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How Information Technology Works

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Undergraduate IT Programs
Undergraduate computer programs focus on skills such as learning applications.
Undergraduate computer programs focus on skills such as learning applications.
© Photographer: Millan | Agency: Dreamstime

In 1994, a little over 20,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded from U.S. universities in the computer and information sciences field. In 2004, that number skyrocketed to 60,000 [source: Career Voyages]. Undergraduate IT degree programs and majors can be broken down into three general categories: information science, computer science and engineering. It should be noted, however, that each of these majors overlap with each other significantly, with some courses called computer science at one school and engineering at another.

Information science, alternately called information technology, is one of the broadest and most all-encompassing IT majors. Information science majors start from the beginning, learning the common programming languages and mathematical algorithms that make hardware and software tick. Then they learn about operating systems, databases, networks and security. Once they have an understanding of how these basic systems work, they learn how to analyze the needs of an organization or business to design the best and most secure information systems [source: Princeton Review].

Information science coursework could include:

  • Programming languages (C++ is most common)
  • Networking
  • Computer systems and architecture
  • Computer hardware components
  • Software development
  • Systems analysis
  • Databases
  • Information system design
  • Business information systems

[source: Princeton Review]

While information science covers the whole process of designing information systems, computer science is focused more on solving problems -- in mathematics, physics, engineering, business, et cetera -- with computer systems and software [source: College Board]. Computer science majors will take more courses in programming than information science majors. They'll also take more math and statistical analysis courses. Computer science majors can also study human-computer interaction and emerging fields like artificial intelligence and robotics [source: Princeton Review].

Computer science coursework could include:

  • Algorithms and programming
  • Circuits and electronics
  • Calculus
  • Statistical and numerical analysis
  • Systems design
  • Software engineering
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Robotics
  • Computer-aided design

[source: Princeton Review and CollegeBoard].

Engineering is a wide-ranging major with many different concentrations. For students considering an IT career, the best engineering majors are electrical engineering and computer engineering. Computer engineering is ideal because it combines the core coursework of electrical engineering and computer science. Computer engineering majors learn how circuits work, how to build simple computers from scratch, how to program hardware and software, and how to assemble those machines into a larger networks and information systems.

Computer engineering coursework could include:

  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Microelectronic circuits
  • Algorithms and programming
  • Logic and statistics
  • Software engineering
  • Robotics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Electromagnetics
  • Information science

[source: Princeton Review].

Now let's take a look at some graduate IT programs.