By Jennifer W. Eisenberg
While we are all waiting for the revolution (or for the zombies), it is an indisputable fact that for now, the world runs on computers, and whether your interest is in Computer Science or Information Systems or Information Technology, these fields will keep growing at a faster pace than the rest of the economy until … everything falls apart. In the meantime, you’ll want to pick a career path that’s right for you (and leaves you ample spare time for disaster prepping). At first blush, the three main fields in this area–CS, IS, and IT–may all seem like names for the same field, but there are real distinctions between them.
Computer science is the most basic of these fields, using algorithms to communicate information. CS can be divided into practical and theoretical realms. The practical realm involves programming languages and computer graphics, for instance, and the theoretical realm involves things like complex computational theory and very large-scale integration. Information systems, on the other hand, is about acquiring, formatting, holding, and retrieving information. This area refers both to the computer systems that contain the information and to the people who process the information into the system. This field is a little more business and people focused than the other two on this list, though all have business applications. Information technology involves the software and hardware aspects of our technological world. If the purpose is creating, exchanging, accessing, or securing digital data, then the subject is IT.
Career paths for each field diverge fairly dramatically. So much depends on the markets available to those who have chosen one academic direction over another. With any luck, you are at a point you know where your strengths and talents lie and can use some advice as to where to apply them. The following list has been designed to clarify the finer technical differences and salary differentials.
In broad terms, Computer Science begins at the point of theory and goes through programming to the development of computer solutions. There are three main CS categories: designing and building software; developing effective ways to solve problems in computing; and creating better ways to utilize computers as well as to address challenges in the field such as computer vision, robotics, or digital forensics.
College courses required for the field of Computer Science include calculus, math electives, introduction to electronics, engineering fundamentals electives, physics/science electives, and programming abstractions. Computer science is the most math focused field on this list, and that focus intensifies across the continuum as you move from practical CS to theoretical CS. The master of science in computer science is a degree suited for abstract or academic purposes, while the master of computer science is more suited for honing skills necessary in the professional world.
Job Market for Computer Science Degrees
Jobs in the CS field for those candidates with a bachelor’s degree include software developer, software engineer, cognitive software developer, and programmer analyst. If you have a master’s degree, the following job titles are open to you: faculty positions, software developer engineer (SDE), computer scientist, security engineer, mobile applications developer, and UNIX system administrator. With a Ph.D. in the field, you will be eligible for jobs like assistant/ associate/ or full professor in a computer science department, software manager–robotics systems, senior software engineer, data scientist, computational electromagnetics software developer, or principal artificial intelligence/machine learning scientist.
Computer Science Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of computer science is expected to grow 22% between now and 2026, much faster than the average. The following list, from payscale.com, shows average computer science salaries by degree level:
- Associate’s Degree: $41,800 per year
- Bachelor’s Degree: $65,000 per year
- Master’s Degree: $92,466 per year
- Doctorate: $121,896 per year
Should I Pursue a Computer Science Degree?
You will probably be an excellent fit for the field if you are good at analysis, communication, and critical thinking. Math skills are essential, as is being detail-oriented. Another important factor would be your level of interest in the field. If you have always been interested in and involved in the “whys” and “hows” of computer technology, then it is worth your time to explore the value of obtaining a degree in computer science.
Is an online computer science degree the right fit for you? Get started by exploring our ranking of the 10 Best Online Master’s in Computer Science.
The field of information systems can be defined as programs and other operating information that helps to organize and analyze data. IS has five components: hardware, software, database, network, and people. Typically, IS performs the following five functions: input, process, output, feedback, and control. Coursework may include ethics in information technology, information systems in organization, software and hardware infrastructure concepts, enterprise architecture, telecommunications in IS, and business continuity planning. Basic skills required before entering the field include the following: information technology security and safety; coding; analytics; social media; online collaboration; basic image editing; and managing online information.
