Computer science and information technology (IT) are two distinct subjects, despite their many similarities. Generally, computer science refers to designing and building computers and computer programs. Information technology, on the other hand, refers to maintaining and troubleshooting those computers and their networks, systems, and databases to ensure they run smoothly.
So while working in a computer science-based job might mean you’ll create software, design websites, or gather information on visitors to a website, a career in IT can mean you’ll make sure computers are functional and secure.
The line between IT and computer science is often blurry. Sometimes working in IT will require knowledge of computer science principles, and being a programmer will mean carrying out tasks that are considered more IT-related. And sometimes jobs that are computer-science heavy, like web development or software engineering, are referred to as IT work. All of this can lead to very understandable confusion.
Here’s the basics of what you need to know:
Though there are many overlaps between computer science and IT, computer science work generally means designing and building computers and computer programs. IT work deals more with running the computers of an organization, and making sure the related networks, systems, and security are operational.
Salaries range widely for both IT and computer science-based jobs, with some average base salaries easily climbing over $100,000. Some entry-level IT work that doesn’t require a four-year degree may have lower salaries.
If you don’t have a four-year degree, it may be easier to start work in IT than in a computer science-based role.
Careers in both IT and computer science can take you in many directions, but they do have distinct paths. Jobs grounded in computer science will broadly mean working with programming languages or data to develop or improve products. Jobs in IT will focus more heavily on the operation of computers, their networks, and systems, so that others in an organization can do their work smoothly.
There are several roles that might straddle the line between computer science and IT, like cloud computing or database administration.
Salaries for both IT and computer science vary widely. Jobs that require specialized knowledge to build, program, or maintain computers can require past experience or a degree, which can lead to higher salaries. Because some generalist entry-level IT jobs often don’t require a four-year degree, they may have lower starting salaries. Here’s a sampling of salaries from various computer science and IT-related jobs.
|Computer science jobs||Salary (average base pay in US, Glassdoor)||IT jobs||Salary (average base pay in US, Glassdoor)|
|Web developer||$68,858||Computer technician||$37,990|
|Robotics engineer||$90,624||Helpdesk technician||$40,837|
|Full stack developer||$98,256||Cybersecurity specialist||$78,444|
|Software engineer||$104,749||System administrator||$79,708|
|Artificial intelligence engineer||$106,375||Database administrator||$80,772|
|Back end engineer||$107,941||Network administrator||$84,570|
|Data scientist||$114,673||Cloud engineer||$109,541|
Here’s a comparison of the things you might want to know as an IT practitioner or as a computer science professional.
|Computer science skills||IT skills|
|Statistics, algebra, and/or calculus||Troubleshooting methods|
|Familiarity with code sharing platforms like GitHub||Network configuration|
|Understanding of the software development lifecycle||Security infrastructure like setting up firewalls and routers|
|Artificial intelligence methods like machine learning and deep learning, and tools like Apache Spark and Hadoop||Ethical hacking or penetration testing|
|Data analysis and database tools like SQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, Excel||Data administration skills like SQL|
Can I switch from IT into a computer science job, or vice versa?
A degree can set you on a solid path to being competitive for many types of computer-based jobs. IT jobs however, particularly entry-level ones, might have less strict degree requirements.
If you’re looking for ways to break into IT without having studied it at college, you can look into getting an entry-level IT certification, or consider a professional certificate program like the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.
Many universities and colleges offer computer science or other related degrees like computer engineering. Some may also offer information technology degrees, or information technology specializations within computer science. So what exactly do you learn in them, and which should you pick?
Computer science degrees generally aim to teach you the basic mathematical and scientific concepts behind computers and their programs. A degree in computer science can have you designing software and hardware, learning programming languages, data structures, and artificial intelligence concepts. Computer science degrees might require mathematics, statistics, or engineering courses.
A degree or specialization in information technology can teach students essential systems and networking concepts, security practices, and application development. Similar fields of study can be called information systems.
Many of the principles underlying computer science can also be applicable to IT jobs. Computer science might be broader and prepare you for a wider field of careers. But if you know you’re interested in IT, concentrating your studies on IT concepts can be beneficial. Don’t forget there might be other related degrees you can get, like computer engineering or data science.
Both IT and computer science can lead to lucrative and engaging careers. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider a bachelor’s or master’s computer science degree offered on Coursera, or the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.