Monday, June 30, 2008

Computer Science vs. Information Techology

Ages in human history are distinguished by technological level. The bronze, iron and industrial ages were named such because during their respective times, the main technologies which propelled progress were bronze, iron and industrialization.

Those who used and understood the technology were the elite. In the days of ancient China, crossbow-armed archers of the Qin dynasty were the distinguished class who held the country together. In the days of chivalry, sword-wielding knights of the middle ages were the saviors of the masses. Nowadays, a new breed of elite emerged: laptop-typing techies of the Information Age. Like archers, these “computer geeks” hold industries and, ergo, economies intact; and like knights, they save the masses from the web of confusion brought about by the diversity of new technologies which require specialized knowledge to understand and use.

These are the Janus-bladed gifts and curses of what people collectively call “IT experts.”

There is, however, one major fact overlooked: wielders of the technology of the Information Age cannot be lumped together in a broad class as “IT experts.” The information age is a galaxy of diverse fields of computing, expertise in one does not translate to expertise in another. And even the types of expertise are different. There are two types of expertise: those who are experts in understanding and those who are experts in using.

Computer Science vs. Information Technology

When people discover that I am a computer science graduate, they usually take advantage of the opportunity to get some free techie advice such as “My Windows runs slowly, what do I do?” or “How do I use Macromedia Flash to make a cartoon for my website?” or “How can I get free porn using my Father’s computer without him knowing it?”

I simply say “I don’t know.” Truly, I don’t. People lump together computer-knowledgeable people as one big class in their mind: “IT experts.” As a computer science graduate, I am always mistaken to be an IT expert. I am not. Perhaps a high school counter-strike enthusiast has more IT expertise than me.

What I know is Computer Science, not Information Technology; the two are very different. Computer Science is the scientific methodological study of how to solve real-world problems using enormous calculations, usually with the aid of computers. Information Technology is the body of information on how to utilize technologies of the Information age. Computer scientists are the “scientists” who invent. Information Technologists are the “users” of latest technologies.

Believe it or not, people in my field are scientists, we are called computer scientists. As scientists, we study and analyze to understand and create. We understand the internal mechanics of how computer systems work, but it is unfair to assume that we are proficient users of computers and the internet. We understand Artificial Intelligence, Database Systems and Operating System Kernels but we cannot be expected to know the things the staff of Netopia knows such as how to use Photoshop or knowing the features of Google Earth. A designer of a car cannot be expected to be a driver as well.

In Jurassic Park III, Jeff Goldblum said there are two types of boys: those who want to become astronomers and those who want to become astronauts. Astronomers are the ones who study and understand heavenly bodies; astronauts are those who, although they do not understand how heavenly bodies operate, interact with them. Computer Scientists are astronomers, not astronauts. They study the science of computing, they are not necessarily good users of software products or the internet. They cannot be expected to explain how to set-up a blog or know which websites are secure. I for one understand the science behind the internet but do not know the rules and conventions used therein.

Even in the days of ancient China, there are those mathematicians who study the proper trajectories of how crossbows should be fired and there are archers who fire crossbows. In the days of chivalry, there are blacksmiths who forge swords and there are knights who wield them. It is unwise to ask a blacksmith what is the proper stance in a swordfight, ask a knight. It is unwise to ask a Computer Scientist how to use of iTunes, ask an Information Technologist. On the flipside, it is also unwise to ask an Information Technologist which C++ library should be included in a certain program code, as a Computer Scientist.

Computer Scientists study how to use mathematics to create programs; Information Technologists use computer programs. Computer Scientists are the engineers who create calculators; Information Technologists are the accountants that use calculators. Accountants do not know how calculators work but they are experts in utilizing it. Engineers do not know accounting but they create the calculators which enable accountants to do their job.