Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science: Comparing Educational Paths and Career Outcomes

A group of computer science professionals with laptops sitting at a row of desks.

When people consider technology careers, a common comparison is cybersecurity versus computer science. Cybersecurity is a subcategory of computer science. Its focus is on protecting networks and digital systems from breaches. Computer science encompasses all of computers and computing. This includes computing theory and practical topics like algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). This distinction highlights two paths with different focuses. One is on securing digital environments, the other on advancing computational technologies.

A comparison of cybersecurity versus computer science includes diving into their nuances. For example, exploring the different educational paths and outcomes for individuals who pursue each field is important. The matters of salary and job outlook in each field are also relevant. While the two fields are intertwined, they offer unique careers and opportunities. For aspiring professionals, knowing the differences between cybersecurity and computer science is key to making an informed decision on which career path to pursue.

Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science: Similarities and Differences

Cybersecurity and computer science professionals often work in collaboration. For instance, a deep understanding of both computer science principles and cybersecurity practices is essential to effectively developing secure software systems. An example of this interconnection is in the creation of encryption algorithms. Computer science lays the foundational knowledge for understanding complex mathematical principles. Cybersecurity applies these principles to protect data from unauthorized access. 

While cybersecurity and computer science often overlap in the technology ecosystem, each field has a distinct focus. Cybersecurity focuses on protecting networks and data from digital threats. It emphasizes defense and understanding legal and ethical issues. Computer science focuses more broadly on computational theory, applications, and design. It incorporates the use of calculus, programming, and software development. 

While both fields share a foundation in technology and problem-solving, cybersecurity zeroes in on digital security, whereas computer science encompasses a wider range of technological innovations and applications.

Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science Degrees

In general, cybersecurity degrees are for those interested in protecting digital information and systems from cyberthreats. Cybersecurity degree programs focus on the knowledge and skills needed to create secure digital environments. Computer science degrees appeal to individuals passionate about a wide range of technological challenges, such as algorithm design and software development. 

Here are some key differences between cybersecurity and computer science degrees:

Cybersecurity Degrees

Cybersecurity is a focused area in computer science. It emphasizes defending networks, systems, and programs from digital threats. Depending on the school, cybersecurity programs are available at the associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or graduate degree levels. These programs can help students grasp the technical aspects of security. They also incorporate a wider understanding of the digital environment, touching on legal and ethical issues.

The curriculum of cybersecurity degree programs aims to help students develop a well-rounded skill set. It covers database design and security, cryptography, network security, ethical hacking, and risk management. Coursework subject matter might also include cyber policy, law, and privacy compliance. These subjects provide the foundation for a career in cybersecurity, equipping students to tackle real-world security challenges. Emphasizing practical experience, these programs prepare students to effectively protect digital infrastructures.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Various certifications are available that enable professionals to demonstrate their cybersecurity skills and knowledge. Among these, the Cisco certified network associate (CCNA), CompTIA A+ and CYSA+, and certified information systems security professional (CISSP) credentials are notable for their focus and global recognition.

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate: Focuses on network fundamentals, network access, Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability
  • CompTIA A+: Covers essential information technology (IT) skills and knowledge that IT professionals need to know to perform common tasks
  • CompTIA CYSA+: Covers threat and vulnerability management, incident response, security architecture and tool sets, compliance and assessment, and software and systems security 
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: Validates a cybersecurity professional’s understanding of security policies, management, and operations standards

Computer Science Degrees

Computer science degree programs cover computational theory, applications, and design. Coursework spans calculus, linear algebra, programming, and ethics in technology. The curriculum also encompasses coding, algorithms, and software development. Students in computer science programs, which are also offered at various degree levels, often engage in projects and research. These learning experiences allow them to apply theoretical knowledge in practical settings and prepare them for the tech industry’s challenges. 

Earning a computer science degree can be a gateway to many tech professions, cybersecurity being one of them. Other specializations include data analytics, AI, game design, and information management. The many specializations let students tailor their education to match their interests and career goals.

Computer Science Certifications

Certain computer science certifications stand out for their specialized focus. These include the Oracle database administration certification, professional software engineering master certification, and certified scrum master credentials. Each of these certifications targets crucial aspects of technology and management within the industry.

  • Oracle Database Administration Certification: Targets skills related to Oracle technologies and products, such as database administration and SQL programming
  • Professional Software Engineering Master Certification: Emphasizes proficiency in software engineering principles and practices
  • Certified ScrumMaster: Focuses on leadership and management of agile development projects

Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science Careers

Both the cybersecurity and computer science fields offer rewarding careers, each catering to different interests and skills. From safeguarding sensitive information against cyberthreats to driving technological advancements, the work of professionals in these fields can have a far-reaching impact on business and society. Knowing the differences between cybersecurity and computer science careers is critical for individuals deciding which path to take.

