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On the Differences Between MIS/CIS/CS Degrees? 526

Posted by Cliff
from the distinguishing-the-diplomas dept.
Dark Ninja asks: "I find that after having a professional IT job (C++ programmer/DBA) for four+ years, not having a degree is a hindrance to finding a job. So with this in mind, I'm planning on attending college soon, but I want to know the difference between an Management Information System, Computer Information System, and Computer Science degrees? Better yet, which ones do you suggest (ie. to allow advancement, which allows for what jobs, etc)?"
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On the Differences Between MIS/CIS/CS Degrees?

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  • Perception... (Score:5, Informative)

    by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:54PM (#2794950) Homepage
    From where I went to college (Oklahoma State University), the difference between MIS and CS was that CS was more geared for programming, and MIS was more geared for business with computers. I started out towards a CS degree, but after facing 'impossible' teachers, I switched to the easier MIS stuff to graduate.

    However, it had absolutely no impact (that I am aware of) on my marketability after college. They were looking for a degree. But your mileage may vary.

    Actually, I'm thankful that I got the business courses that I would have missed under CS.
  • Differences (Score:5, Informative)

    by cp4 (250029) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:57PM (#2794965)
    MIS is business courses with some basic programming added (mostly high level stuff, + web pages and the like.) It's not a CS degree. Most CS people laugh at these people. Sorry but it's true.

    CIS is computer science with general business courses added. The core CS courses will be there but not much specialization in CS.

    Computer Science itself comprises the core courses plus many posible specializations (IS above being one of them). Depending on your preferences you can specialize in different courses; adding some basic engineering courses, or higher level CS courses for example.

    Personally I graduated with a CS degree, speicializing in Software Systems which basically meant all my "specialization" credits were used up with higher level CS courses and math courses.
  • Other degree Options (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:57PM (#2794966)
    Don't forget to throw CPE (Computer Engineering) and SWE (Software Engineering) into the mix. To make things even more confusing in some places CPE is hardware and others it is software.
  • by apirkle (40268) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:59PM (#2794977)
    CS delves into the theory of things; the skills you get from a CS degree will be useful to you for many, many years because you are learning how to learn, and how to solve problems.

    MIS/CIS is more like a trade-school degree. It seems wrong that an accredited institution will even give a 4-year degree in such a thing; it should be a 2-year degree. You learn how to use tools that are provided to you, so you end up with a skill set that will be outdated in just a few years when new technologies come about.

    MIS/CIS also tends to place an emphasis on business/management. Learn to be a Pointy Haired Boss who can't tell the difference between an Etch-A-Sketch and a laptop! "Shake it to reboot."
  • MIS is... (Score:2, Informative)

    by UnrefinedLayman (185512) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @06:59PM (#2794978)
    Management Information Systems. It is a focus on the business and management portion of computing. People with degrees in MIS can go into a variety of positions, but they are usually either business related computing (i.e., drafting IT plans for companies, helping bridge gaps in IT in companies), or consulting for companies with important business software, such as PeopleSoft.

    Computer science people are the ones who write the software MIS people implement and use.
  • by BWJones (18351) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:03PM (#2794997) Homepage Journal
    if a company i'm interviewing with doesn't want to hire me because i have no colege degree, even though i have 5 years of experience, then i don't want to work for that company anyway.

    Uhh, that would be college and the grammar could use some work as well. Ummm.....thanks for applying but don't call us. We'll call you.
  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:04PM (#2795003) Homepage
    Very few employeers will go into great scrutiny over what degree you got. They might put some spotlight onto which college you got it from, if it is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Because you're in college, you've got to be careful not to focus too much on the degree type. In the real world, for the most part (rogue managers aside), it doesn't matter. It just matters that you got a "computer degree".

    Of course, I work with people at a "large company" that have photography degrees, technical college degrees, no degrees, and so forth. Basically, here's what the degree does for you:

    In some cases, it gets you hired. There will be some employeers that won't consider candidates without degrees.

    In almost all circumstances, it affects your ability to get a promotion. You can't reach _X_ level unless you have a degree. It is a golden rule. The college degree increases your cap. And it doesn't matter which degree you have, from what I have seen.

    Since it really doesn't matter much in real life, I would advocate two different goals:

    1] Go for the degree that will get you out of college easily and quickly.

    2] Go for the degree that will stretch you and help you to learn the most things that will help you along your career as your currently understand it.

    Of course, as mentioned earlier, for me, the business courses (which weren't really my main interest) has helped an incredible amount to understand the business world. And that is, after all, where I work!
  • The Correct Answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by kitplane01 (245414) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:04PM (#2795004)
    I'm a Professsor of CS. So I feel qualified to answer.

