Computing Degrees Disambiguation

What all of these degrees have in common is the use of computer technology in their associated career fields. You will also find similarities in some of the classes, topics and jobs. Some jobs just want you to have a job in a computer-related career field (like Helpdesk) while others require very specific degrees (like the Engineering degrees).

A 2005 report by the Association for Computing Machinery, the world's largest computing society (see, describes these computing fields. The following descriptions are quoted from that document, where available. The ACM descriptions are coupled with the curriculum expectations for each degree from ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, which is the independent organization for accrediting all computing and engineering related degrees (see

What is computing?

"In a general way, we can define computing to mean any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computers. Thus, computing includes designing and building hardware and software systems for a wide range of purposes; processing, structuring, and managing various kinds of information; doing scientific studies using computers; making computer systems behave intelligently; creating and using communications and entertainment media; finding and gathering information relevant to any particular purpose, and so on. The list is virtually endless, and the possibilities are vast. Computing also has other meanings that are more specific, based on the context in which the term is used. For example, an information systems specialist will view computing somewhat differently from a software engineer. Regardless of the context, doing computing well can be complicated and difficult. Because society needs people to do computing well, we must think of computing not only as a profession but also as a discipline.

A student typically earns a bachelors degree in one of the computing disciplines to prepare for entry into the computing profession. Because computing provides such a wide range of choices, it is impossible for anyone to become proficient at all of them. Hence, an individual who wishes to become a computing professional requires some focus for his or her professional life. There are currently five major kinds of undergraduate degree programs in computing, and each one provides a different focus and perspective on the discipline of computing. In the next section, we shall see what these five computing disciplines are and how they compare in terms of their focus and the kinds of problems and issues they address." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, p.9

  • "Computer engineering is concerned with the design and construction of computers and computer-based systems. It involves the study of hardware, software, communications, and the interaction among them. Its curriculum focuses on the theories, principles, and practices of traditional electrical engineering and mathematics and applies them to the problems of designing computers and computer-based devices.

    Computer engineering students study the design of digital hardware systems including communications systems, computers, and devices that contain computers. They study software development, focusing on software for digital devices and their interfaces with users and other devices. CE study may emphasize hardware more than software or there may be a balanced emphasis. CE has a strong engineering flavor.

    Currently, a dominant area within computing engineering is embedded systems, the development of devices that have software and hardware embedded in them. For example, devices such as cell phones, digital audio players, digital video recorders, alarm systems, x-ray machines, and laser surgical tools all require integration of hardware and embedded software and all are the result of computer engineering." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, p.13

    ABET Electrical, Computer, Communications and Telecommunications Engineering Curriculum

    "The structure of the curriculum must provide both breadth and depth across the range of engineering topics implied by the title of the program. The curriculum must include probability and statistics, including applications appropriate to the program name; mathematics through differential and integral calculus; sciences (defined as biological, chemical, or physical science); and engineering topics (including computing science) necessary to analyze and design complex electrical and electronic devices, software, and systems containing hardware and software components.

    The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “electrical,” “electronic(s),” “communication(s),” or “telecommunication(s)” in the title must include advanced mathematics, such as differential equations, linear algebra, complex variables, and discrete mathematics. The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “computer” in the title must include discrete mathematics. The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “communication(s)” or “telecommunication(s)” in the title must include topics in communication theory and systems. The curriculum for programs containing the modifier “telecommunication(s)” must include design and operation of telecommunication networks for services such as voice, data, image, and video transport." Source ABET

  • "Computer science spans a wide range, from its theoretical and algorithmic foundations to cutting-edge developments in robotics, computer vision, intelligent systems, bioinformatics, and other exciting areas. We can think of the work of computer scientists as falling into three categories.

    • They design and implement software. Computer scientists take on challenging programming jobs. They also supervise other programmers, keeping them aware of new approaches.
    • They devise new ways to use computers. Progress in the CS areas of networking, database, and human-computer-interface enabled the development of the World Wide Web. Now CS researchers are working with scientists from other fields to make robots become practical and intelligent aides, to use databases to create new knowledge, and to use computers to help decipher the secrets of our DNA.
    • They develop effective ways to solve computing problems. For example, computer scientists develop the best possible ways to store information in databases, send data over networks, and display complex images. Their theoretical background allows them to determine the best performance possible, and their study of algorithms helps them to develop new approaches that provide better performance.

    Computer science spans the range from theory through programming. Curricula that reflect this breadth are sometimes criticized for failing to prepare graduates for specific jobs. While other disciplines may produce graduates with more immediately relevant job-related skills, computer science offers a comprehensive foundation that permits graduates to adapt to new technologies and new ideas." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, pp.13-14

    Applied Computer Science

    The Bachelor of Arts in Applied Computer Science (BA-ACS) is an innovative and interdisciplinary degree program. New in 2014, the BA-ACS complements our BS Computer Science, and both programs can lead into the MS Computer Science. The BA-ACS provides a broad multi-discipline educational experience, with courses in Applied Computer Science, Information Systems, Software Engineering, Computer Science, CS Education, Foreign Languages, and an interdisciplinary minor. The BA program combines traditional computer science theory with application examples and hands-on used by industry.

