The modern world runs on technology. Computers, email, the Internet; all of these technological advancements have made it easier to communicate, increased productivity, and put a world of information at each person’s fingertips. Like Achilles, however, the technology of today has a weak spot; someone has to maintain it. Life can come to a standstill if Internet access goes down or a computer crashes. Luckily there is a whole industry of professionals that have the skills and knowledge required to keep the modern world chugging along smoothly. If you are comfortable with technology, you may want to consider a career in IT.
What Does an Information Technology Professional Do?
IT (information technology) specialists are the people who create, maintain, and fix the software and hardware used to manage information. These people develop computer programs like word processors and email clients, set up computer networks, maintain corporate servers, build websites, and even diagnose and fix broken computers.
The work is varied, and people in the industry typically specialize in one field such as programming or networking. The titles assigned to an IT professional will vary depending on their specialization. They may be called engineers, web developers, network administrators, and so on. As the types of job available in the industry are vast and varied, so too are the skill sets required to work in a particular career. A person that sets up a computer network for an office will call on a different set of skills than a person who creates a custom database system to capture customer information.
However, no matter the profession, the ultimate goal of an information technology professional is to ensure the system is usable and efficient. They focus on ensuring the computer network or software program is free of glitches and allow for the free flow of information to and from the people using the product.
Getting a Job in Information Technology
Information technology is a highly technical field. No matter what career you are looking to enter, you will need education and training. Even people who provide tech support to frustrated customers with broken computers have basic computer training. The best way to get the education needed to enter the field is to complete a post-secondary program.
A degree in computer science is not always necessary. In fact, some people in the profession have four-year degrees in subjects that have nothing to do with computers (e.g. art history). On the other hand, it is important to remember that employers want to hire people who are trained for the job. The degree you earn depends a lot on the area you enter. Software engineers and similar professionals are better served with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Network support and systems administration can typically get by with a certificate from a community or technical college.
Those who are not willing or able to go back to school can still get into the industry. They just need to convince employers that they know what they are doing. Work experience can also open doors to job opportunities. Even though your degree may be in a completely unrelated field or you don’t have any education, you can still get a job if you can demonstrate your expertise.
For those in school, it is a good idea to pursue a second major or a minor in a different subject. Information technology is used in almost every field ranging from Business to the medical field (visit respiratorytherapistcareer.com for respiratory therapist career information). Having a degree in an unrelated topic can prove beneficial and even increase your attractiveness to employers. For example, a person creating a software program to search for information about artwork on the Internet would be helped by his art history degree. It doesn’t particularly matter which topic you pursue, so you may as well follow your interests.
A common question asked by entry-level IT professions is whether certification is worth the time, effort, and cost. While some people are skeptical about the value of certificates, most professionals agree that it is a good idea to get at least one. This is supported by the fact that some businesses use certifications to screen potential applicants, particularly in industries where the supply of talent is higher than the demand.
Another reason is that people with certifications make more money than those without them. A survey by Foote Parner LLC found people with certifications earned 2.1% more than non-certified professionals. Those with vendor certifications from Cisco, Novell, or other industry leading companies made even more money per year.
The type of certification you pursue depends on your career, goals, and interests. Some careers practically require certification. This is true of people who work in information security. A few of the certificates available in that area are Certified Information Systems Security Expert (CISSP), Symantec Certified Security Engineer (SCSE), and Check Point Certified Security Administrator (CCSA).
Other professions are more casual about certifications. For example, job experience and education is more important for software engineering and database administration. It is best to research the career you are interested in to see what the standard is.
Technology changes quickly, sometimes from day to day. Continuing education is a critical part of a career in IT. The skills demanded by employers today can quickly become obsolete tomorrow as new programming languages, changes in computer hardware, and other things pop up. Not only is it important to keep your existing skills sharp, you need to pick up new ones too.
There are many ways you can participate in continuing education. A few popular ways include taking courses at a community college, seminars, completing certificate programs, and independent study. The Internet in particular is an excellent resource for staying on top of changes in the industry and studying related subjects. At the end of the day, staying on top of your skill set and industry changes is more important than earning a certification.
Industry Job Outlook
The information technology industry continues to grow, but that growth has slowed because of the economic downfall of 2008. Since businesses were having a hard time holding onto their profits, they had to scale back which often meant reducing the IT staff and hoping nothing breaks. Spending on IT is expected to be around 6.4% in the United States. Some professions will experience faster than average growth while job opportunities for others will decline.