    CIS: A Business degree with computers in it. You will also learn marketing and accounting. You need to like business for this degree. Many people think this is the easiest of the degrees.

    Computer Engineering: This is a degree for hardware people. This is a degree for serious geeks who like math and logic, but don't want to become programmers.

    CS: This is a degree for people who want to program. We teach algorithms and writing code. We write programs.

    Just so we're clear, CS is the coolest of the choices!

  • CS degree (Score:2, Informative)

    by Champaign (307086) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:05PM (#2795011) Homepage Journal
    I also graduated with a CS degree, so that's the only one I can really comment on. Most jobs I looked into (especially in the SF Bay area) wanted a CS degree, even for SysAdmin work (which to me, means they value something from the degree beyond technical competence, as I didn't take any courses that would have helped me with admin work).

    Basically, IMHO, a CS degree will qualify you for just about any TECHNICAL direction you decide to move in. Its definitely what I would suggest.
  • by diverman (55324) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:07PM (#2795021)
    MIS: Management Information Systems (other variations exist)
    CIS: Computer Information systems
    CS: Computer Science
    CE: Computer Engineering

    MIS is more business oriented. In theory, the major is supposed to provide a stong business flow education, while teaching some basic computer skills... enough to have a sense of what is going on.

    CIS is very similar to MIS at most schools. Some don't make a distinction. It's supposed to have a slightly more technical side than MIS. This is ideal for people working in IT deparments that want to go the management route, but with the technical side of things. Think of it as a techie with a bit of business understanding.

    CS is a science. It has a strong focus on programming, but you also learn about the lower level systems. This is for people who want to really understand not just what a computer is doing on the outside, but the theory behind its internal designs. You will often learn things such as processor architecture, compiler design, etc. This will MORE than prepare you for an IT position, and is what most people in the industry have (that have a degree that is).

    CE is very similar to CS. In fact, many schools don't make much of a distinction. However, CE is supposed to be more practically oriented. You still learn much of the theory, just not as advanced of it. What you do learn in exchange is engineering principles. You learn how to apply the theory and existing technology in real world situations... thus engineering. This is what I have. It tends to be a similar difficulty level as CS, but depends on the school. Many schools make this major harder since it carries an engineering title with it. It will very readily prepare you for the real world of computers, in theory.

    In light of all of this, each school may vary on their definitions of each major. Keep in mind that the piece of paper may help, but in current times, it's difficult to find a job even WITH a computer engineering degree and 5 years experience. I wish you best of luck, since I myself, am having difficulty.

  • by Demoknight (66150) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:09PM (#2795035) Journal
    I'm a CS major who has taken various IS courses and I have to say there are many differences that I have taken notice of: (1) Class size in an IS course is larger than any CS course (of course I go to a small school so I guess I should say "your mileage may vary" here). (2) The quality of students (I'm just being honest here) is much higher in a CS class. I've seen many IS seniors that have no real interest in computers, just want to find work when they graduate. (3) As far as professors go, every CS teacher I've had is a Ph.D. and IS teachers tend to be adjuncts or assistant professors, at least, for the intro classes. Subsequently, I think that more is expected of you as a CS major.

    Basically, I would highly recommend going with CS. It has a more difficult curriculum but it opens your mind to some really interesting topics. So if you *like* to program and learn about interesting computer related topics then go with CS. If you want to be a great office user and "know" the ins and outs of how business works I would go with IS. Again, of course, your mileage may vary.

    Good luck,
  • 10 second answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by cdrudge (68377) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:11PM (#2795039) Homepage
    When people ask me what the differences are, I tell them it kind of like a sliding scale. At one end, it is business only. At the other end, it is computer only.

    MIS - This is more towards the business end then the computer end. Basically, a business degree that taught visual basic also.
    CIS - Kind of in the middle. More computers then business, but doesn't have the harder math/science requirements if at all. At my university, this is what most people who couldn't hack the math requirements switched to.
    CS - More on the computer end then the business end. Programming, theory, and math. I think that this is the most desireable degree of the three, but it all depends on what you want to do I guess.
  • Big difference (Score:3, Informative)

    by archen (447353) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:11PM (#2795041)
    As everyone says here, MIS is more about buisness. The college I went to had a few courses that crossed over between CS and MIS. So about half way into the semester we get a fairly trivial programming assignment. The night before it was due I happened to be in the computer cluster, and nearby there were about 7 MIS people huddled around a computer trying to figure out how to open a file in C++ (third year students mind you!). From what I've seen, MIS people (in college anyway) can't code their way out of a paper bag. Generally I think you could do a lot more with a CS degree, and a few shiny certifacations.
  • Re:Perception... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Snuffub (173401) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:16PM (#2795057) Homepage
    I think what exactly a CS degree entails changes alot based on where you are. From what i can tell a cs degree from my school is not geered for programing at all infact it has little to do with programing and is heavy on theory.

