs are expected to increase 15 to 37 percent over the next ten years, with salaries ranging from $48,900 to $91,000, depending on experience and level of education.

Best Locations for Computer Jobs

Considering these two areas of technology as one entity (computer-based professions), where is the best place to look for a job?

Forbes Magazine says Washington DC is the top state for computer-related jobs. It cites the number of defense contractors and government jobs as the reason. Forbes lists New York as second on the list because of the state’s population. California comes in third on the list.

New York City recently had 8,900 job listings on Indeed.com. Some of the major entries with high salaries were for educators in universities. A portion of Manhattan is nicknamed “Silicon Alley” because of the number of tech jobs based there.

Surprisingly, the list of cities with the highest pay for these jobs is different. The highest-paying state is Washington, followed by California, Colorado, Virginia, and Massachusetts. (Source: Forbes)

It is certain that these types of jobs will be more in demand as the world becomes more technology-oriented. Milestones in computer technology are being reached quickly. In 2015, CNBC speculated that by 2020 one in ten American homes would own a robot, defined for this purpose as an “ autonomous mobile electromechanical machine.” Many people today own small self-directing vacuum robots. As a matter of fact, 20 percent of all vacuums in the world are robotic, according to TechCrunch. Most large hospitals have robotic surgical instruments. Additionally, the health records of most patients are now digital. A blog at Cisco.com says that the world has finally reached a broadcast capability of a zettabyte a year. A zettabyte is an impossibly high benchmark, conceivable to mathematicians if no one else. All of these things point to a future that is increasingly data-driven.

Check out this informative, and often entertaining, TED Talk by roboticists Paul McEuen and Marc Miskin:

IT Vs. Computer Science: Close and Interdependent

While information technology and computer science degrees can lead to similar jobs, the differences between the two are quite pronounced. Information technology professionals should enjoy installing computer systems, using software, and maintaining networks and databases, while computer scientists should enjoy mathematics and software design. In general, the relationship between information technology and computer science is quite close and interdependent. Degree programs feature many of the same core courses and differ only in the direction taken by electives. Salary is commensurate, though computer science tends to have a slight edge. The BLS and many business and tech resources lump computer science and information technology jobs together in their statistics. So, in the consideration of I.T. vs. computer science, we may well decide it is a marriage instead of a competition between two fields.

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