What’s the Difference Between Computer Science and Information Technology?
Computer science and information technology serve different purposes in the greater IT industry. In this article, we’ll cover the contrasts between computer science and IT so you can select the service you need with confidence.
Where accountants once kept manual spreadsheets in Excel, we now have complex accounting software suites that help smaller teams complete workloads that used to take entire departments. In retail operations, manual inventory practices have been replaced by automated product tracking systems interconnected with point-of-sale systems. In the marketing sector, companies can better understand consumer demand and cater products and services to that need through the leveraging of data analytics. And large operations need more than a few interconnected modems to get their operations online; networking administration now encompasses not only connectivity but also security and data safety. There’s no arguing that we’re increasingly becoming reliant upon technological solutions in every industry.
This reliance translates into an 11% growth projection in occupations involved with computer and information technology from 2019 to 2029, a figure that is expected to rise in the intervening years. When we talk about the industry, however, we have to talk about it as two rough groupings of disciplines, each with unique roles to play in helping businesses in every discipline and industry meet the highly technical demands of competing in the modern economic landscape.
What is the Purpose of Computer Science?
At the core of the discipline, computer science is the mathematical side of studying computer technology. One of the primary focuses of computer science, then, revolves around understanding algorithms in order to apply them in an academic setting. However, the discipline has increasingly shifted into addressing practical business applications, opening the field up to a number of specific computer science-focused disciplines to learn more about the development of software programs and applications.
The Responsibilities of a Computer Scientist
While computer scientists fill a number of roles and responsibilities, there are two primary disciplines within computer science: software engineering and software programming. In recent years, we’ve also seen these roles expand to encompass new applications in mobile computing and machine learning.
If you look at the design and creation of modern software applications as a process, then software engineering is focused on the big picture design stage. Software engineers use the formal training they receive in advanced mathematics and computer science theory to evaluate client needs and then create blueprints laying out the solutions, acting in a sense as software architects who then oversee the development process. While they aren’t always involved in the programming process itself, it’s critical that they have an understanding of programming languages in order to lead and guide the programmers. After deliverables are finalized, software engineering teams shift focus to ongoing testing and maintenance.
Taking the blueprints and specifications laid out by the engineering team, software programmers convert concepts into working software solutions using modern programming languages. They work with code modularly, with different segments of the team building different portions of the project whole. The industries in which a programmer works determine the types of applications they build, which in turn determines which programming languages they use regularly. However, because many programming jobs are contractual or project-based, many software programmers take it upon themselves to diversify their programming skills across several languages to provide flexibility in the types of jobs they can undertake.
The Rise of Mobile Computing and Machine Learning
As we become more reliant upon mobile devices, software applications and operating systems have to be developed in order to maximize the functionality of these devices. This has led to the emergence of mobile software as a discipline in the computer science field requiring a significantly different approach to engineering and programming than standard devices. In order to engineer and program for mobile devices, professionals have had to learn how to program for new specialized architecture and solve unique end-user challenges using new programming languages or variations on existing languages.
As we become increasingly driven by the acquisition and analysis of data, we must be able to create systems that can utilize that data by learning and anticipating patterns in that data. This has led to the rise of machine learning as a computer science discipline, requiring software engineers and programmers to learn how to create complex algorithmic solutions capable of analyzing and adapting to data and input.
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What is the Purpose of Information Technology?
While computers are run by the software created by software engineers and programmers, someone has to manage the hardware and infrastructure that executes that software. Information Technology, or IT, is concerned then with creating and managing the infrastructure of computer systems and networks used for solving business problems and facilitating business communications and daily operations.
The Responsibilities of an IT Specialist
While Computer Science professionals are concerned with creating software solutions for businesses, Information Technology specialists are focused more on the infrastructure and hardware configuration solutions businesses require to operate.