    The BA targets emerging fields within computer science including those spanning other disciplines. Coursework includes Web Development, Social Media, Database, Game Design, Linux OS, Mobile Computing, Data Warehousing, Cloud Computing, Data Mining, and Robotics. The BA can integrate with many other disciplines through the required minor. With a wide range of electives and a foreign language the program of study expands the student’s outlook while allowing students to investigate the overlap and synergies between the minor discipline and computer science.


    Differences between Our Computer Science Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science:

    The Bachelor of Arts is interdisciplinary, where students take in addition to their Applied Computer Science courses: Software Engineering, Information Technology, Computer Science, Information Systems, a minor from another discipline, and foreign languages. Our Computer Science Advisory Board suggested an approach for the Bachelor of Arts that includes hands-on assignments with tools actually used by industry. Interdisciplinary Computer Science is a crucial long-term direction in the computing discipline, for both research and application in computing.

    Similarities between Our Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science:

    Both programs include traditional Computer Science theory, mathematics, and science. The Bachelor of Science is currently ABET accredited [ABET is the accrediting agency for CS, Technology and Engineering degree programs], while the Bachelor of Arts, as a new program, is planned for ABET accreditation in the future. Both programs can lead to graduate study. Both programs allow undergraduate research experiences, coops, interns.

    ABET CS Student Outcomes and Curriculum

    "The program must enable students to attain, by the time of graduation:

    • An ability to apply mathematical foundations, algorithmic principles, and computer science theory in the modeling and design of computer-based systems in a way that demonstrates comprehension of the trade offs involved in design choices.
    • An ability to apply design and development principles in the construction of software systems of varying complexity.

    Students must have the following amounts of course work or equivalent educational experience:

    1. Coverage of the fundamentals of algorithms, data structures, software design, concepts of programming languages and computer organization and architecture.
    2. An exposure to a variety of programming languages and systems.
    3. Proficiency in at least one higher-level language.
    4. Advanced course work that builds on the fundamental course work to provide depth.

    One year of science and mathematics:

    • Mathematics: At least one half year that must include discrete mathematics. The additional mathematics might consist of courses in areas such as calculus, linear algebra, numerical methods, probability, statistics, number theory, geometry, or symbolic logic.
    • Science: A science component that develops an understanding of the scientific method and provides students with an opportunity to experience this mode of inquiry in courses for science or engineering majors that provide some exposure to laboratory work." Source ABET
  • "Information systems specialists focus on integrating information technology solutions and business processes to meet the information needs of businesses and other enterprises, enabling them to achieve their objectives in an effective, efficient way. This discipline’s perspective on information technology emphasizes information, and views technology as an instrument for generating, processing, and distributing information. Professionals in the discipline are primarily concerned with the information that computer systems can provide to aid an enterprise in defining and achieving its goals, and the processes that an enterprise can implement or improve using information technology. They must understand both technical and organizational factors, and they must be able to help an organization determine how information and technology-enabled business processes can provide a competitive advantage.

    The information systems specialist plays a key role in determining the requirements for an organization’s information systems and is active in their specification, design, and implementation. As a result, such professionals require a sound understanding of organizational principles and practices so that they can serve as an effective bridge between the technical and management communities within an organization, enabling them to work in harmony to ensure that the organization has the information and the systems it needs to support its operations. Information systems professionals are also involved in designing technology-based organizational communication and collaboration systems.

    A majority of Information Systems (IS) programs are located in business schools. All IS degrees combine business and computing coursework. A variety of IS programs exist under various labels which often reflect the nature of the program. For example, programs in Computer Information Systems usually have the strongest technology focus, while programs in Management Information Systems emphasize the organizational and behavioral aspects of IS. Degree program names are not always consistent." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, p.14

    ABET IS Student Outcomes and Curriculum

    "The program must enable students to attain, by the time of graduation:

    • An understanding of and an ability to support the use, delivery, and management of information systems within an Information Systems environment.

    Students must have course work or an equivalent educational experience that includes:

    1. coverage of the fundamentals of a application development, data management, networking and data communications, security of information systems, systems analysis and design and the role of Information Systems in organizations.
    2. advanced course work that builds on the fundamental course work to provide depth.
    3. Information Systems Environment: One-half year of course work that must include a cohesive set of topics that provide an understanding of an environment in which the information systems will be applied professionally.
    4. Quantitative analysis or methods, including statistics." Source ABET
  • "Information technology is a label that has two meanings. In the broadest sense, the term information technology is often used to refer to all of computing. In academia, it refers to undergraduate degree programs that prepare students to meet the computer technology needs of business, government, healthcare, schools, and other kinds of organizations. In some nations, other names are used for such degree programs. In the previous section, we said that Information Systems focuses on the information aspects of information technology. Information Technology is the complement of that perspective: its emphasis is on the technology itself more than on the information it conveys. IT is a new and rapidly growing field that started as a grassroots response to the practical, everyday needs of business and other organizations. Today, organizations of every kind are dependent on information technology. They need to have appropriate systems in place. These systems must work properly, be secure, and upgraded, maintained, and replaced as appropriate. Employees throughout an organization require support from IT staff who understand computer systems and their software and are committed to solving whatever computer-related problems they might have. Graduates of information technology programs address these needs.

