If you’re considering a career in information technology, you may wonder how much math is involved in the discipline. Do computer scientists and information technologists need to know how to do math?
You will need math for IT. Information technology involves algorithms, logic, and data analysis, and it helps to have a background in mathematics before getting into IT. For that reason, many computer science programs require math courses in the early years of the program.
Read on to learn more about how math relates to information technology and why math is a common part of the core curriculum in computer science programs.
Why You Need To Know Math for Information Technology
Information technology requires knowledge of mathematical principles like logic and problem-solving, in addition to advanced concepts like calculus if you’re interested in scientific computing or computer security.
Information technology and computer science also require knowledge of data structures, algorithms, and databases, which use additional mathematical principles.
Altogether, you don’t technically need to know complex mathematical principles to learn to code and work in the field of computer science. Still, virtually every computer science program will require that you learn some mathematics. This is partly due to the soft skills involved in mathematics and partly due to a need to understand algorithms and loops.
What Math Do You Need for Computer Science?
All computer science jobs require some knowledge of discrete mathematics, number theory, linear algebra, and graph theory. Some also require that you have a grasp of calculus and even statistics. The most important math to know depends on what kind of computer science you want to do.
That said, it’s also possible to learn to code and have a job as a web developer with little to no formal math skills.
You can learn to code and develop programs without first learning all the related mathematics; it’s just that you may struggle to comprehend the concepts more than someone who has had mathematical training.
Information Technology Course Requirements
Information technology degrees involve advanced topics in computer science with a foundation in mathematics. Most programs require at least one course in pure mathematics in addition to math-related courses in computer science.
The following are common course requirements for an Information Technology degree:
- Computer Graphics
- Algorithms and Data Structures
- Web Design
- Relational Databases
- PC Hardware and Operating Systems
- Computer Ethics
- Data Communications
- Information Systems Analysis
- Database Systems
Many of these courses are related to mathematics, but the degree typically requires one or two mathematics courses.
Does Coding Require Math?
Coding doesn’t typically involve doing complex mathematical exercises, but the foundational concepts in mathematics are helpful to know when you’re learning to code.
This is especially true if you plan to work with large amounts of data using Python or C languages but will be applying your skills across disciplines and professions in coding and programming.
Numerous mathematical concepts make their way into coding languages, from the use of functions to linear algebra and geometry in front-end web development.
That said, it is debated whether or not math skills are required practically (source). Although it is related and commonly associated with coding, writing programs and learning to code is in many ways separate skillsets, one that’s dependent on understanding logic, trial-and-error, and finding good online sources from within the developer community.
Writing Functions and Other Mathematical Principles in Coding
Functions are a commonality between algebra and computer programming. In both contexts, you can use functions to apply a certain algorithm to input variables to create certain output variables. Virtually all coding languages use functions, so this is an important concept to grasp early on when studying computer science.
Advanced mathematics is also helpful if you want to build complex algorithms.
Each algorithm and coding problem has an underlying mathematical basis, whether it has to do with discrete optimization, linear programming, or nonlinear optimization. Learn more about how these principles work by purchasing Algorithmic Principles of Mathematical Programming (link to Amazon). It’s one of the best, most comprehensive texts on these subjects.
Why You Don’t Need To Be Good at Math To Code
Despite the mathematical basis for coding languages and computer programs, knowing how to practice mathematics is not usually required for a standard job in web development.
Most coders learn by doing, learning to build programs in different languages based on the particular logic of that language.
In learning to code, your biggest advantages come from learning from other programmers and being able to think through basic logic puzzles.
Some programmers use more complex algebra than others, so there may be cases where math skills are more useful. But that said, most algebra involved is at about the fourth-grade level.
For an example of what mathematical analysis looks like in a coding context, take a look at Cracking the Coding Interview (link to Amazon). This book will give you real-world examples of coding problems, and trying them will show you what kind of thinking coding requires.
Learning to code is something like learning to speak a new language, combined with early mathematics. It requires knowledge of proper language and syntax, logical analysis, and creative problem-solving.
How To Become an Information Technologist
The most important first step in becoming an information technologist is to get a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a computer-related or STEM field. Employers will typically require such a degree, and some may even expect an advanced degree like a master’s or a Ph.D.
