Information technology, also known as IT, refers to the use of computer hardware, software, networks and databases. Professionals in this field are computing experts who may work for technology firms or be employed by companies in other industries. Depending on their job title, IT workers may have the following duties:
- Testing computer systems to ensure they are operating properly.
- Troubleshooting problems to find the appropriate solution.
- Performing maintenance tasks and upgrading software and equipment.
- Assisting customers or clients in resolving technical issues.
- Training others on the proper use of computer systems.
Information Technology Specializations
Information technology programs can prepare students for a variety of career paths. The following occupations are two specialties often pursued by those new to the field:
- Computer network support specialists back-up data, perform maintenance and assist users with network issues. They are sometimes called technical support specialists.
- Computer user support specialists work directly with people to train them to use computer systems or to help them troubleshoot technical problems. Help-desk technician is another name for these specialists.
How to Become an IT Specialist
If you're interested in working in information technology, you might consider the following career path:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED.
- Complete postsecondary education. Some employers look for IT specialists with degrees, but you may also be able to launch a career by earning a certificate in information technology or completing a similar training program.
- Earn a certification. Many technology companies offer certifications which can demonstrate your skills and expertise.
- Advance your career. With experience and additional training, you can move to more advanced positions, such as those in information security and network architecture.
While preparing to become an IT specialist, you'll likely learn about all the following:
- Computer Science
- Computer Programming
- Databases and Networks
Information technology certificates and degrees
You don't have to spend years in college to begin a career in information technology. You could be ready for a job in just a few months, depending on which of the following education options you choose.
- Certificate: A certificate in information technology can be completed at some schools in a single semester. These programs may include a mix of required introductory courses along with electives in areas such as programming, databases and the internet. Graduates may enter the workforce immediately or continue their education to earn a degree.
- Associate Degree: An associate degree in information technology provides more opportunity to delve into topics such as computer languages, project management and cybersecurity. Although traditionally completed in two years, accelerated associate degrees that can be completed more quickly are offered by some colleges.
- Bachelor's Degree: While not necessary for many IT support positions, a bachelor's degree can lead to jobs as network architects, database administrators and information security analysts. Some professionals start with an associate degree, find a job as an IT support specialist and then earn a four-year degree through distance education programs offered at information technology online schools.
Information technology schools
Most colleges and universities offer IT programs. These include community colleges, tech schools and vocational institutions. Information technology lends itself well to online learning, and many online IT schools make it easy to earn a certificate or degree without ever setting foot on campus. Online information technology programs may make use of multimedia presentations, discussion boards and simulated labs to teach material.
Information technology certification
There are numerous industry certifications available to IT professionals. Some of these are intended for those who have years of experience and are working at high levels within an organization. However, if you're just getting started as an information technology specialist, the following options may be best for you:
- CompTIA A+ - A+ certification is often considered the entry level credential for support specialists. It signifies a person has the basic skills needed to work as a help desk technician or in a similar occupation.
- Cisco Certified Network Associate - Known as CCNA, this certification demonstrates the ability to install, operate and configure network components.
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate - There are a number of MCSA certifications. These show an IT professional or support specialist has a specific skillset, such as in Office 365, database administration or web applications.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional - The CISSP credential is a good choice for those seeking a career in IT security.
Each certification program has its own eligibility criteria. Most require applicants pass an exam and pay a fee. Some may have continuing education requirements to maintain the credential.
Career advancement in IT
Working as an IT support specialist is a fast way to enter the workforce, but many professionals choose to move into new roles as their careers advance. Either through their experience or by gaining additional education, they may go on to work as database administrators, information security analysts, computer network architects or in other positions.
Skills and Qualities for IT Specialists
If you want to be successful as an IT support specialist, you'll need both computer knowledge and the following abilities:
- Active Listening: Help-desk technicians, in particular, need this skill. It means being able to listen carefully and ask questions in order to understand the technical problems someone may be encountering.
- Reading Comprehension: Technical support is commonly offered via chat nowadays which makes reading comprehension a crucial skill for IT specialists.
- Systems Analysis: Specialists who work with networks must be able to evaluate a system properly to pinpoint problems or improve its function.
- Near Vision: This may seem obvious, but it could be overlooked. IT professionals spend most of their time working on computers and generally need good vision to be able to do their jobs.
- Time Management: IT workers often juggle multiple projects or support tickets at once which makes time management skills essential.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for IT Specialists
As with other professions, information technology workers may be paid based upon their education and experience. For instance, those with multiple certifications may command higher wages than entry-level workers. Still, it's nice to know what to expect for an income before applying to information technology schools, and the chart below shows national averages for the profession.
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||391,430||$152,860||11.9%|
|Information Security Analysts||108,060||$102,470||28.4%|
Career growth for IT professionals is also shown below, but job opportunities can depend on where you live in the country and your particular skillset.
Professional Resources for IT Specialists
The information technology sector is served by a number of associations and organizations. Here are couple that may be of interest to you.
- Association of Information Technology Professionals - Offered by CompTIA, the group conferring A+ certification, the AITP provides training, networking, leadership development and other career resources to IT workers.
- Association for Computing Machinery - This international organization brings together information technology professionals working in various sectors such as education, industry and research.
- Association for Information Science and Technology - ASIS&T hosts student chapters, publishes research and offers career development services for the IT sector.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Support Specialists, Accessed March 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm
- Computer and Information Technology Occupations, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed March 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm
- Information Systems vs. Information Technology, Florida Tech, Accessed March 2019, https://www.floridatechonline.com/blog/information-technology/information-systems-vs-information-technology/
- Certificate Program in Information Technology, UMass Lowell, Accessed March 2019, https://continuinged.uml.edu/certificates/undergrad/online-information-technology-certificate.cfm
- AS in Information Technologies, Southern New Hampshire University, Accessed March 2019, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/associate/as-in-information-technologies
- 5 IT Certifications That Will Help Launch Your Tech Career, Kristina Erickson, March 19, 2018, Rasmussen College, Accessed March 2019, https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/5-it-certifications-to-get-your-foot-in-the-door/
- Explore Microsoft Certifications, Microsoft, Accessed March 2019, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcsa-certification.aspx
- Computer User Support Specialist, O*Net Online, Accessed March 2019, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1151.00