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

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.

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Functions of Information Technologists and Computer Scientists

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.

Employment Outlook and Job Growth for the Professions

Whether you graduate with a degree in IT or computer science, your chances of finding secure employment after graduation is promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that both of these fields are currently experiencing a “much faster than average” growth rate. Over half a million new jobs are expected to be added in this sector between 2019 and 2029.

Though there is some overlap amongst employment opportunities for graduates of computer science versus information technology degree programs, job prospects in each field generally vary.

Information technologists commonly fill roles as:

  • technical support specialists
  • business systems analysts
  • network engineers

Career Snapshot for Computer Science Degrees: Computer Systems Analyst

Often referred to as systems architects, a computer systems analyst is responsible for developing a strategy for a business’s computer systems. This type of IT professional will work closely with a company’s top executives to ensure that the technology being utilized is producing the best and most efficient results.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer systems analysts made a median annual salary of $90,920 in 2019, and job growth through 2029 is expected to be at a rate of 7 percent which is much faster than the average for all jobs surveyed.

Computer science graduates find work as:

  • software engineers
  • software developers
  • computer systems engineers

Career Snapshot for IT Degrees: Software Developer

Software developers are some of the most in-demand professionals in the computer science field. These individuals design and develop computer applications that perform various tasks for end users. Mobile apps, word processing programs, and even basic functions of a PC or laptop are the result of a software developer’s work.

The BLS stated that software developers earned a median annual salary of $107,510 in 2019. The projected job growth for the position is 22%, which is considered much faster than the average for all jobs surveyed.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Computer Science Versus Information Technology Degree Programs

If you’re considering a degree in information technology or computer science, it’s likely you have numerous questions. Whether you are trying to decide between the two, or you just want more information, you’ve come to the right place. Below, our editors have fielded some of the most commonly-asked questions about degree programs in these two related fields of study. Keep in mind that the answers provided are general in nature and not meant to represent details about any specific school or program. For information about a particular degree plan, it’s best to speak to a college or university admission counselor.

Q: Can I complete my computer science or information technology degree program online?

A: Yes. Online degree programs are available in both computer science and information technology?

Q: Are jobs in computer science and information technology in demand?

A: Yes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in these fields are growing much faster than average.

Q: Which pays more—a degree in information technology or computer science?

A: Since your pay will depend on a variety of factors, not just your degree type, it’s hard to predict which type of credential will pay more. Still, PayScale reports the average salary for professionals with a bachelor’s degree in information technology to be just over $73,000 while the average annual wage for those with a bachelor’s in computer science is over $85,000 per year.

Q: Are part-time computer and IT degree programs available?

A: Yes. Whether you study computer science or information technology, you can earn your degree on a part-time basis. Keep in mind, though, that a part-time track will most likely lengthen your time to completion.

Q: Which is harder to get: a computer science degree or information technology degree?

A: These two fields of study are comparable in terms of academic rigor. Moreover, the difficulty of a program will depend on other factors as well such as the school you attend and your prerequisite knowledge of various subjects such as mathematics, engineering, and business.

Q: What professional organizations can I join in computer science/IT?

A: Like many other aspects of computer science and information technology, the professional organizations in these two fields overlap. Some of these associations include:

  •  Computing Research Association
  • Association for Women in Computing
  • Association for Computing Machinery
  • Technology Industry Services Association
  • Association of Information Technology Professionals
  • Computer and Communications Industry Association

Conclusion

It is important that prospective students carefully examine their degree options when choosing a technology-related degree. While some of the skill sets are similar, information technologists and computer scientists’ job functions and work environment can be different. The IT and computer science degree programs that prepare them for their careers prominently highlight those similarities and differences.

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