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Comparing the differences between computer science, information technology, and cyber security

At a glance

  • While there are similarities between computer science, cybersecurity and information technology (IT), it is important to understand the differences in the work, possible jobs and education required before pursuing one of these career paths.
  • Certificates can help new and established IT professionals remain relevant in their field. Some of the most valuable and best for beginners are listed in this article.
  • University of Phoenix offers degrees in the fields of computer science, cybersecurity and (IT) as well as certificate offerings.

Entering into the world of technology careers

If you’re interested in entering into the world of information technology (IT), computers or any other cyber-related field, you may be a little confused about the differences between IT, computer science and cybersecurity jobs and degree programs. You’re not alone. Terms like "information technology" and "cybersecurity" are closely related and sometimes used interchangeably. We’ll break down what you need to know about these career paths, what each role typically entails and what skills you’ll need to be a competitive player in the field.

Information technology, computer science and cybersecurity — what’s the difference?

Are you trying to decide between an information technology vs. computer science vs. cybersecurity degree?

First off, all three live under the technology umbrella. Generally, many IT, computer science and cybersecurity jobs may be found within tech companies. But, companies outside the industry also offer those jobs.

Any modern business that uses computers, Wi-Fi and connected devices may find having an IT, computer science or cybersecurity professional on staff is an important necessity. Such technology specialists work at a range of businesses. These can include publishing companies and medical clinics to financial institutions and small manufacturing firms.

Aside from their shared technical background, IT, computer science and cybersecurity roles don’t have a lot in common. An IT job often involves "fixing" computers for people within a company experiencing slow load times, glitches, compromised email accounts or other tech-related issues. Information technology specialists can also be responsible for maintaining company servers. At an educational institution, for example, those servers affect teacher and student email accounts, logins and software to power online curriculum.

An employee with a computer science background, meanwhile, usually works more in analytics and development. Rather than repairing individual computers, in other words, they focus on big-picture projects like software development, computer architecture and programming.

Finally, employers typically ask cybersecurity professionals to protect computer systems and networks from outside attacks. These attacks can include phishing, hacking, ransomware, browser hijacking and other threats that could paralyze a computer or an entire network — literally. In some cases, bad actors will hold for ransom certain data or use of the technology itself.

Pursuing a career in information technology

If you’re thinking about becoming part of the "IT crowd," you may be striking while the iron is hot. This is because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), "employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 11 percent" between 2019 and 2029. This rate outpaces many other fields.

BLS chalks up the growing demand to larger companies' need for help with cloud computing problems and storage. Additionally, the ever-widening use of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and other connected devices has increased demand.

The median annual wage for computer and information technology jobs was, according to the same BLS report, $91,250 in 2020. That’s more than double the median salary for all the occupations the government surveyed. (Salaries are dependent on location, competition, education and training, and are not guaranteed for University of Phoenix graduates.)

With a computer science degree, careers include IT analyst, software developer and applications developer. For cybersecurity experts, careers include information security analyst, data security administrator, and computer and information systems manager. Information technology jobs are computing services director, information systems supervisor and computer systems analyst.

Pursuing a career in computer science

A bachelor’s degree program in computer science focuses on information technology hardware and software. Computer science majors, once in a role geared to their special training, may focus on programming. They may also conduct testing — trying out various issues that might arise to see if the device processes the request or solves the issue and continues to function normally.

As a computer science specialist, you may work closely with other members of your field on problems with emerging technologies. For example, you might explore how to resolve a glitch in a new piece of software.

After earning your Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree from an accredited university, keep an eye out for job opportunities as a data scientist, web developer, software tester, systems analyst, network architect, database administrator or information security analyst. And if none of these fits the bill, there are plenty of other options.

Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree holders earned a median annual salary of $93,730 in 2020 as computer systems analysts, according to BLS. (Career outcomes and salaries are not specific to University of Phoenix graduates and depend on many factors, including experience and location.)

Pursuing a career in cybersecurity

Cybersecurity has become so crucial to technology and to almost every business in the 21st century that it now has its own degree program. Previously, people interested in cyber protection and security began their career by earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Today, however, there is a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity degree tailored specifically to this field.

Cybersecurity experts apply their backgrounds in mathematics, science and engineering to solve crippling problems. They also prevent unauthorized access by individuals, state actors and others who seek to disrupt, exploit or otherwise wreak havoc.

BLS reports that the median annual salary for an information security analyst in 2020 was $103,590. Comparing a computer science vs. cybersecurity salary, the data suggests cybersecurity professionals may earn more. However, all salaries depend on experience, education, location and other factors.

According to BLS, "Most information security analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field." However, the government says, companies like to hire cybersecurity analysts and professionals with related experience in the field or a similar occupation.

A cybersecurity expert may also work in a computer science field to assist teams with security precautions and analyses of new products for security flaws and other problems.

What IT certificates should I get?

If you’re thinking of breaking into information technology (better known as IT) or you’re already in the IT field, certificate programs can be useful for enhancing your knowledge, earning certain credentials or simply staying current on the latest technology.