Cybersecurity Careers

Cybersecurity has emerged as a critical field due to the escalating number of cyberthreats. For example, Gartner forecasts that by 2025, 45% of global organizations will have suffered attacks on their software supply chains, tripling the figure from 2021. On the consumer side, while traditional identity fraud losses in 2022 dropped 15% from the previous year, the number of U.S. adult victims remains consistent at over 15 million, according to Javelin. 

These statistics point to the increasing need for professionals who can protect sensitive information across various sectors. This surge in demand has led to a diverse range of career opportunities within the cybersecurity domain. Individuals in these roles are responsible for a broad spectrum of tasks. Their daily activities may include auditing security systems, analyzing networks, and setting up firewalls to protect against digital attacks. The field offers diverse job options, too — from analysts and consultants to specialists like penetration testers and cryptographers. 

Professionals in cybersecurity are not confined to one industry but find opportunities across government agencies, private corporations, and consulting firms. Their primary mission is to safeguard critical infrastructure and sensitive data from cyberthreats, making cybersecurity a pivotal aspect of modern digital operations.

Information Security Analyst

Given the ever-evolving nature of cyberattacks, information security analysts’ expertise is invaluable in the defense against increasingly sophisticated threats. These professionals safeguard an organization’s computer systems and networks by monitoring, detecting, and countering potential security breaches. Using various tools and techniques to protect sensitive data, these analysts are responsible for developing and implementing comprehensive security strategies, conducting regular security assessments, and suggesting improvements to prevent unauthorized access to systems. 

Information security analysts stay up to date on the latest trends and threats in cybersecurity to ensure that their organization’s security measures remain current. Additionally, they help create disaster recovery plans to enable swift recovery from security incidents.

Cybersecurity Analyst

Cybersecurity analysts are essential in establishing secure digital environments that ensure the integrity and confidentiality of data. These professionals specialize in safeguarding an organization’s computer systems and networks against all types of cyberthreats, including hacking, viruses, and malware. Their key activities include regularly monitoring their organization’s networks for any security breaches and investigating any violations that are detected. 

Cybersecurity analysts oversee security measures such as implementing and maintaining firewalls and encryption programs to protect sensitive information. They also carry out penetration testing to simulate attacks and identify any weaknesses in the system. Staying current with trends and techniques in cybersecurity enables analysts to develop strategies to prevent future attacks.

Security Engineer

Security engineers specialize in the design and implementation of security systems that safeguard an organization’s computer networks and systems. They offer expertise to help keep an organization’s digital assets safe from evolving cyberthreats. Their work helps to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical information. 

Security engineers’ primary focus is on creating effective protections against hacking, data breaches, and malware infections. Risk analysis is a crucial part of their work, as they assess vulnerabilities and develop secure network solutions. They also establish protocols for data encryption, firewalls, and endpoint protections to ensure comprehensive security measures are in place across their organization. By conducting vulnerability testing and security assessments, security engineers identify weaknesses and enforce security policies.

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers are commonly referred to as ethical hackers or white hat hackers. Penetration testers imitate cyberassaults on computer systems, networks, and web applications with the aim of discovering vulnerabilities in a system. By employing an array of methods and tools, they search for weaknesses that could be exploited by malicious hackers, such as software that hasn’t been patched, security configurations that are incorrect, and passwords that are weak. 

Penetration testers’ work is a race against time. It is crucial in identifying potential security flaws before hackers can find them. After conducting simulated attacks, penetration testers compile comprehensive reports detailing their findings, suggest actions to address the identified risks, and may even assist in implementing these solutions to enhance the overall security stance of the organization.

Computer Science Careers

Computer science transcends mere programming. It covers a wide range of interrelated subfields, including data analysis, AI, cryptography, computer engineering, and software development. This diversity ensures that computer science careers are available in many industries. These include computer software and game development, as well as finance and government.

Computer science is an interdisciplinary and dynamic field that emphasizes both theoretical concepts and practical applications. It includes designing and developing software applications, writing code for proper functionality of programs, and managing computer networks. Some computer scientists engage in engineering computer hardware. Others create video games with engaging storylines, characters, and environments. This versatility highlights the field’s comprehensive approach to computing technology.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems managers play a crucial role in guiding their organizations through technological advancements and addressing challenges. They have the important responsibility of supervising and managing the computer-related operations within their organizations. They are instrumental in setting the technological objectives for their companies and are in charge of implementing computer systems to achieve those goals. 

Computer and information systems managers’ tasks might involve planning and overseeing the installation and upkeep of hardware and software, ensuring the security of the organization’s network, and overseeing IT staff. They may also be responsible for assessing the costs and benefits of new projects and technology, negotiating with vendors, and staying informed about the latest trends in IT. 

