Computer Science vs. Information Technology: Decoding the Differences
You’ve got a passion for computers and the exciting, world-changing possibilities they offer. Even better? Technology professionals are some of the most sought-after workers in the job market. Today’s digital economy requires a variety of tech pros to support the computers and technology that power businesses in every industry.
You know you want to work in this impactful field. But now that you’re trying to narrow down your career goals and educational focus, things can get a little tricky. If you’ve done any research thus far, you’ve likely encountered the two main tracks: computer science and information technology.
To help you get a better understanding of computer science versus information technology, we created this helpful guide. Join us as we compare these two growing fields in some key areas that may affect your decision.
Computer science vs. information technology: Understanding the difference
Before we get too far, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the basic differences between computer science and information technology. The biggest distinction really comes down to how these fields use computers. Computer Science degree holders typically work in jobs that focus more on programming and software development. This type of work involves a fair amount of math, theory and creativity.
Information Technology degree holders tend to work in roles where they’re responsible for the design, configuration and maintenance of network hardware and servers. By nature, this is much more of hands-on field.
Computer science vs. information technology: Job outlook
When choosing an educational path, it makes a lot of sense to look into the prospects of the jobs you’ll be pursuing. Let’s take a closer look at some of the top job titles associated with computer science and information technology.
Browse the tables below to understand the types of jobs available and the projected employment growth for each, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
|Common computer science job titles||Projected employment growth (2016–2026)|
|Software applications developer||24%|
|Computer systems analyst||9%|
Computer science-related jobs fare well when it comes to projected employment growth—every position tracked by the BLS, aside from computer programmer, is above the national average of seven percent. While the computer programmer projection might give you pause, some of this may be offset by occupations like software developer and web developer seeing a surge. The line between what makes someone a computer programmer instead of a software developer isn’t particularly well-defined—so don’t fret too much. Rest assured that the skills taught in a Computer Science program are quite versatile.
|Common information technology job titles||Projected employment growth (2016–2026)|
|Computer support specialist||10%|
|Computer systems manager||12%|
As you can see, information technology-related job titles are all projected to see employment growth on par with the national average. Also of note for those looking to get started in tech is the fact that employment for one of the most common entry-level positions, computer support specialists, is projected to outpace that national average.
This shows that demand for tech professionals isn’t just reserved for workers with an expert knowledge of obscure tech trends or programming languages. Entry-level positions are seeing strong demand as well.
Computer science vs. information technology: Salary information
Another important factor to weigh when deciding which of the technology degrees to pursue is the earning potential. Let’s take a look at what the BLS reports for 2016 median annual salaries for some of the most common computer science and information technology positions.
|Common computer science job titles||Median annual salary (2016)1|
|Software applications developer||$102,280|
|Computer systems analyst||$87,220|
And for comparison, here’s the salary information for information technology-related job titles:
|Common information technology job titles||Median annual salary (2016)1|
|Computer support specialist||$52,160|
|Computer systems manager||$135,800|
The BLS reports the median annual salary for all occupations in 2016 was $37,040. It’s important to keep in mind that these numbers represent nationwide averages from workers of all education and experience-levels. Even so, you can see that both fields offer career options that come with above-average earning potential.
Computer science vs. information technology: Skills needed
If you’ve got plans to work in these fields, you’re going to need more than the typical communication, problem-solving and teamwork skills required in nearly any job. So what skills are employers looking for in tech professionals?
To help answer that, we used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 1.5 million technology job postings from the past year. The data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking from candidates pursuing computer science and information technology positions.
Here’s what we found:
|Computer science skills2||Information technology skills3|
|JAVA||Technical support / troubleshooting|
|SQL||Microsoft products (Windows, Office)|
|Microsoft C#||Project management|
|.NET programming||Hardware and software installation|
|Object-oriented analysis and design||Switches and routers|
As you can see from the table above, computer science-related jobs place a large emphasis on coding and programming skills like JAVA and C++. Information technology jobs may require some scripting and programming knowledge, but there’s a much stronger emphasis on hardware and its configuration.
Computer science vs. information technology: Which is for you?
Now here’s the big question—which tech field should you pursue? The truth is there’s no real way to provide a definitive answer for everyone. Both computer science and information technology have appealing features regarding job opportunities and earning potential. It all comes down to personal preferences.
Do you enjoy the logic and problem solving of writing code? Or would you prefer roll up your sleeves and work on troubleshooting network hardware?
Regardless of which path you decide to follow, there’s a role for you in supporting today’s ever-evolving digital economy. Learn more about the opportunities available in each of these in-demand fields:
- What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?
- What Can You Do with an Information Technology Management Degree?
- 8 New Jobs That Didn’t Exist Before the Digital Economy
1Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 1,019,674 computer science-related job postings, December 2, 2016–December 1, 2017)
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 501,835 information technology-related job postings, December 2, 2016–December 1, 2017)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018.