Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity: How These Career Paths Differ

What are the differences between computer science vs. cybersecurity? Get the scoop on these two related career tracks to determine which is best for you.

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29 March 2023 - By Saint Leo University
A graphic that says 'Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity' with graphics of computers and the Saint Leo University logo

If you enjoy working with computers, you may be considering a career in either computer science or cybersecurity. While these two career paths are similar, understanding how they’re different is important to choose the best one for you. Here we explore the differences between computer science vs. cybersecurity. But first, let’s be clear about what each one is.

What is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computers. It encompasses how computers work, how one computer can communicate with other computers, and how these electronic devices can be programmed to do different things.

College-level computer science courses often cover important topics such as:

  • Various operating systems
  • How to program in C/C++ or Java
  • Systems administration
  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Software engineering
  • Internet applications
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Information security

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is focused on how to best protect computers, their networks, and entire systems. It involves finding ways to prevent hackers or other unauthorized people from accessing data that they have no authority to access.

College-level cybersecurity courses often discuss:

  • Fundamentals of computer and systems security
  • Internet and intranet security
  • Network defense and security
  • Computer forensics
  • How to develop secure mobile apps
  • Penetration testing and countermeasures

Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity: How Are They Different?

One of the foundational differences between computer science vs. cybersecurity is the expansiveness of these fields. While computer science is broad, encompassing a wide variety of topics related to computers and networks, cybersecurity is much smaller, focusing solely on protecting these devices and systems. So, while you get a basic overview of information security in a computer science program, cybersecurity does a much deeper dive into this topic.

Another difference between computer science vs. cybersecurity is that computer science degree programs often have a much heavier focus on mathematics. When earning your computer science degree, you’ll likely take courses in college algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and statistics. Yet, these courses aren’t typically required as part of a cybersecurity degree program.

Job duties in these two roles differ as well. If you pursue a computer science career path, you might spend your days programming computers, building new software, enhancing current applications with new features, or engaging in web development. If you choose a cybersecurity career path, your days will likely be spent analyzing computer systems to identify potential security vulnerabilities, then taking action to reduce those vulnerabilities in an attempt to stop hackers and prevent data breaches.

Your pay in each of these roles may also be different. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2021, the median annual pay for computer programmers and computer systems analysts—both of which are bachelor’s-level computer science roles—was $93,000 and $99,270, respectively. The median pay for information security analysts was slightly higher at $102,600 annually.

Which is the Best Career Path for You?

Learning the differences between computer science vs. cybersecurity can help you decide the best career path for you. Here are a few questions that you may want to ask yourself to assist with this decision:

  • What is it about computers that I find most interesting? Is it how they work, for instance, or how they can be accessed by hackers? If it’s the former, you may be happier in a computer science role. If it’s the latter, cybersecurity may be a better career path for you.
  • How do I want to spend my workdays? What’s more appealing: spending your days programming computers and/or creating new software (computer science) or spending your days trying to hack into a company’s computer system to discover and eventually fix their vulnerabilities (cybersecurity)?
  • What is my ultimate career goal? Do you dream of creating in-demand software programs and apps or using artificial intelligence to help make people’s lives easier? If so, computer science may be the best fit for you. Conversely, if you regularly envision yourself providing information security services for a specific type of company or level of government, then cybersecurity is more in line with this career goal.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Whether you feel that computer science or cybersecurity would be a good career path for you, Saint Leo University offers degree options for both disciplines.

If you’re interested in earning your bachelor’s degree, you can do so with Saint Leo’s bachelor’s Degree in computer science and bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity programs. Both four-year degree programs provide students with the education and skills needed to work in these important fields.

For those wanting a higher level of knowledge in these areas, Saint Leo can assist with this too. Saint Leo offers both a master’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in cybersecurity program, enabling you to choose the one that fits your career goals best.