    So my advice to you is ask at the university youre applying to rather than a general audience.
  • Re:Differences (Score:2, Informative)

    by hank (294) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:17PM (#2795059)
    I'm currently a sophomore at RPI in Troy, NY. RPI isn't as known for their Computer Science department, as they are for their engineering department. (Although, we produced and currently have the man who created STL, or so I've heard.)

    I'm currently a CSCS (Computer & Systems Engineering and Computer Science) dual major with a minor in Information Technology. Granted, by the time I graduate, I'll have taken over 160 credits when only needing 128, that's what college is about. Many people try to take the easiest way through college, which robs you of one of the greatest places to learn. (Granted, you'll fun factor will increase as your class load decreases - but that's for another post.) The trick is being EXCELLENT at managing your time and having a strong work ethic. Knowing when to work and when to party is key, but to some this is often the hardest part of adjusting to college.

    Anyways, back to the question at hand. Most of the classes I take for my IT minor are more business related (such as Managing IT Resources, etc.). There are ways to get the best of both worlds. Having a strong CS background that can only be acquired as a CS major will definitely help you down the line. To some employers, I've heard it's more respected. I'll know in 2 years I guess. But, you can major in Computer Science if you're interested in programming and maybe use some of your free electives to get that minor in IT. Or even consider a dual major.

    But I agree with the parent to my post. Many schools offer "specializations" within a major. You can use free electives to get that specialization in MIS, and even tack on a minor in Information Technology, or math.
  • by Nerftoe (74385) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:27PM (#2795104)
    There's a 509 comment Slashdot discussion from almost a year ago here. []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:30PM (#2795108)
    I have about 17 years in the field, primarily business application development, and I have never had a lack of work due to not having a degree. I have also been responsible for interviewing both employees and consultants for some of my clients. My following comments are coming from a business programming worldview as opposed to strictly technical employment.

    What type of work do you want? HUGE difference in developing a compiler and building a POS application with inventory, reporting, etc. A CS degree would probably be essential for the compiler job and damn near worthless in the business app situation, at least if the experienced staff programmers get a say in the interview process. A savvy interviewer wants someone with some related work experience and appropriate technical experience. Those things plus an ability to work with confused, busy people and figure things out are far more valuable to a company. Any type degree doesn't hurt of course, but the right type of degree helps more. Also consider taking a minor in something like accounting. Crazy as it sounds, often an accounting degree, or at least substantial coursework, can get you a programming job faster and for more money that the programming degree. A company needs people that help with business problems and that takes an understanding of business. The programming is usually the easier part.

    By the way, each year of experience lessens the value of the degree, i.e., a twenty year old CS degree will be ignored completely in comparison to work experience.

    No doubt my experience is biased by my work history, but I bet that there is a lot more database related business application work in the world than compiler development.
  • CIS or CS (Score:2, Informative)

    by atomicityCTO (548756) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:36PM (#2795132)
    I have a CIS degree and CS minor and really enjoyed all of the business courses and CS courses. Matter of fact now I own my own IT consulting firm and I think that without the business courses I would have never taken the chance of starting my own business.

    I suggest that if you like the business side then go with the CIS degree and a second minor in CS.

    BTW, as far as a degree making you a good programmer I think the only thing that can do that is experience, patience, curiosity, and determination. One of the best C/C++ programmers that I know has a degree in Mass Communications.

    My 2 cents,

  • CS vs. CIS (Score:2, Informative)

    by NovaX (37364) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:41PM (#2795144)
    I've never seen an MIS curriculum, so wont comment on it, but the CS vs. CIS is pretty simple. So there's gonna be tons of these quick summeries.

    CIS usually is a lot of intro level courses in CS and business. Such as in CS, you would take introductionary CS classes, a basic theory one (perhaps only Discrete Structures or maybe one more too), a few general programming classes (System's programing = GUI, etc). Nothing to hard, most programming classes so you know how to code and basics of a computer, but not how to solve problems (algorithms), software design, or see more complex/in depth material.

    Instead you get a similar intro into business. Its not a CS degree or business degree. Perhaps its sort of like an associate's in both majors. So its usually considered a joke by CS people since its lighter and not very technical.

    A CS degree is not programming, but how to think andn solve problems. Its how to design software, analyze situations, write industrial level code. Its not learning a trade or special skill. The CIS is more like that. But you don't learn business, so an MBA or something would be important.

