General Question

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

What is Information Technology?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7857 points ) September 26th, 2010

Like the major, or subject.
Is there a difference between that and Computer Science? I’m trying to think about what major I should do.

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3 Answers

Austinlad's avatar

Big difference. Big difference. Computer science or computing science (sometimes abbreviated CS) is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation, and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems. It is frequently described as the systematic study of algorithmic processes that create, describe, and transform information. Computer science has many sub-fields; some, such as computer graphics, emphasize the computation of specific results, while others, such as computational complexity theory, study the properties of computational problems. Still others focus on the challenges in implementing computations. For example, programming language theory studies approaches to describe computations, while computer programming applies specific programming languages to solve specific computational problems, and human-computer interaction focuses on the challenges in making computers and computations useful, usable, and universally accessible to people.

Information Technology (IT) refers to anything related to computing technology, such as networking, hardware, software, the Internet, or the people that work with these technologies. Many companies have IT departments for managing the computers, networks, and other technical areas of their businesses. IT jobs include computer programming, network administration, computer engineering, Web development, technical support, and many other related occupations.

ipso's avatar

@Austinlad has it right.

Often “Computer Science” is the catch-all department at university, often housed under the Engineering department. An IS/IT degree is often nested within the Business School (or CS if they have it) but generally categorically much easier to acquire by comparison to CS.

This is different from school to school, and changes over time.

Information Technology (IT) is (I’ve found) currently the catch-all phrase in the business world for the lot, because IT has dominated all business, and thus the name of the entire larger industry.

Information Systems (IS) was an early movement, now waning (because it’s just understood) that emphasized that the entire business system should be considered when applying new technologies, most importantly the inclusion of people, which had notably been under-appreciated by engineers in the early days. You often find in consulting companies that “IS” is the product (e.g. an SAP implementation) whereas “IT” is the internal department to give you your network login and come fix your printer, among other things.

That could be the exact opposite terminology for companies that sell core technology.

But generally across all business “IT”/”IS” are either completely interchangeable or in some cases used in the exact opposite ways of how they logically should be. The only person who should really care is the decision maker who names or re-names a department.

CIO – chief information officer – more about running the business side, with departments full of technical people and systems, and vendors, and partnerships, etc.
CTO – chief technology officer – more about pure technology strategy and leadership (e.g. how should we position ourselves for what’s after the “smart phone”?) Often CS majors.

Mileage may vary, but Manager->Director-> leading up to those positions are the pinnacles of the profession; sans doing both as a dynamic CEO, or “founder” of a technology company – bought outright, or gone public – often with obscure titles like “chief bit twiddler”.

I can say that having technical chops is great, but what is more important, if you want to rise within the industry, or any industry, is understanding people and business principles. Technology is little more than an enabler of those universal disciplines that exist in all industries and sectors.

You’re going to have to do it for 40 years, unless you get lucky, so do what you love.

Many of the founders of technology companies did not have CS or IT/IS degrees. Bill Gates and Jack Ma come to mind. However, CS degree holders start off higher and generally make more money on the whole than IT/IS, because they are either better trained, smarter, or more specialized – often all of the above.

All this is personal opinion. Although based on 20 years of experience, it may be the exact opposite, in every detail, of someone else’s experience. How’s that for a blanket caveat?

mattbrowne's avatar

Information Technology is a bit like the car business. You got people who learn how to drive a car, some even learn how to change a tire. You got people who service and repair cars. You got people working at the assembly line when cars are being manufactured.

How can the role of a computer scientist be explained when we compare this to the car business? He or she is the engineer who designs the car and defines the process how cars are actually built and improved, for example to get better fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately, too many courses or programs use the label computer science. For example when teaching how to use Word or Excel. That’s not computer science. That’s learning how to drive a car.

When we look at the total number of people employed in the IT sector, less than 10% are real computer scientists. I am a computer scientist and I do work in the IT sector.

Here’s some simple advice: Become a computer scientist if you really enjoy math. If not, a career in IT can still be a very interesting option for you. Lots of jobs. Good pay.

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