Job Market for Information Systems Degrees
Many jobs are available to applicants who hold only a bachelor’s degree, and these include health IT specialist, mobile application developer, Cloud architect, web developer, computer forensic investigator, software engineer, and IT vendor manager. Career options for those with a master’s degree are even more varied: IS security officer, assistant professor, systems administrator, information technology project manager, and senior information technology acquisition specialist. Here are a few of the job titles open for those with a Ph.D. in IS: faculty positions, computational biologist, algorithm development scientist, R & D director, and research scientist.
Information Systems Salaries
BLS projections for the field of IS for the period until 2026 is a robust 15%. Here are average salaries, from payscale.com, for the four degrees.
- Associate’s Degree: $47,100 per year
- Bachelor’s Degree: $70,334 per year
- Master’s Degree: $81,894 per year
- Doctorate: $117,919 per year
Should I Pursue an Information Systems Degree?
Only you, of course, can know which field best suits your particular needs and personality, but if you possess the traits mentioned as desirable for a career in computer science, in addition to the following traits, then a degree in information systems is likely for you: ability to learn and memorize programming languages; ability to handle multitasking; technical writing skills; and versatility.
Is an online management information systems degree the right fit for you? Get started by exploring our ranking of the 10 Best Online Master’s in Management Information Systems.
Information Technology is a business sector focused on computing and involving hardware, software, telecommunications, and anything else dealing with information transmittal. Examples of IT are data storage and programs that process, input, and output data. IT is closely concerned with machines, such as computers, but also with relevant issues, like the way computer chips are produced.
Coursework for IT may include precalculus algebra, database design and development, information design fundamentals, mobile web design and development, building better web applications, management of computer and information systems, and global tech consulting.
Job Market for Information Technology Degrees
Many IT jobs are available to those with an entry level bachelor’s degree, such as computer network architect, computer forensic analyst, software developer, IT business analyst, and IT technology consultant. For those with a master’s degree, career options expand to titles like director of IT, IT tech support, HIM analyst/systems engineer, and IT acquisition specialist. Armed with a Ph.D, you can choose from job titles like these: meteorologist, manager of analytics, information systems engineer, senior software engineer, or senior systems engineer.
Information Technology Salaries
Job growth in the field of Information Technology is projected to rise 22% for the period between now and 2026 (BLS). Average salaries in IT are desirable at every degree level, as shown in the figures below from Payscale:
- Associate’s Degree: $37,900 per year
- Bachelor’s Degree: $71,162 per year
- Master’s Degree: $90,916 per year
- Doctorate: $167,000 per year
Should I Pursue an Information Technology Degree?
Beneficial skills and attributes for this field include the ability to learn and memorize programming languages, ability to handle multitasking, tech writing skills, and versatility. In addition to college based coursework, there are dozens of vendor-specific, third-party, and vendor neutral certifications to pursue in this field that can add a little bump to your paycheck. Amazon, alone, has five certifications on offer.
Is an online information technology degree the right fit for you? Get started by exploring our ranking of the 10 Best Online Master’s in Information Technology.
Getting Started with an Online Technology Degree
If the previous information has been of use to you, you likely know which technology field you wish to study, and you are ready to undertake a particular degree. With an associate’s degree, and any certifications you obtain, you will be qualified for entry-level jobs. Fortunately, applicants who meet even minimal degree requirements for CS, IS, and IT can earn a very good salary. As in any field, however, the more advanced degrees earn higher paychecks. You must decide whether you wish to expend time and money and effort on a higher degree. If you lean toward a career in academics, for instance, a bachelor’s degree is not sufficient, and you’ll need a master’s or doctoral degree.
If you are a working adult who wishes to pursue a degree in the field of technology, you should consider obtaining your degree online rather than through a brick-and-mortar school. There are many advantages to a non-traditional school, such as the time and money you would save on transportation. Check with your employer to see if assistance is provided through tuition reimbursement. If you are already involved in work that is related to the computer field, the knowledge and skills you could be learning through an online program will definitely be sharpened and strengthened during your working hours. Your employer will be pleased to watch you apply what you are learning in the time you’re away from the job. With a degree in information science, information technology, or computer science, you will be much more valuable part of any workforce.