Before pursuing a master’s degree in computer science, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you might wonder how it compares to degrees in other technology fields. Computer science and information technology (IT) are both fields that relate to technology. However, prospective students will find major differences in the job roles in these fields and the curriculum you would study in these distinct degree programs. To put it simply, computer science is the science of computing and programming, while information technology is the practical application of technology to store information and solve problems.
Differences in Career Paths
One difference between IT and computer science is the set of skills most relevant to each field. Both disciplines require you to have strong skills in problem-solving and analytical thinking. Skills like project management, general software knowledge and the technical skills to fix problems that arise in IT systems fit more neatly under the category of information technology. Among computer science professionals, creativity, a detail-oriented nature, communication skills and knowledge of programming languages are more important.
As you might guess, the reason these related tech-focused fields prioritize different skills is because they tend to lead to different career opportunities. Although there is some overlap, the jobs you are likely to attain with an information technology degree are different from what you can expect with a computer science degree. With a master’s in information technology degree, you might end up working as a database architect, a network engineer, an IT project manager, an IT consultant or a specialist in technical support, cybersecurity or big data.
A master’s in computer science degree generally prepares you to work in a wider variety of roles. Several of these roles are more creative in nature. You might create software applications as a software developer or software engineer. You could also make websites as a web developer. Some computer science professionals even go into hardware engineering, the design and implementation of the physical components of computer systems.
Analyst roles are also common in computer science, including job titles like computer network analyst, information security analyst and computer systems analyst. You might use your degree to work as a database administrator, a computer system architect or a computer programmer. Some roles are technician or technologist roles, while others are management positions. Computer science professionals might serve as specialists in areas like telecommunications engineering, document management and search engine optimization (SEO).
Both IT degrees and computer science degrees prepare you to work as a computer network administrator, a job that encompasses the daily responsibilities of managing a company’s computer networks, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
Differences in Coursework
In an information technology program, your core coursework is more likely to focus on the practical aspects of the foundations of information technology and the principles of computer and IT architecture. Coursework in database management systems and information security systems is also common. While IT students take some programming coursework, they may not become masters of creating code. Instead, they’re more likely to take core coursework in software development as it pertains to information technology. Information systems security is often a major focus of IT programs, as well. Potential elective courses include classes in security and in systems administration.
Core coursework in computer science programs tends to encompass classes in foundations, systems and applications. You should expect to take classes in the foundations of computer science and algorithms. Systems-focused coursework includes studies in mobile computing, distributed and multiprocessor operating systems, cryptography, software verification and testing, information assurance and knowledge representation and reasoning. You will also learn about the systems used in the security of software, networks and information. Applications-focused courses in computer science degree programs may include everything from data mining, artificial intelligence, statistical machine learning, data processing and visualization and software project management.
In both IT and computer science, students often have the opportunity to choose an area of specialization or concentration. Information technology specializations might include network administration, software analysis and development, digital investigations and information assurance and security. Computer science specializations include both theoretical areas of computer science and real-world computer amputations. They range from very tech-focused areas like artificial intelligence to more people-focused concentrations like human-computer interaction. Software theory, biocomputation, information management and analytics and computer and network security are all potential areas of focus for computer science students.
Information technology tends to emphasize the business aspects of technology more than computer science does. However, there are computer science programs that emphasize business, including master’s in computer science and business technology degrees.