Computer Science or IT: What’s the Difference, and Which Is Better for Your Career?

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Everyone is trying to choose a computer related degree at the moment! But, is IT or Computer Science right for you? Have a look and make a decision!! 

To the outside observer, IT and computer science sound like the same thing, or at least very similar things. Someone who holds either degree knows plenty about computers and seems to speak a second language that the average person cannot understand.

Despite the similarities, though, computer science and IT are very different disciplines, especially when it comes to education and earning a degree. And while either option can lead to a satisfying, fulfilling and lucrative career, they generally lead down different paths. Understanding the distinction is important because choosing the wrong degree program can change the course of your career, and make it more difficult for you to land your dream job.

Two Degrees, Defined

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To begin the discussion of the differences between the two degrees, it’s useful to define the general focus of both degrees, and highlight the key points of each program type.

Computer Science

A computer science degree focuses on computer programming, engineering, and some basic elements of IT. Programming is essentially learning to “talk” to the computer; i.e., creating code and programs so that the machine can actually function and do what you need it to do. Someone with a degree in computer science understands the design of systems, algorithms, and patterns needed for programs, and knows one or more programming language, such as C++, Java, PHP, or MySQL.

In addition to a programming background, computer science students also study engineering, which is designing and maintaining the actual hardware that keeps the whole system working.

A computer science degree also offers some training in information technology, which is the management of the network and the flow of information within it. IT training tends to focus on information security, database administration, network architecture, system administration, and support. In other words, at the risk of oversimplifying the distinction, computer science is the art of building a network or computer system, while IT is the practice of managing that system.

Information Technology Degree

But, while IT is focused primarily on using and managing infrastructure, there is some significant overlap between the two disciplines. As mentioned previously, when you earn a degree in computer science, you’ll have some experience and knowledge in IT.

And IT professionals must have some understanding of computer science, as well as programming languages, in addition to their specialized knowledge.

Overall, though, a good way to think about the difference between the two disciplines is that computer science tends to be more focused on the theoretical, with a great emphasis on mathematics and software design. IT tends to be more practical, with some focus on math and algorithms, but more dedicated to the use of applications and the management of complex systems.

So Which Is Better for Me?

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Either degree can lead to a lucrative and satisfying career. But, when you are trying to determine whether it’s better to pursue, for example, an online master’s in computer science, rather than advanced training in IT, you need to consider a few important points.

Your Overall Career Goals

Undoubtedly, you can land a great job with either degree and in some cases, either credential can qualify you for the same job. But, when selecting a degree, you need to consider what type of work you want to do in the long term.

Do you want to develop computer programs, or maintain business processes? Do you want to work more independently, as is common in computer science roles, or as part of a team interacting with a wide variety of constituents, as is common in IT.

Earnings Potential

Both IT and computer science offer higher than average salaries. But, computer science jobs have a slight edge, with earnings on average about 14 percent higher than IT, or $12,000 per year, with average salaries ranging between $74,000 and $109,000 per year, compared to IT’s average of $62,500 to $100,000 per year.

Growth Potential

This is one area where IT does have a slight advantage. Some experts consider IT to be a very marketable degree, given that demand for experienced professionals is expected to increase by 20 percent over the next decade.

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However, computer science is also seeing an increase in demand; over the next decade, the need for computer science professionals is expected to increase by 12 percent, still higher than many other fields.

No matter which path you opt to take, it’s easy to see that either option has the potential to lead to a satisfying career. Earnings potential is great in either case, and both degrees are highly relevant in today’s marketplace. In the end, it comes down to your personal interests and goals, and what you hope to accomplish with your degree.

Have you considered either of these degrees? Which do you think suits you the best? Let us know in the comments section...