However, the world continues to shrink and job opportunities in the global marketplace look really good. In 2008, people spent $2.4 trillion on technology goods and services and that number is expected to increase in the coming years. Industry growth is particularly strong in the Asia Pacific, parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Even Australia and the U.K. say things are looking good in their countries for IT professionals.
The best way to improve your chances of securing employment is to be flexible and open to all possibilities. Cast your net out wide and don’t pass over an opportunity because it isn’t exactly what you want, especially if you are right out of school. That position may be the stepping stone to something greater. Give businesses the chance you want them to give you. If you have good references, a great education, and solid job experience, you should be able to find and secure an IT job.
Other Technical Career Paths
Technical Producer | Entry requirements: BA or MBA
Job duties: This is a creative position that can be stressful but rewarding. A technical producer is responsible for setting the tone, look, and feel of the final version of a piece of software. This may include deciding on the artwork to use, content, and other necessities involved in producing a finished product. This person reports to a technical manager or product manager.
Web Developer | Entry requirements: BA
Webmaster | Entry requirement: BA
Job duties: The duties of webmasters vary depending on the size of the companies they work for. In smaller companies, they may be responsible for designing, implementing, and managing entire websites while in larger companies they may only be responsible for creating content and search engine marketing. In either case, be prepared to be a Jack of all trades.
QA Engineer | Entry requirements: BS in Computer Science, MS preferred
Job duties: Arguably, QA engineers have the toughest jobs in the industry. They must think like a customer and do everything they can to destroy a product. Their job is to prepare the product for every eventuality from spilling diet soda all over a laptop keyboard to pressing a touch screen 1,000 times. They often work on tight deadlines and must screen out as many bugs and problems as possible.
Software Engineer | Entry requirements: BS in Computer Science | MS for senior positions
Job duties: Most people in this field begin as junior software engineers that do the grunt work of coding, debugging, and other basic tasks associated with creating software. Senior software engineers, on the other hand, typically help design the product and work with users, customers, and others on schematics. They often take supervisory roles and manage the work of junior software engineers.
Application Programmer | Entry requirements: BS in Computer Science
Job duties: An application programmer works on one application that is either the end product or will be tied into another program. Their duties include programming, documentation, development, and integration of a single program.
Database Administrator | Entry requirement: BS in Computer Science or equivalent work experience
Job duties: Possibly the most visible professionals in the industry, database engineers design, implement, test, and maintain databases. Their duties usually include making backups and implementing recovery schemes to mitigate the loss of information during a catastrophic event. They also handle securing the data. This is one industry where certifications are more important than education.
Entry-Level Technical Support Analyst |Entry requirement: None (BA or BS preferred)
Job duties: If you have ever had a problem with a piece of software and called the support line, then you have dealt with a tech support analyst. This is an entry-level position that focuses on helping customers fix the problems they are having with a software program. Usually the support is administered over the phone, but there are some companies that provide on-site support. Patience, understanding, and good communications skills are critical to being successful in this field.
Software Support Engineer | Entry requirement: BS in Computer Science
Job duties: This is usually a step or two up the ladder from tech support. This position typically offers more advanced support to customers and may encompass some sales. You must be able to troubleshoot problems and be self-motivated.
IT Training Consultant |Entry requirements: BS in Computer Science, specialized training preferred
Job duties: Software and hardware installations on a large scale are complex projects. Companies that are in the business of selling services and other back-end systems employ IT training consultants to teach customers about the products they are buying (or have bought). Typically professionals in these positions train non-technical people like sales and marketing employees how to use technology. Patience and the ability to explain complex concepts in simple terms are good skills to have.
Management Information Systems (MIS) | Entry requirement: BS in Computer Science or Electrical Engineering
Job duties: An MIS professional manages the company’s software, hardware, and network. They make sure everything is running smoothly and efficiently. People in this field must be flexible because the actual work can vary. However, this often translates into being prepared to enter a number of specialized career paths. A Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification is typically required.
System Administrator | Entry requirement: BA or certificate
Job duties: System administrators manage data communication systems. They design, test, and maintain systems like local area networks, conduct research on new technology, and make recommendations. Patience and a willingness to dismantle things and recreate them (sometimes over and over again) is a must. Since the system administrator is the person everyone yells at when something breaks, having a thick skin is also helpful.
Information Security Specialist | Entry requirement: BS in Computer Science
Job duties: People in this field design, create, and implement systems and processes for securing information. They set standards and policies for people to follow that are designed to protect the company’s data and enforce those policies when necessary.