    The difference is what you want to leap into. If your interested in CS and business, and confused on which.. go for the CIS. You can jump either ship later to go more full fledged, or go into masters for more of what you like (CS, MBA, etc). If you know you like both and want to invest the time, do a CS and MBA to get the strongest of both worlds.
  • by RobPiano (471698) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @07:44PM (#2795153)
    Basically the degrees leave you with different options, but as with all things if you really want to go another way when you are finished, its possible.

    A CS track is setup so that when you are done you can go into a research oriented program.

    A CIS track is setup so that when you are done you can go into a MBA program.

    A MIS degree is a terminal degree intended on getting you experience with the software that companies use.

    MIS gets you a job and gets you making money. CIS does too and you can end up making even more if you get the MBA. CS is cool if you want to have a more geeky job, like programming games.

    Good luck!!
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @08:09PM (#2795257)

    A lot of posters here have pointed out the difference between the business skills courses (MIS, etc.) and the development skills courses (CS, SE, etc.). I agree with them, and on that basis, I'll offer a small company's perspective, when it comes to recruiting.

    We're looking for programming skills. The team leaders here all have a strong programming background, and most of the project management is done by the senior leads. We're even blessed with a technical director who's hands-on, and therefore has at least the slightest idea what he's talking about, which seems to be more than most. :-)

    From that point of view, when we're recruiting new grads, we say "any degree", but certainly a higher rating is given to those with a CS or Software Engineering certificate. I know I personally got shortlisted because I'd done a 1 year post-grad diploma in CS after my math degree; other people got listed other ways, of course, but that's what did it for me. With a few years of professional experience behind you, this may be less relevant, but it would still count.

    The last people we look at are often those with MIS type degrees. We don't need more managers in a small company. Once, we even had a guy come up to us at a recruitment event, and tell us he wanted to go straight into project management. A quick quiz demonstrated that he knew zip about programming, and yet thought he was qualified to manage a programming team. Needless to say, we never even bothered reading his CV. That's not to say all MIS guys are like this, but it's certainly a stereotype that's all too close to the truth for many.

    One guy right at the top of the thread made the point beautifully, when he noted how the MIS guys laugh at CS guys who don't know their [buzzword deleted] from their [buzzword deleted]. Strangely, I've never heard any of the management team at our place use these terms, yet they seem to manage to run projects lasting several years without going out of business. Draw your own conclusions.

    Obviously, this may be very different in a large company. Our teams are all small enough that everyone knows what's going on, and communication between team members and different subteams is strong. In a larger company running really big projects, perhaps all those extra management skills are more useful. But for a small outfit, you want the programming background if you're going to get in at all.

  • Purdue University (Score:2, Informative)

    by adamjone (412980) on Sunday January 06, 2002 @08:36PM (#2795335) Homepage

    This will vary by the college or university that you consider attending. I graduated from the Electrical and Computer Engineering [] department of Purdue University [] in 1999 with a B.S. in Computer Engineering. My brother graduated this past December from the Computer Science [] department. I work with several people who graduated from one of the schools of technology []. I would summarize the various degrees as follows:

    • Computer Science: Very focused on math and the theory behind algorithms. Basic and advanced programming courses in C++ and Java. Some exposure to databases.
    • Computer Engineering: Very focused on physics and computing logic. Basic and advanced programming courses in C. Some exposure to object oriented techniques.
    • Technology: Focused on practical applications of technology. Courses cover database management, operating systems, network architectures. Some light programming courses.

    A number of people in Computer Engineering later switched to Electrical Engineering or Computer Science, as they wanted to focus either more on hardware or more on software. All three degrees (EE, CE, CS) received approximately the same number of offers at graduation, and at roughly the same pay level. Students from the Technology department received just as many offers, but at a lower pay level.

    I would suggest that if you liked your IT job, go for a Technology degree with a minor in management. You may not get as much utility from a CS or CE degree.

  • Degree Dilemma (Score:2, Informative)

    by Stu_28 (83254) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:19PM (#2798912)
    I've read most of the replies to this question, and think that there is a lot of "gray area" in the many of the answers posted.

    I think we can all, for the most part, agree on what the Computer Science and Computer Engineering degrees are.

    However, Information Systems and Management Information Systems degrees are a fairly new and broad-based concept. They encompass many different areas of computing/technology like networking, database systems, biomedical informatics, multimedia communications, artificial intelligence, expert systems, and/or knowledge-based systems, and how they are applied, used, and designed in a business environment. So, unlike the CS and CE degrees, your focus is less on general technical principles in a generic environment, and more on the applying of the topic that you wish to pursue in a business environment.

    That said, there is a article that was posted several days ago on osOpinion [] entitled "The Dissing of IT Workers []" that does a fairly good job of pointing out the differences between a CS degree and an IT degree.

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