Information Systems versus Computer Science

A question often asked by prospective students and others is, "What is the difference between "information systems" and "computer science"? The information below should help clarify the differences between the two fields.

Information Systems

Information systems (IS) is the application of information technology to organizational and managerial needs. An IS major needs to be aware of what information technology can contribute to an organization and how to bring that solution to fruition. The strength of an IS major lies in his/her ability to apply the knowledge of information systems and technology to help organizations compete more successfully in the marketplace or to streamline current operations.

IS professionals utilize their business-based backgrounds in working with managers and users to specify technology needs that benefits the organization. In addition, they write programs to codify that technology and later manage it. As such, the IS professional might develop code for business transaction processing systems, client/server systems or end-user support systems; they might implement such systems in languages as COBOL, C++, Visual Basic or JAVA.

IS graduates also design and administer databases and data warehouses, analyze and implement enterprise-wide solutions to information problems and manage telecommunications efforts. Some IS graduates implement and manage corporate-wide Intranets. Finally, IS graduates can also provide project management skills, technical writing or training by melding their knowledge of information technology and business processes.

Computer Science

Computer science (CS) grew out of the disciplines of mathematics and electrical engineering. It refers to the study of the machine itself and its use as a tool in various disciplines. A major in CS will know a considerable amount of mathematics which will help in technological applications such as computer networking, image processing, database design and development and artificial intelligence. A computer scientists's strength lies in his or her ability to solve problems of efficiency and overall performance of applications from a machine perspective, and an overall technical orientation to problem-solving.

A computer scientist focuses on the development of solutions to problems taking into account the limitations of the machine and its resources, as well as how to best utilize the resources. He/she should be able to develop algorithms and data structures that can work within the constraints of available hardware and software to produce an acceptable solution. Most of the development by such people will be done in high level languages, such as C and C++, that can take full advantage of the system hardware and software resources.