Science and systems
The distinction between computer science (CS) and computer information systems (CIS) is an important one, because the two disciplines emphasize different personal strengths, says Anna Carlin, CISA and a lecturer at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, CA also known as Cal Poly Pomona, a STEM-focused university that emphasizes in-the-field learning through internships and real-world training.
"CS students need one to two years of calculus and at least a year of physics in that curriculum -- it's very math- and science-based. But in CIS, students are exposed to a broad-based approach to IT, software and business. It's about building the apps that sit on top of the code that computer scientists would build, and those are much closer to the end-users and customers," Carlin says.
CIS is uniquely situated between the hard-core tech skills required of a pure software engineer and the business strategy decisions that guide IT departments, says Dan Manson, PhD, CISSP, department chair and professor of CIS at Cal Poly Pomona, so consider your own intellectual strengths to decide which avenue's right for you, he says.
"The soft skills are just as important as the hard skills, because CIS graduates are really designing and building applications for the business," Manson says. Most CIS programs require students to complete a real-world project centered around helping a business leverage technology to solve a problem. Cal Poly Pomona's course is taken as a senior project, Manson says, while at Lock Haven University, the CIS coursework offered an independent study opportunity, says Turner.
The exercise was similar to what Manson describes at Cal Poly Pomona: using technology to help a local company solve a business problem. Turner approached the local Woolrich Woolen Mill with an idea to help the company's salespeople speed up their sales cycle, especially for overseas customers.
"Remember, this was back in the early 2000s. Most people weren't very Web savvy, and a lot of the Web was just starting to incorporate graphics and move away from text-based links. I had an idea for a Web app that would solve one of Woolrich's biggest problems: Their salespeople were slowed down because they either had to lug around physical fabric samples, or customers would order samples and it would take weeks for them to arrive," Turner said.
He developed a pitch based around the idea of creating a dynamic wbsite linked to a database with photos of the fabric samples. Salespeople could then pull up these images during sales calls with clients, eliminating a lot of the need for physical samples or long wait times. The company loved it.
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