What is the Difference Between an IT Degree and a Computer Science Degree?

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Many people use the term information technology (IT) broadly, but there is a marked difference between IT and computer science degree programs. Both businesses and the general public have benefited greatly from advancements in technology. For example, electronic commerce has expanded the market of many businesses, and nano computing technology has made it possible for society to take full-size computing and communication devices with them everywhere.

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So, are information technologists or computer scientists the people to thank for these advancements? The answer is that they both contribute to the technological progress experienced by nearly everyone. Here is an overview of both professions’ job functions, the types of courses taken during computer science and IT degree programs, and the employment outlook for each career path.

Functions of Information Technologists and Computer Scientists

Computer Scientists develop and produce the hard and software while the Info Techs apply the end results to fit your business needs.

The fields of computer science and information technology are closely related, so it’s tempting to use these labels interchangeably. If you’re seriously considering going into one of these industries, though, you should be aware of the major differences between them. That’s because your decision to pursue a degree in either IT or computer science will not only affect your coursework in college, but also the jobs you’re qualified for after graduation.

The primary difference between the functions of information technologists and computer scientists deals with the stage at which these professionals are involved with the development and application of new technologies. While it is typically the job of a computer scientist to create new technologies and enhance or upgrade existing technologies, information technologists then apply these innovations to real-world scenarios such as business and consumer applications, for instance.

Information technologists assess business needs and apply technology solutions to meet those requirements. These technology solutions can include computer hardware upgrades, enterprise resource planning software, or a more secure wide area network. They can also work with more senior-level technical architects and business leaders to identify cost-saving technology initiatives that streamline company processes and physical assets like virtualization and cloud computing. Computer scientists design, develop, test, and produce computers and their subsystems. They understand the details about how computer hardware and software work together to process data. For instance, computer scientists often modify existing software when proprietary computer upgrades are identified as solutions to meet specific business needs.

As you can see, the distinctions between the fields of computer science and information technology can become quite complex and nuanced. To decide whether to pursue a degree in one or the other, though, you need only ask yourself a simple question: Do you want to be involved in the process of designing new technologies or implementing them?

Curricula of Information Technology and Computer Science Degree Programs

Since the roles of computer scientists and information technologists differ fundamentally, it follows that the formal training for these positions would also be somewhat different. Still, you can expect these related degree programs to share some similarities as well. In this section, we’ll discuss curriculum details for degree plans in computer science and IT separately, noting both similarities and differences between the two academic programs.

Information Technology (IT) Degree Plans

Degree programs for IT can range from two year associate’s degrees to advanced degrees in the discipline. Some common course topics within many IT degree programs include:

  • introduction to business systems
  • computer applications
  • systems analysis
  • networking
  • logic
  • troubleshooting

Although IT degree curricula often include fundamental software and hardware development courses, advanced programming topics are rarely discussed. Most IT degree programs also include a heavy workload of network engineering and administrator courses in Windows servers, Linux administration, and Cisco network routing. Courses in professional business communication and project management are also prominently seen in most IT degree curricula.

Computer Science Degree Plans

Degree programs for computer science majors include those from the undergraduate level to the doctoral level. Typical course topics include:

  • computer architecture
  • algorithms
  • assembly language programming
  • object-oriented programming
  • fundamentals of software engineering

Computer science degree programs tend to focus on more technical topics as opposed to an information technology curriculum. These academic programs have a strong emphasis on mathematics and engineering as well as “back-end” topics such as computer programming, data structures, and architecture. The field of computer science is broad, so many colleges and universities enable their students to specialize in a sub-field of the discipline through concentrations and specialization tracks. Some of these areas of emphasis may include machine intelligence, software engineering, security, programming language, and database and information systems, for example.

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