Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Computer Science Vs IT: Which is better?

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” Renowned computer scientist Edsger W Dijkstra made this observation. Computer science engineers are involved in many aspects of computing, from the design of individual microprocessors, personal computers and supercomputers to circuit design and writing software that powers them.

They are also suited for robotics research, which relies heavily on using digital systems to control and monitor electrical systems like motors and sensors. Information Technology (IT) deals with the use of electronic computers and computer software to store, protect, process, transmit and securely retrieve information. IT is a general term that describes any technology that helps to produce, manipulate, store, and/or communicate information.

IT professionals perform a variety of duties that range from installing applications to designing complex computer networks and information databases. They are suited for data management, networking, engineering computer hardware, database and software design, as well as the management and administration of entire systems.

The differences

The CS engineering programme usually deals with how to build micro processors, how to write a compiler etc. IT is the business side of computers - usually dealing with databases, business, and accounting. One way to think of it is that IT deals with the application of computing technology to real life processes and CSE deals with the “science” that facilitates these applications.

Further, while CSE focuses on the foundation of computing, IT as a discipline focuses on satisfying the computing technology needs of organisations. So, in a continuum between principles and application, IT focuses more on application, with the goal being to apply knowledge of computing sciences for solving problems. However, as the foundations of IT are in Computer Science, Indian universities and colleges deem it feasible to have a CS-based IT programme. This allows a graduate of the programme to choose a career in CS or IT, based on their choice and availability of job prospects. And mostly corporates make little difference between these disciplines while selecting students.

The nature of the industry requirements in the country also plays a crucial role. Since most of the companies in this sector focus on application development and maintainance at best, the need for hard core reserach level employees is minimal. So even if a student is taught subjects like chip design architecture, machine level languages , his or her chances of getting a career in that domain is minimal.

Snapshot of the curriculum

Ultimately, what would really matter to you as a student is how far the course curriculum is different.

Most of the top-notch institutes (including all the IITs, IIITs and most NITs) have either CSE or IT but not both. This clearly signals that the difference between the two branches is not significant enough to warrant their simultaneous presence on a campus, at least in the eyes of the top engineering colleges of the country. Further more, for the few colleges that do offer both IT and CSE, the differences in the course structure are minimal.

For example, at Delhi’s IP University only one course differs between the two branches across their seven engineering colleges. At Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology – Allahabad, this figure increases to two and at West Bengal University of Technology to five subjects. The message is loud and clear - no company discriminates between hiring a CSE or IT student from the same campus.

The verdict

If you have to choose between IT and CSE and have both options in hand, it would be wise to decide it on the basis of the reputation and standing of the college rather than the branch. If you have to choose between IT and CSE in the same college, see what excites you more, design of computers and computing systems or using computers to solve information management requirements of organisations. Good luck!