A very common question we are asked is "What's the difference between computer science and information technology?" While information technology has strong roots in computer science, there are some important differences, which can help to define IT. These differences fall into professional and curricular categories.
At the professional level, the computer scientist tends to view computing from the computer's viewpoint. In contrast to the vision of information technology articulated above, the computer scientist tends to build and extend the underlying technology, while the information technologist tends to apply available technology to solve real-world problems for people. The computer scientist tends to be motivated by the computer itself, by how it works under the hood, while the information technologist is motivated by using the computer as a tool to solve problems for people. Another way of describing the difference is that the information technologist identifies a need for technology, which the computer scientist then creates, and which the information technologist finally helps people to use effectively.
At the curricular level, information technology differs from computer science in many respects. First, there is a stronger emphasis on programming in computer science than in information technology. Information technologists certainly build software applications, and programming is certainly a critical skill in IT, but the style of programming in IT differs from that in Computer Science. The typical IT project involves gluing together available components in high-level environments and providing an accessible interface to the functionality those components provide. The typical computer science application involves writing large programs from scratch using traditional programming languages and focusing on software architecture, data structures and algorithm development issues. Computer science also requires significantly more math and science than information technology, mainly because extending the underlying technology requires a more thorough mathematical foundation than applying that technology. Finally, the computer science curriculum is "deeper" in that there are more required prerequisites for the intermediate and advanced courses in CS. Information technology has a flatter prerequisite structure, which facilitates the transfer of students into IT from other majors.
For this reason, we used to say that if you can't decide between computer science and information technology, start in computer science because CS credits will transfer to IT more easily than vice versa and "catching up" in IT is more feasible. The reason this advice is now questionable is that the IT program has grown to the point where our enrollments are now being capped. This means that if you start in CS and decide to switch to IT, there may not be room in the IT program to accept you. In previous years we have accepted upwards of 250 students per year who transferred into IT from other programs at RIT. Starting in the 2000-2001 academic year, we will not be able to accept anywhere near that many "internal transfers." The decision on whom to accept will be based primarily on grades at RIT, which means that if you stumble in another major at RIT, your chances of switching to IT may not be good. With all this in mind, you should make sure you understand the differences between IT and other majors and make the most informed decision you can, based on