Data Scientist

Data scientists, also known as data analysts, help organizations develop strategic insights based on the analysis of business performance data. These professionals are responsible for gathering data from organizational databases or software programs, organizing the raw data into usable datasets, and translating analysis findings into strategic recommendations.

Data scientists’ tasks include identifying useful datasets, gathering and categorizing useful data, and creating data models and algorithms. These professionals also use data visualization programs to explain their research findings to other business professionals, including strategic planners and corporate executives.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers play a crucial role in developing new applications and enhancing existing ones. For software to function as it should, computer programmers need to write and test the code that runs the applications and computer systems. They also take the software designs created by software developers and engineers and transform them into instructions that computers can execute. 

Programmers utilize various programming languages, such as Java, C++, and Python, depending on the specific purpose or platform of the program being developed. Additionally, they update, modify, and enhance existing programs, troubleshoot errors by testing and troubleshooting them, and collaborate with technical teams to create optimal software solutions.

Computer Systems Analyst

The primary aim of computer systems analysts is to ensure that organizations effectively utilize technology to achieve their strategic goals. Computer systems analysts assess their organization’s existing computer systems and processes to identify areas where modifications can be made to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. 

Computer systems analysts work closely with both managers and end users to establish system requirements, develop solutions, and align systems with their organization’s objectives. They may suggest the implementation of new systems, customize software, and ensure the seamless integration of hardware and software. Another responsibility might be to conduct cost-benefit analyses to support decision-making about technology investments. 

Software Developer

Software developers play a vital role in the advancement and dependability of digital tools and services. They focus on producing quality, efficient, user-friendly, and reliable software throughout the entire software development process. Their primary responsibility is to design and code software applications, transforming concepts into functional programs. 

Software development is largely a collaborative process. This means that software developers often work with quality assurance analysts, who meticulously examine the software to ensure it adheres to the design specifications and is dependable. They also work with testers, who actively use the software to identify any glitches or areas that require improvement, and then record their discoveries to be used for further enhancement by the software developers.

Cybersecurity vs. Computer Science: Salary and Job Outlook Information

When it comes to cybersecurity versus computer science salary and job data, the outlook is positive, reflecting the growing reliance on technology across all industries. While salaries can vary based on factors such as an individual’s location, experience, and specialization, jobs in both fields offer competitive compensation that aligns with the skills and knowledge required for the job.

Cybersecurity Job Outlook and Salaries

The demand for cybersecurity professionals is surging, with employment of information security analysts projected to grow 32% through 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This spike reflects the increasing importance of safeguarding digital information and infrastructure in an increasingly digital world. 

The field’s expansive growth is spotlighted by ISC2 research, which points to an 8.7% increase in the growth of the cybersecurity workforce from 2022 to 2023. The global workforce in 2023, a record 5.5 million, is nearly double the global workforce in 2019, estimated at 2.8 million.

As for salary, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for information security analysts is $112,000 as of May 2022. Here are examples of the median annual salaries for other common cybersecurity roles, based on Payscale data as of March 2024: 

  • Cybersecurity analysts: $81,000
  • Security engineers: $101,000
  • Penetration testers: $95,000

Computer Science Job Outlook and Salaries

Jobs related to computer science, such as jobs for computer and information systems managers and data scientists, are projected to grow by 15% and 35%, respectively, through 2032, according to the BLS — showcasing a robust demand for professionals skilled in software development, data analysis, and technology innovation. 

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for computer and information systems managers is $164,070, while the median annual salary for data scientists is $103,500. Following are the median annual salaries for other common computer science roles, based on BLS data as of May 2022: 

  • Computer programmers: $97,800
  • Computer systems analysts: $102,240
  • Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers: $124,200

Prepare for Advancement in a Technology Career

The choice between cybersecurity and computer science for a career hinges on an individual’s interests, strengths, and aspirations. Whether it’s the thrill of outsmarting cybercriminals or the satisfaction derived from developing data analysis insights, the challenges and rewards of a career in either field are unique. 

The demand for skilled experts in cybersecurity and other computer science fields is expected to grow in lockstep with the continued evolution of digital technologies. For those interested in working in technology, this underscores the importance of pursuing the educational and certification pathway that will help you meet your career goals. 

Individuals considering a career in tech that is meaningful to themselves and society can enroll in one of Mid-America Christian University’s technology degree programs. Offered online or in person, these accredited programs offer busy adult students the flexibility to take the course load that works best for them. Students can choose their preferred degree program based on their goals. MACU offers the following technology programs:

Learn how enrolling in one of MACU’s technology programs can help prepare you to enter a high-demand role in tech.