Computer Science vs. Information Technology: Differences in Careers, Degrees, and More

You'll work with computers in both computer science and IT, but they're slightly different fields.
Woman decides between IT and computer science

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.

Computer science vs IT careers

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.

Computer science and IT salaries

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.

Read more: What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?

Computer science jobsSalary (average base pay in US, Glassdoor)IT jobsSalary (average base pay in US, Glassdoor)
Web developer$68,858Computer technician$37,990
Robotics engineer$90,624Helpdesk technician$40,837
Full stack developer$98,256Cybersecurity specialist$78,444
Software engineer$104,749System administrator$79,708
Artificial intelligence engineer$106,375Database administrator$80,772
Back end engineer$107,941Network administrator$84,570
Data scientist$114,673Cloud engineer$109,541

IT skills and computer science skills

Here’s a comparison of the things you might want to know as an IT practitioner or as a computer science professional.

Computer science skillsIT skills
Programming languages like Python, C++, HTML, CSS, JavascriptProgramming languages, especially scripting languages like Python and Powershell
Statistics, algebra, and/or calculusTroubleshooting methods
Familiarity with code sharing platforms like GitHubNetwork configuration
Understanding of the software development lifecycleSecurity infrastructure like setting up firewalls and routers
Artificial intelligence methods like machine learning and deep learning, and tools like Apache Spark and HadoopEthical hacking or penetration testing
Data analysis and database tools like SQL, MongoDB, PostgreSQL, ExcelData administration skills like SQL

Can I switch from IT into a computer science job, or vice versa?

Making a switch from a career in IT to something closer to computer science, or the opposite, is possible. You should make sure that you have the appropriate skills to make the switch. If you want to become a front end engineer, for example, you might find programming languages like HTML, CSS, and Javascript useful to know. You can get an idea of what skills you’ll need for a new position by looking at several job descriptions. From there, you can take courses, enroll in a bootcamp, or find other ways to gain the skills you need.

Getting started in IT and computer science

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.

Computer science vs IT degrees

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.

Which should I pick?

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.

Get started on Coursera

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.

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