Computer Networking and Administration
Working closely with the businesses they work for or contract out to, IT professionals create schematics for business networks and then deploy certified staff to execute the installation of the cabling and devices to make those networks a reality. From there, IT professionals fill any number of roles according to specialization and certifications in order to administer and oversee networks and servers, update and improve technology and manage and maintain software licensing, and ensure hardware systems remain operational and functioning according to business requirements.
Cybersecurity and Compliance
As businesses continue to leverage consumer personal data, that data lives on networks and travels from site to site and database to database. Cybersecurity has emerged as the discipline most capable of attempting to safeguard IT infrastructure from malicious actors. Different certifications have emerged according to the role and wherein which the IT infrastructure a cybersecurity expert operates, ranging from network configuration to cybersecurity, with specializations existing related to specific technologies or functions in the IT skill stack.
Facilitating a Transition to Cloud Infrastructure and Computing
In a rapidly evolving field, IT specialists are increasingly being tasked with transitioning onsite IT network solutions to managed offsite services. Cloud computing and infrastructure is less amorphous than it sounds, as it’s still computing taking place on physical machines. Instead of absorbing all of the costs and risk of doing so themselves within their own four walls, however, businesses are taking advantage of the savings and value in shifting IT offsite and accessing their data and software solutions through remote means. This not only provides increased value to businesses but allows for a degree of affordable scalability not possible when managing your IT infrastructure in-house.
Consider for a few moments your company’s tech stack. What applications and software do you use on a regular basis to solve business challenges? And think about who develops those solutions. Are they all made by the same company, and made to work seamlessly together? Unless you’ve already secured the services of a systems integration specialist, it’s not likely that your tech stack is as efficient as it could be. Through advanced software and programming methods, the field of system integrations has become extremely sought after. That’s because business leaders are increasingly streamlining operations and are constantly looking for more efficient methods by which to analyze the operation and make informed decisions.
What Hard Skills Do Computer Scientists and IT Specialists Need?
These two disciplines have fairly different relationships with technology, and therefore specialists from each field require a broad range of hard skills in order to be successful. In some cases, these skills are more beneficial to those in one field or the other, while other skills are shared across the career barrier.
Hard IT Skills
Hard Computer Science Skills
Programming Language Theory
Multiple Operating Systems (Windows, macOS and iOS, Linux)
Customer Relationship Management
Project Management Software
Natural Language Processing
Project Management Methods
Programming Integrated Development Environments
What Soft Skills Should Computer Scientists and IT Specialists Have?
As important as industry-specific hard skills might be to both disciplines, leading companies in IT and programming also require their employees to have a host of soft skills. Some of these skills apply more to one side or the other, but in many cases, soft skills are fairly common between IT and Computer Science.
Soft IT Skills
Soft Computer Science Skills
Computer Science and IT: When Should Companies Outsource?
Unless your business is a service provider in Information Technology or builds custom software solutions for clients, then it’s likely that your organization doesn’t have the resources or expertise in place to manage the information technology infrastructure and hardware for your business, or the experience to secure and manage software solutions that meet the needs of the business. Many organizations find themselves presented by these challenges and turn to outsourced services as a solution.
Outsourcing to an IT services provider will ensure a small organization can get access to high-speed network solutions as well as offsite managed cloud solutions for all of their storage and database management needs, freeing up the team to focus on acquiring more clients and increasing conversion rates.
When it comes to software solutions, businesses often use a number of platforms to execute daily operations. From accounting software to personnel management, these applications all have to be used in conjunction with one another to help the business run, but often have no natural way to communicate data back and forth. Without a software development team in-house, it’s more affordable to bring in a service provider to build a custom solution than to replace portions of your tech stack, as doing so could actually cause further compatibility issues.
Know the Difference Between Computer Science and Information Technology
Your business might not be an IT services or software development and solutions provider, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to understand that side of your business. The more digital literacy a business owner and their team have about information technology and computer science at a conceptual level, the easier it will be to recognize opportunities for a service provider to fill in and provide business-critical solutions.