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IT NOT CS

December 4, 2010

It seems unanimous, after speaking with more experienced academics, it is true, IT is not the same as Computer Science. I must have been in the wilderness, I did not realize that this distinction has been made in education and the difference has been made sharper than ever today. I was so focused on my research, it seems like being in a cave; I did not realized the world has moved on.

My mild investigation began when I met Leonid, a bright young computer scientist (originally from Russia), at the conference I attended in Spain. Leonid shared his shock with me that in his conference talk, almost all of his audience did not connect with him when he mentioned to them some fundamental concepts found in undergraduate computing. I think this the problem, IT education has been so widely spread that today you can get an IT degree without passing a subject on the fundamentals of programming. This is now being validated in my classrooms where I teach.

Today students of Bachelors and Masters in IT programs are given lots of choices to major in, some of these programs may slip in quality, circumventing the need to fulfill core computing discipline.If Leonid’s experience is a gauge, this trend is true internationally.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Habibu permalink
    December 23, 2010 1:09 pm

    The world of computing is one of a confusing field in academics today. It’s not like Mathematics or Biology, Chemistry or English which have clear basics to follow when developing a curriculum. It doesn’t matter whether you study Mathematics in India or US or Africa. This is not the same for computing related courses. Infact BIT or B.CS won’t be the same even in the same city.
    Infact like I always tell people who seek my advice on choice of computing course. I tell them don’t look at the title of the course; however, look at what is going to be covered in the program. I mean the subjects especially the core subject.
    IT is not CS I do agree.
    CS is about the science of computing. Understanding the what & how? e.g What is the theory behind programming and how to use the programming language to develop software/application. It’s the Theoretical foundations of information & computation, and the practical techniques of their implementation and application in computer systems. Its coverage is wide.
    For example, Programming language theory studies approaches to describe computations, while computer programming applies specific programming languages to solve specific computational problems.
    Human-computer interaction focuses on the challenges in making computers and computations useful, usable, and universally accessible to people.
    Information Technology (IT): is more on how to use computers to solve human needs. It’s about the processes, software, hardware, programming languages and data constructs.
    Supporting users on how to effectively use their data/information and turning it into knowledge. This can be done by either of the following:
    • Developing computer application
    • Developing Databases
    • Setting up networks
    • Developing websites
    • Etc.
    I hope this helps you to understand the difference between the 2 fields.
    Finally I leave you with this joke from my mentor: If you come across a person who says s/he knows everything in computing then just run away before s/he corrupts your mind because s/he basically knows nothing. The field of computing is so wide that you need to identify a specific component then become a guru in the component. e.g Java Guru or Oracle Guru … CISCO guru etc

    • December 23, 2010 1:44 pm

      Habibu,

      Thanks for your comments. I have been discussing this with people who spend their time teaching IT and with people that come from IT faculties in the unis here. There is certainly a difference between technology and science. This difference is becoming more and more prominent as time goes by. When I worked in IT, there was no CS degrees yet. It was still in the process of being formalized. Historically our computers have been built under the vision of Von Neumann, a mathematician himself. Up to now our computing device is still living under his influence. Perhaps because of this historical development at the start there were just computers and the discipline was call computing yet still dominated by people of mathematical background. I think that transition from computing to IT is significant and should be understood in a more vivid way. Computing seems to have birthed two lines of disciplines now. One stuck on the computational aspect – Computer Science, the other finds ways and means to apply this computing power to the advantage of mankind – hence, Information Technology. The question now comes to this… should someone going into IT needs to know also some basic aspects of computing such as basic programming? If one is strengthened in this aspect, would his job as an information technologist get enhanced? Today I am told that people who did not have IT degrees may get a Masters in IT without ever touching a code#!?!?

      I think there is also now a philosophical question on education. I came from the time when students are told what to learn, i.e., the teacher knows best what is needed. Today’s generation is now different. The students now dictate what they want to learn. The motives for allowing this are varied. It ranges from marrying the institutions economic interests to the point of adopting the consumer philosophy that the customer is always right and here, the student is the customer. The variations account for diversity in style and approach in giving IT education.

      I appreciate it when you mention the wideness of the field. It is no longer a river, in fact it is a lake from which various streams emanate. This observation of yours is true and that is the fact of life to which educators should adjust.

      LPC

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