Best Schools for Information Technology
Some of the top information technology programs in the United States are:
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is well-known for its research. As a student in information technology, you can be sure that your research will take you to the edge of what’s being developed in the field.
As an undergraduate, you can pursue a B.S. in Computer Science. As a master’s student, you can pursue a degree in:
- Security Policy and Management
- Information Technology Management
- Information Security and Assurance
Cornell University offers three undergraduate degrees in information science and technology, a Master’s degree, and a Ph.D. The College of Arts and Sciences offers a B.A., and the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offer a B.S.
Cornell University has great faculty and many IT-related student organizations geared towards sharing skills, networking, and growing as computer scientists.
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University offers a B.S. in Information Technology, and a B.S. in Cybersecurity added as of 2018. They offer six areas of concentration in different information technology-related fields, including Digital Forensics, Internet of Things (IoT), and Penetration Testing.
Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is a world-renowned school with an impressive information technology program. They offer either a B.S. or an A.S. in Information Sciences and Technology, or a B.S. in Security and Risk Analysis, Data Sciences, or Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations. Penn State is unique in that it has many online offerings.
Purdue University has a Polytechnic Institute that offers majors in Computer and Information Technology, Cybersecurity, and several other related information technology fields. They also offer an M.S. in Computer and Information Technology, through which you can focus on bioinformatics, cyberlearning, or information security.
New York University
New York University (NYU) offers three B.S. degrees in the following:
- Information Systems Management
- Applied Data Analytics and Visualization
- Computer Science.
Additionally, they offer five different master’s degrees in computer science, information technology, and related fields. You can also pursue a Ph.D. in Information Systems through NYU.
How To Choose an Information Technology Program
There are numerous things to think about when choosing an information technology program, including the following:
- Does the program offer a concentration appropriate for your interests? Some schools offer special career tracks in education technology, software development, programming, or information security, to name a few.
- Do you want an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree? Some programs are more geared towards training for the workforce, whereas others offer a full theoretical perspective and the practical. Often, an associate’s degree paired with an internship is enough to break into the information technology field.
- Do you want a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science? You can find information technology programs that include more humanities (a Bachelor of Arts degree) or a program that includes more mathematics and business management courses (a Bachelor of Science). Either have practical applications in the workplace.
- What kind of class size works best for you? Some colleges offer smaller-sized classes to give each student more time with the professor, while others offer bigger classes to more students. Many students prefer to find a program with small class sizes.
Do I Need an Information Technology Certificate?
Certification is common in the information technology field, although it is not required for most positions. Still, it is considered a good sign for employers if you have completed a certificate program.
Plus, such a program will teach you the practical skills you need to thrive on a day-to-day basis as an IT specialist.
Do I Need a Master’s Degree in IT?
Having a master’s degree is usually not required in the IT field, but it can still give you an edge over other applicants. Master’s degrees in computer science typically cover such advanced topics as artificial intelligence and computational modeling.
Research is also typically a part of the curriculum, and for an M.S., you’ll need to write a well-researched thesis.
Jobs That Require Math
Suppose you want to take math courses or already have. In that case, you can rest assured that there are many career options available to you, including but not limited to information technology careers.
Other options include auditing, data analysis, actuarial sciences, and software development.
Auditors are employed by companies and by third parties to check a business’s processes and take care of any waste or fraud that’s going on. An auditor will check to make sure that the finances are flowing in the way they should be, and they communicate with business partners when they find an issue that needs to be addressed.
A career in data analysis requires heavy use of mathematics, even though there are now many programs and software interfaces for analyzing data. Businesses need people who understand data to interpret statistics and other information, even though the software itself is easy to come by.
Actuaries analyze risk and uncertainty, often working for insurance companies quantifying risk and helping them make informed decisions about what to charge and what to cover when working with clients. Actuaries need to be able to use advanced statistics and mathematical modeling software.
In software development, professionals need to be able to analyze user needs and design computer applications and other pieces of software to meet those needs. They work with programming languages and write code to solve problems, all of which require mathematical logic and the same kind of problem-solving used in algebra or calculus.
Source: Northeastern University
Most IT programs will require that you have some experience in mathematics, even though practically speaking, most information technologists don’t use math skills on a day-to-day basis. Most coding skills are learned separately from mathematics, having more to do with logic and trial-and-error than understanding abstract mathematical ideas.