The terms information technology and information systems are often used interchangeably in everyday conversations. After all, both are related to computer data, right?
But while IT and IS are, in fact, related fields, the focus of each is slightly different, says Strayer University faculty member Robert Hofkin, PhD. “Information technology is centered on the nuts and bolts details of the hardware, software, and network components,” he says. “On the other hand, information systems is about how data is managed and used to meet an objective.”
IS is about people, processes, and technologies. In contrast, IT, which might be considered a subset of IS, is about the study, design, implementation, and support of data. So which is the right field for you? It depends on your personality and interests.
Maintaining Machines or Managing People?
“When I started in this business, the IT guy worked in a locked room, kept weird hours, and ate pizza that you slipped under the door,” Hofkin jokes. “He didn’t have to interact with people.”
Nowadays, most IT folks have to interact with other people. Because their work is often vital to business operations, they have to be able to explain how the software and hardware they purchase, maintain, and develop can help meet business objectives. But the scope of IT does remain very much centered on machines and hardware and software, Hofkin observes. If you’re an introvert or prefer to work on projects mostly by yourself, IT is probably a better fit for you than IS.
People who work in IS have to be more attuned to organizational goals, colleagues, and customers. IS professionals need to know how to manage a project and deal with different stakeholders. You can have the technical expertise required to do the job, but if you leave people feeling badly about their experience with you, you probably won’t get very far.
Who Succeeds in IT and IS
Both IS and IT tend to be dominated by logical thinkers. To succeed in either field, you have to be able to devote yourself to solving a problem, says Strayer adjunct faculty member Sharon Rose, PhD. You have to be very curious. You have to be able to think outside the box and consider a problem from all angles.
The difference between IT and IS lies in focus, Rose says. “Are you a details person who wants to dive deep into a problem or are you more strategic and prefer to look at the big picture?” she asks. “If you want to be more of a worker bee, then IT is right for you. If you want to be more of a manager, you should consider a degree in IS.”
An Ever-Changing but Fulfilling Field
Whatever route you choose, a career in IT/IS is a viable career choice, given the importance of tech in today’s world. “Almost any business depends on having good IT/IS to keep the enterprise running,” Hofkin says. “It’s one of the things nearly every business needs to succeed.”
What’s more, working in IT/IS is fun and interesting. “You definitely have to be a lifelong learner,” Hofkin says. “The programming languages are changing all the time—that’s exciting. But the fundamentals remain the same—that’s where education and experience pay off.”