Computer Science and Information and Communications Technology: What's the Difference?
People often confuse computer science and information and communications technology (ICT). While similar, they are distinct areas of study.
Whether it's a business looking to hire someone or a student trying to decide what to major in, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between computer science (CS) and information and communications technology (ICT).
It’s not unusual for these two terms to be confused, and in fact, there is a lot of overlap between them. A professional in either discipline will be familiar with most common computer programs and will be tech savvy in general.
The difference comes down to the focus of each discipline.
What are the Differences Between IT and ICT?
I know what you’re thinking. Wasn’t the article focusing on the differences between CS and ICT? Why are we talking about information technology (IT) now?
Before diving further into the key differences between CS and ICT we need to explain the macroscopic level between IT and ICT, since the first is the term that is more widely used in the world of informatics. In fact, ICT is a much broader sector that encompasses all aspects of IT along with an additional focus on the communications field.
IT experts focus on the development of apps and software, as well as the monitoring and maintenance of database systems and all the internal information infrastructures of a company. ICT expands the range of IT to connective communication technologies, and include all sides of networking, telecommunications and mobility.
However, the reason why you keep hearing the terms ICT and IT used interchangeably depends on the evolution of our communications technologies. Today, there’s no real border between communication and computers anymore. Nearly anything and any device is connected to the internet, and it’s nearly impossible to be specialized in IT without having a deeper understanding of ICT as well.
Can you imagine being an ITOps without being able to troubleshoot emails, instant messaging apps or the immense range of Internet of Things (IOT) devices?
Although ICT is, by definition, more expansive, today the two definitions tend to overlap. Having said this, let’s move to what ICT is.
What is Information and Communications Technology (ICT)?
ICT focuses on how to best employ the programs out there, usually for business needs. This means that ICT professionals need to know about existing applications, how they interact, how they are best used and how to troubleshoot problems between them.
In a nutshell, ICT (or IT) professionals are those who make practical use of the technology invented by CS engineers. They operate the infrastructures, apps, tools and operating systems required to carry out all kind of tasks needed by governments, institutions and corporations. They need a certain degree of critical thinking, and the ability to use the tools and resources at their disposal as effectively as possible.
Their focus is finding solutions, working in tandem with other operators outside their department such as digital marketing specialists, customer support professionals and human resources managers. The tasks and responsibilities of ICT professionals range from building communication networks (network architects) to prevent cybercrime (information security analysts), storing and administering data (database administrators), or troubleshooting infrastructures and perform day-to-day maintenance (system administrators).
What is Computer Science (CS)?
Where ICT and IT focus on the practical side of informatics technologies, computer science deals with its more theoretical aspects. CS is focused on creating new applications for computers. This means that computer scientists must have a deeper understanding of computers, algorithms, programming languages, theory and so on. (Read What Functional Programming Language is Best to Learn Now?)
While ICT professionals are usually technicians, CS specialists are, in fact, engineers and scientists undergoing a rigorous education more often than not. A CS specialist must know at least one (but usually more) programming language such as Python, Java, C++ or HTML.
They must code on a daily basis and know how to using advanced algorithms to invent new tools to transfer and manipulate information. Programmers and software engineers are both CS specialists that focus on creating new tools and apps that will be later used by ICT and IT professionals.
They’re a bit different from computer engineers, though, since CE must build the computer parts and make them work together. Computer scientists are generally concerned with software, operating systems and their implementation and functionality.
CS specialists can be found in a broad range of different environments, ranging from software houses, video game companies, and universities. They can focus on various tasks, such as developing and upgrading operating systems (system engineers), developing and coding apps, video game and tools (application software developers), or programming the code required by a website to work (web designers).
In contrast to ICT operators, however, they are not concerned with the day-to-day application of computer technologies. For example, if a tool’s efficiency must be improved, a CS will work on creating a patch that will upgrade the software, while an IT professional will find a way to improve the way it integrates with the current infrastructure.
Again, this is not to say that a computer scientist won’t know how to troubleshoot two conflicting programs or that an ICT professional won’t know how to program. However, each type of professional has a different focus in terms of their educational backgrounds and, as a result, different professional experiences.
It is a bit of an oversimplification, but it's not incorrect to say that computer scientists focus on building programs, while ICT professionals focus on running them.