Tim Berners-Lee’s creation of the world wide web is probably the invention that ultimately created the academic discipline of information technology. As computer networks expanded beyond niche military or academic circles, the need arose for usability, interoperability, security, scaleability, and manageability of the computing resources. Responding to these needs, universities like RIT, Georgia Southern, BYU, Purdue, and my own UC developed applied computing undergraduate programs. The faculty of these programs and others like them came together to define the information technology discipline; a group now part of ACM (SIGITE).
So all thanks to Mr. Berners-Lee in the world. But in an interview recently he showed a lack of understanding about the information technology discipline. In pushing for more computing education in the K-12 systems, he makes a plea against just teaching kids the basics of using standard software applications.
“It’s very important in education with this computer science, which is understanding the philosophy of computer and the mathematics of computing, and learning to really build stuff, it’s very different from the IT class, and I think making that distinction very clear and maybe early on in schools is very important.”
My assumption here, based on his previous comments in the article about going beyond teaching kids Microsoft Word, is just that Mr. Berners-Lee does not know there is an applied computing discipline out there called IT. That he has simply mislabeled classes in the use of basic computer applicantions as IT. This lack of knowledge about the IT discipline is something we IT faculty encounter often.
But it does not help the public’s understanding when our computer science brethren insist, or use slight of hand to suggest, that computer science is 1) the only computing discipline out there, 2) the only one that matters, or 3) best suited to educate all students wanting to go on to careers in the applied computing space. Computer Science Education week is a great example of this, who’s website claims that Computer Science is: Computing, Computer Engineering, Informatics, Information Technology, Software Engineering, Information Systems.
If the computing disciplines work together in helping the public understand the differences, students will be more likely to choose computing as a career and less likely to transfer out of computing altogether while in college. After talking with students about their interests and career goals, I have suggested to some (even my own nephew recently) that computer science, information systems, or computer engineering may be the best fit for them and hope others do the same for IT.