There are several ways to earn an IT certificate, including online and in-person programs, and it’s important to consider which is best for you as you take this first step toward a career in cybersecurity, computer networking, computer forensics, software development or entry-level IT.

There’s also the added advantage that certificate programs can help distinguish you in a sea of IT professionals. Read on to learn about the online certificate programs that may be available to you, the skills you’ll learn and how these can help enhance your career.

What are the best IT certificates for beginners?

It may be especially difficult to determine which IT certificate training or course you should start with. Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. However, for a good entry-level start, IT professionals should look for certificates below the A+ level.

Once you’ve completed a course, you should have a better idea of what you still need to learn and, if you’ve figured out which specialty you want to focus on, you may want to sign up for a second program that focuses on that specialty.

Some entry-level certificates to consider are:

  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • AWS Cloud Practitioner
  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+)

What are the most valuable IT certificates?

Some information technology jobs require a certain IT certificate. For instance, a cybersecurity-focused job posting may request applicants with a cybersecurity certificate or a computer forensics certificate.

Some of the top IT security certificates and general IT certificates are:

Cybersecurity certificate

There are several excellent cybersecurity certificate courses out there, including online cybersecurity certificate programs. These include:

First, a Cybersecurity Policy and Governance Certificate helps students develop tools and skills they’ll need to help protect agencies and companies in the private or public sector from data loss and other risks of cyberattacks. Graduates of this program are educationally prepared to sit for the EC-Council Certified Chief Information Security Officer (CCISO) exam upon completion. (At some online universities, credits in this certificate program may be applied toward an optional Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree program.)

Second, an Advanced Cybersecurity Certificate is a good option for IT professionals who have experience in the cybersecurity world or have completed other, basic cybersecurity certificate programs.

Third, a Cyber and Network Defense Certificate is an undergraduate course that focuses on the crucial area of preventing cyberattacks, which can mitigate damage and potentially save a company substantial financial losses and the threat of negative publicity.

Cloud architect and networking certificate

A Cloud Computing Certificate is especially relevant in today’s data-focused, IT-driven world. Some may find it easy to upload and update data in "the cloud" (external, virtual storage). However, businesses still depend on qualified professionals to do the hard part: set up all the automated uploading and other cloud computing systems. With a Certificate in Cloud Computing, students can gain the foundational knowledge and skills to help organizations build and manage their cloud services. Not only is this aspect of IT sometimes a full-time job, it can require an entire department at some major corporations.

Additionally, another option is an Advanced Networking Certificate, which is almost exactly what it sounds like: a way to deep dive into network solutions. Students in these courses tackle network protocols, operating systems and network architecture. they may also learn design and management. Many of these classes are available online and can help give budding IT professionals a boost in expertise.

To that end, future software developers might consider getting an Advanced Software Developer Certificate to better compete in that field. This undergraduate certificate program delves into programming languages and software architecture basics. Moreover, it typically lasts at least seven months and helps prepare students for C# and C++ certificate exams.

Computer forensics certificate

Have you ever heard of digital forensics? In the cybersecurity world, it’s an essential aspect of every major company’s security measures. Organizations task digital forensics professionals with planning, implementing and monitoring technological security settings and initiatives. This certificate is designed for IT professionals who are interested in pursuing a role as a cybersecurity specialist. Therefore, a Cybersecurity Digital Forensics Certificate may be the right first step!

Network forensics is similar: A Cybersecurity Network Forensics Certificate course focuses on how to keep systems safe from attack. Areas of instruction include teaching students how to conduct network penetration tests and handle and respond to security incidents. Also, they may analyze the vulnerability of networked computers.

What do IT certificate holders typically earn after graduation?

Experienced and trained IT professionals may, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earn a wide range of annual incomes. This may depend on the location of the employer, the size of the company, the background and qualifications of the applicant, and several other factors. For example, an information security analyst earned a median salary of $103,590 in 2020. Comparatively, computer and information systems managers earned a median salary of $151,150 in the same year.

Equally important is the strong predicted job growth. For example, BLS estimates jobs for computer and information systems managers will grow by 10% between 2019 and 2029.

According to BLS, "Employment growth will result from the need to bolster cybersecurity in computer and information systems used by businesses. Industries such as retail trade will need to implement more robust security policies as cyber threats increase."

Organizations consider some IT certificates as the industry standard. In other words, these can be critical and can help professionals grow in their career. Upskilling helps you stand out and remain relevant in your field. With this in mind, certificates can offer a speedy way to add to your skills. Best of all, students can complete certificates online, often as part of an IT degree program.

Earning a degree in Cybersecurity, Computer Science or Information Technology

BLS and other sources recommend a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field for cybersecurity analyst, computer science professional and IT expert roles. A bachelor's degree is extremely beneficial to your career prospects,. It can also increase your ability to land a role in your chosen field.

If you’re interested in pursuing a degree in one of these three fields, learn more about University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree and Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity.  Students can earn these degrees in approximately four years. They require 120 credits to complete. The University also offers certificates to help experts specialize and stay relevant in the industry.

To learn more, visit our page for online information technology degrees.

Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

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