Archive for February 26th, 2008

Information Technology

Information Technology is to Computer Science as a Mechanic is to Mechanical Engineering.

I know it isn’t really that simple. IT is more like being a mechanic and a civil engineer who specializes in transportation systems. I’m at the mechanics right now paying them $200 to hook up a gadget to read the onboard diagnostic system, and so I’m thinking about my favorite analogy.

When I was teaching high school, there was this big push to get kids interested in IT. A lot of colleges were adding programs specifically for IT. That is great and all, but high school students and teachers don’t generally understand the difference.

There are three main types of people you need (there are more, but I’m simplifying today): computer engineers, computer scientists, and system administrators. A computer engineer designs hardware. These are the people who understand all the intricacies of the motherboard, cpu, hard drives, memory, etc. They have a strong mix of electrical engineering and some mechanical engineering.

The computer scientists write the software. This is a wide range of stuff from embedded systems, operating systems, to applications. Schoolwork is often very theoretical learning about algorithms and programming languages. As a side note, there are many self-taught programmers. This is an interesting field in that a degree doesn’t necessarily make you good at applying the theories into shippable applications. If you are a computer scientist, the best thing you could do for yourself is to create a portfolio of your work. Employers love to see that you’ve gone above and beyond your classwork to creating applications that you’ve shipped.

Information Technology encompasses the rest. These are the people you need to keep your computer running, to get it on the Internet, to network large corporate systems and to get a coherent system of applications to solve the users needs. This isn’t as much theoretical as it is practical.

I just get frustrated because people seem to confuse the three. The thing is that I wouldn’t take my car to a mechanical engineer for a tune up, nor would I ask a mechanic to design a new drive train. And I would go to either of them to create the onboard diagnostic system.