Computer Science vs. Cyber Security: Cracking the Code for Your Career

illustration of two boxing gloves with tech icons on them

If you’ve been thinking a career in technology offers exactly the kind of opportunity you want—you’re probably right! Careers in technology are so diverse and wide-spanning that the industry has something for nearly anyone.

That being said, zooming in a little closer is a necessary move if you want to place yourself on a career path in technology. Which route will you choose, and what will you need to succeed? If you find yourself wanting to compare and contrast computer science versus cyber security—read on! These two career paths offer a myriad of potential benefits and opportunities.

It’s just a matter of deciding where to start—so let’s dive in.

Computer science vs. cyber security: The basics

The first thing to note when discussing computer science and cyber security is that this isn’t quite an apples to apples comparison. Computer science is a broadly applicable field of study that’s relatively more established, whereas cyber security is more narrowly focused, with an academic discipline that dives deep into a subset of specialized skills.

Computer science has been an area of study for a long time and creates professionals who go into a wide range of careers. Computer science professionals in these roles might analyze problems to develop solutions involving computer hardware and software, apply theoretical expertise to create new technology, or design computers and the software that runs them.

They go by many names, but professionals who work in cyber security typically develop plans to safeguard computer files against modification, destruction, or disclosure; monitor current reports of computer viruses; encrypt data transmissions and erect firewalls; and perform risk assessments and execute tests of data processing system to ensure functioning of data processing activities and security measures.

Computer science vs. cyber security: Common job titles and salaries

So what types of computer science careers or cybersecurity careers are out there? To help answer that, we used job posting analysis software to identify the top job titles associated with each. Additionally, when possible we’ve incorporated salary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide you a comparison point for earning potential.

Common computer science job titles and 2018 median annual salaries1

Common cyber security job titles and 2018 median annual salaries1

Computer science vs. cyber security: Education requirements

If you want to work in any of these jobs, a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field is the number one recommendation, according to the BLS.

Choosing a specific degree will come down to the type of work you’d most like to do. Computer science degrees obviously provide a solid foundation for careers that rely heavily on computer science, programming and software development. But what should you study if you are interested in cyber security?

This is one of the major points of divergence between the two fields—computer science is a fairly well-established academic subject, while cyber security is a relatively new discipline. This means many experienced professionals in the field of cyber security tend to have academic backgrounds in broader subjects like information technology. These professionals often made the transition into cyber security through a combination of work experience, personal research and supplemental cyber security certifications to round out their qualifications. 

While this approach to paving their own way into the field is certainly commendable, the need for it is beginning to steadily fade as more cyber security degree programs are created to meet the demands of the market. “I would strongly recommend exploring higher education institutions that offer a two or four year degree in degree in cyber security,” says Sharon Rosenman, vice president of marketing for Cyberbit. “Universities that have created cyber security degrees have current and more well-rounded curriculum.”

Computer science vs. cyber security: Important skills

So what do you need to know if you’re hoping to work in either of these fields? We analyzed over 800,000 job postings asking for candidates with a degree in computer science, and over 70,000 cyber security job postings to identify some of the most sought-after skills for each.

Top five computer science skills:1

  • SQL
  • Software development
  • Java®
  • Software engineering
  • Python®

Top five cyber security skills:1

  • Information security
  • Information systems
  • Network security
  • Linux
  • Project management

Researching a specific career within computer science can give you a better idea of the important skills you’ll need. A database administrator, for example, will need skills like database design and SQL, while a software developer will need skills like Java®, C# and quality assurance testing in their wheelhouse.

Our experts in cyber security recommended a few important areas that are likely to be in high demand for the industry as well. “Incident response is one of the fastest growing and hardest to fill positions in cybersecurity,” Rosenman says. “Cyber defense requires a very specific mindset and skillset that is more akin to first responders than IT.”

Is Computer science or cyber security right for you?

Which path is right for you? No matter which way you are leaning after gathering some of this high-level information, you’ll need more research to really get a grasp of where these two exciting areas of technology can lead you.

If you’re ready to take a closer look at Computer Science, check out our article, “Is Computer Science Right For Me? Everything You Need to Know to Decide.”

If Cyber Security sounds more appealing to you, check out our article, “Why Study Cyber Security? 8 Reasons to Remember,” to learn more about the benefits of this career path. (analysis of 808,124 job postings requesting a bachelor’s degree in computer science and 72,078 cyber security analyst and engineer job postings, Oct. 01, 2018 - Sep. 30, 2019)
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed November, 2019] Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Java is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation.
Python is a registered trademark of The Python Software Foundation.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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