The term “computing” has evolved as an overarching term in the technology world. If you asked someone how they would define computing you would get different answers because there is confusion around terms in the technology world.
A lot of people throw the term “computer science” as the overarching term. Computer Science is a discipline of Computing but it does not describe the whole Computing field. Terms in the technology world seem fluid and change based on the marketing terms of the day. I am going to focus my definition on the academic definition from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and in extension the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which adopts the terminology from ACM. Computing is a system that utilizes technology to transform customer needs into a computing solution. Disciplines that belong to the computing field are as follows:
- Computer Engineering
- Computer Science
- Information Systems
- Information Technology
- Software Engineering
- Data science
In this post, we will explore different terms in the computing world, including words such as cyber, to provide a foundation for us to use as a jumping-off point in our ongoing future dialogue.
What is a system?
A system consists of interrelated objects working together in activity towards a goal. Everything can be analyzed as a system. The world is a system of systems. A simple picture of a system is shown below. A system accepts input, processes the input and feedback, and provides output. There is a feedback loop in a system that allows it to adapt to the changing environment.
Some examples of systems are the human body, airplane, car, computer, router, switch, among many others. A system can contain other systems (also called subsystems). In this post, when I refer to computing, I am talking in reference to a computing system.
What is science vs technology?
The terms “science” and “technology” are also confused terms in the world today. Let’s go back in history to briefly review the history of computing education. Engineers were educated in this country before the 19th century through an apprenticeship-based system. The apprenticeship system was an informal system with no prerequisites and with little formal instruction. The apprentice worked under a practicing engineer to gain knowledge and skills of the profession through experience.
That system changed significantly in the 1900s from a purely technical focus to a purely scientific focus. Science is the study of things and the pursuit of the new. Engineering in the 19th century was the application of science which is called technology today. Technology is the application of science for human endeavors.
Engineer as scientist and engineer as professional are the contradictions and tensions in the educational system today. Engineering today should be called engineering science. I will drop using the word engineering because it creates more confusion than there already is. Going forward I will use the word technology.
The shift from engineering to technology occurred after World War II after the Sputnik launch when the public support for science rose. The possibility of the new rather than a design capability of making something useful became the new norm. If we wanted to pinpoint where the skills gap started you can trace it back to this time period.
Therefore, technology education shifted from an apprenticeship method of instruction learned by emulating practicing professionals in the 19th century to a transferring of a fixed body of knowledge taught by professors who may or may not have real-world professional experience.
The words “science” and “technology” have specific meanings. We need both to continue to grow our economy into the future. Hopefully, I was able to clear up the differences between those words.
What is cyber?
The word “cyber” is everywhere in our vernacular today. It originated in the 1940s in the field of cybernetics, which consisted of computer science, engineering, and biology. It denoted a futuristic vision in the 1980s and then became popular in the 1990s. Today, when you mention the word cyber, you are referring to a system of interconnection between users, technology, and processes, NOT necessarily just the term cybersecurity.
So, what is computing again?
Now we come full circle to our original question, what is computing? Computing is a system that utilizes technology to transform customer needs into a computing solution. The key point in this statement is the words customer (users) and solution. The computing discipline does not work in isolation from users and customers. The discipline works with users/customers to develop creative and innovative solutions to meet their needs. In many instances, as they are developing solutions, they will be interconnecting one or more systems such as hardware, software, networking, and others into the solution. They must look at the solution as a system of interconnecting parts that work together towards a user’s goal. By themselves, the parts probably work. But when you put them together into a whole you may have to troubleshoot issues to get each part to work as part of the whole. A computing professional today must have deep technical knowledge and skills along with soft skills to be able to deliver value to customers and clients. Computing is definitely an applied science, also known as technology.
In this post, we explored computing as the overarching term that exists in the technology world. Terms such as science, technology, engineering, cyber, computer science, and others are confusing the public today. Many people use the term computer science when describing computing. In its truest sense, computer science (CS) is the science of computers, which includes hardware, software, operating systems, networks, and others. CS usually deals under the hood of each of these technologies while computing deals with how to solve problems for users using the technologies created by computer scientists and others. The goal is the pursuit of the new. We need that to continue innovating in our world. For many years, computer science has been morphing closer and closer to computing. I hope this post helped you understand the computing landscape and some terms we seem to use interchangeably without understanding their true meaning.
If you have any comments or questions, please post them below in the comments. I would like to know what your thoughts are.
I am DrM, founder of http://techninjamasters.com. I have been working, learning, teaching, coaching, consulting, writing in technology for over 40 years.