    Degree programs in information technology arose because degree programs in the other computing disciplines were not producing an adequate supply of graduates capable of handling these very real needs. IT programs exist to produce graduates who possess the right combination of knowledge and practical, hands-on expertise to take care of both an organization’s information technology infrastructure and the people who use it. IT specialists assume responsibility for selecting hardware and software products appropriate for an organization, integrating those products with organizational needs and infrastructure, and installing, customizing, and maintaining those applications for the organization’s computer users.

    Examples of these responsibilities include the installation of networks; network administration and security; the design of web pages; the development of multimedia resources; the installation of communication components; the oversight of email systems; and the planning and management of the technology lifecycle by which an organization’s technology is maintained, upgraded, and replaced." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, pp.14-15

    ABET IT Student Outcomes and Curriculum

    "The program must enable students to attain, by the time of graduation:

    • An ability to use and apply current technical concepts and practices in the core information technologies of human computer interaction, information management, programming, networking, and web systems and technologies.
    • An ability to identify and analyze user needs and take them into account in the selection, creation, evaluation, and administration of computer-based systems.
    • An ability to effectively integrate IT-based solutions into the user environment.
    • An understanding of best practices and standards and their application.
    • An ability to assist in the creation of an effective project plan.

    Students must have course work or an equivalent educational experience that includes: Coverage of the fundamentals of 1. the core information technologies of human computer interaction, information management, programming, networking, web systems and technologies. 2. information assurance and security. 3. system administration and maintenance. 4. system integration and system architecture. Advanced course work that builds on the fundamental course work to provide depth." Source ABET

  • "Software engineering is the discipline of developing and maintaining software systems that behave reliably and efficiently, are affordable to develop and maintain, and satisfy all the requirements that customers have defined for them. This reflects its origins as outlined in Section 2.2.2. More recently, it has evolved in response to factors such as the growing impact of large and expensive software systems in a wide range of situations and the increased importance of software in safety-critical applications. Software engineering is different in character from other engineering disciplines due to both the intangible nature of software and the discontinuous nature of software operation. It seeks to integrate the principles of mathematics and computer science with the engineering practices developed for tangible, physical artifacts. Prospective students can expect to see software engineering presented in two contexts.
    • Degree programs in computer science offer one or more software engineering courses as elements of the CS curriculum. Some offer a multi-course concentration in software engineering within CS.
    • A number of institutions offer a software engineering degree program.

    Degree programs in computer science and in software engineering have many courses in common. Software engineering students learn more about software reliability and maintenance and focus more on techniques for developing and maintaining software that is correct from its inception. While CS students are likely to have heard of the importance of such techniques, the engineering knowledge and experience provided in SE programs go beyond what CS programs can provide. The importance of this fact is so great that one of the recommendations of the SE report is that, during their program of study, students of SE should participate in the development of software to be used in earnest by others. SE students learn how to assess customer needs and develop usable software that meets those needs. Knowing how to provide genuinely useful and usable software is of paramount importance. In the workplace, the term software engineer is a job label. There is no standard definition for this term when used in a job description. Its meaning varies widely among employers. It can be a title equivalent to computer programmer or a title for someone who manages a large, complex, and/or safety-critical software project. The layman must be mindful not confuse the discipline of software engineering with the ambiguous use of the term software engineer as used in employment advertisements and job titles." Source ACM Computing Curricula 2005, p.15

    ABET Software Engineering Curriculum

    The curriculum must provide both breadth and depth across the range of engineering and computer science topics implied by the title and objectives of the program. The curriculum must include computing fundamentals, software design and construction, requirements analysis, security, verification, and validation; software engineering processes and tools appropriate for the development of complex software systems; and discrete mathematics, probability, and statistics, with applications appropriate to software engineering." Source ABET

  • Information security is among the newest computing disciplines and as such was not discussed in the 2005 ACM report. It consists of skills and knowledge focused on protecting information assets used by modern businesses, government agencies and every public and private organization in the world. Within InfoSec, there are a range of specialization from the very technical - like security programming (known as software assurance), and security application and appliance development, to the very managerial - like InfoSec governance, risk management and regulatory compliance. While there is only one undergrad degree program on campus in security, other degrees can be coupled with minors or certificates in InfoSec to provide a unique combination of skills, all in very high demand in the marketplace.

    ABET InfoSec Curriculum

    Currently there is no independent category for Information Security degrees under the ABET guidelines. In fact ISA degrees are a rare item to begin with. Many of the degrees you will find are concentrations in other computing disciplines, which means that students typically only receive a few security classes on top of the base degree requirements, usually as electives. It is possible to apply for ABET accreditation under another category, so long as the security program meets the requirements of that category.