Information technology is a rapidly growing field that involves programming, software engineering, information security, database management, and network administration. While computer science tends to focus more on theory and programming, IT programs are structured more with the end career goal in mind, and may incorporate project management and communication coursework along with technical education.
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The number of careers in information technology is growing rapidly, and most fields offer significant salary potential. Information technology professionals often interact with clients and other nontechnical personnel, serving as liaisons between clients and developers or working as project managers. They can also design network, information security or database systems for large institutions. The position may require people with an IT degree to provide documentation, training, and other technical resources for companies and clients.
What degree is the most useful within the field of information technology?
Many employers in the computer and IT fields are primarily concerned with a job applicant’s knowledge and experience, and some jobs may not require a college degree. However, studying IT at the college level will expose you to a wide range of fields within the broader subject field, give you solid knowledge of programming and other aspects of the field, and provide a significant amount of advanced hands-on experience. While a degree may not be essential, a degree program will give you a leg up on other applicants who have not had the experience that comes with college-level coursework. Graduate degrees in IT may be necessary if you want to teach, do advanced research, or get leadership jobs within industry.
Are there a lot of jobs within information technology?
With the increased use of computers and mobile devices, information technology is a rapidly growing field, with most areas within this field expected to grow over the next decade. Analysts expect jobs in information security, in particular, to experience significant growth.
What’s the difference between computer science and information technology?
Computer science programs generally focus on theory, design, and programming, while information technology focuses more on implementation and real-world application.
Do all information technology degrees involve programming?
Generally speaking, you will be expected to learn some computer programming in an IT degree program. Knowing how software is built and how it works will allow an IT degree holders to explain process to clients, provide support, create necessary documentation, and address issue of quality.
There are three commonly offered degrees in information technology:
- Bachelor of Arts in Information Technology
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
- Master of Science in Information Technology
Depending on academic and career interests, students may also wish to review options for online computer science or computer information science degrees.
There are currently few, if any, doctoral programs in the field, as it is generally seen as a vocational field rather than an academic/research-based field. Students who wish to pursue advanced degrees may wish to pursue a PhD in computer science or engineering.
Course of Study
Generally there are no prerequisites to be admitted to an undergraduate information technology program other than eligibility to attend the institution.
In addition to general education coursework in liberal arts and natural sciences, you can expect a bachelor’s degree in information technology to include courses in the following subjects:
- Computers and information systems
- Calculus and advanced mathematics
- Programming coursework in one or more computer languages
- Project management
- Internet applications
- Data structures
- Computer hardware
Many programs will include independent study or research requirements. Also, with elective coursework, you can often specialize in a number of additional areas such as information security, video game production, networking, databases, and web programming.
Some of the common career paths within information technology include:
Security engineers :
design systems to prevent cyber attacks; create and enforce security protocols within companies.
Web developers :
build and maintain websites for companies, schools, and other institutions. Usually there are both front-end developers who do the design the user sees and back-end developers who write the code for a website’s functionality.
administer an information technology office or division, and can oversee developers, database administrators, support staff, and other technical workers.
Senior database administrators:
create and manage databases, which can consist of customer or patient data, e-commerce transactions, or a wide range of other applications.
collect and analyze data on shopping trends, website usage, security issues, or any other aspect of a business where information can help bring in customers or protect and grow a business.
oversee internal company networks, including connecting physical computers to the network and managing online resources such as intranets, email, and other internal software.
design new projects to be developed by web developers, software developers, or other staff.
User experience designers:
test and provide feedback on how end users interact with a company’s website, app, or physical product.
Computer support specialists:
provide technical support for hardware, software, or websites to either customers or the company’s employees.
Software quality engineers:
test software for bugs and other issues to ensure the software functions as intended.
Technical writer/documentation specialist:
craft written documentation about software, hardware, or websites for the users of these products.
oversee an entire project to ensure all members of the project are productive; provide communication channels between developers, testers, and technical writers; ensure that a project remains on schedule and on budget.
Choosing an accredited information technology program assures you that the program meets quality standards. Most graduate schools require that applicants hold a degree from an accredited program in order to qualify for admission, and degrees from accredited programs will be more marketable on the job market.
In addition to regional organizations that accredit schools in the region for overall academic quality, the organization ABET reviews and accredits programs specifically in information technology and computer science. You can search for ABET-accredited programs online through the ABET website.
Licensing, Certifications, and Exams
While you do not generally need certifications to pursue a career in information technology, there are a number of certifications that you can get after graduation that will increase your career options and earning potential. A few of these certifications include:
- Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), in the fields of database developer, database administrator, server administrator, or enterprise messaging administrator
- Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS)
- CompTIA’s Security+ accreditation for anyone interesting in pursuing a career in information security
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
More information on licensing and certification:
Professional certifications can be very marketable. Employers seek workers who have specific skills, and those who possess industry-recognized technical certifications can objectively demonstrate mastery in those areas. Some positions may even require certain certifications to apply.
Salary expectations and career outlook
In general, salaries for people with information technology degrees are quite good. The median annual salary for information security analysts in 2012 was $86,170. Computer support specialists earned on average $48,900, while the median for database administrators was $77,080. Generally speaking, graduate degrees are not necessary for these positions, so there may not be a salary increase that comes with additional education, although experienced professionals, as well as those with certifications, can expect a bump in salaries. Most careers in this field are showing good job growth, averaging 15-17% overall. Information security, however, is a hot field and it’s expected to expand by as much as 37% in the next decade.
As a student in information technology, you will gain a number of marketable skills that you can bring to your future employment.
You can expect to learn:
- Written and verbal communication skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Management techniques
- Understanding of how the Internet works
- Algorithm design
- Network design
- Using and managing databases
- Website development and maintenance
- Basic Internet security
- Project management
- Ability to work independently
Many companies in the tech field offer paid internships to information technology students. Most internships focus on a particular subfield that can mirror a student’s professional interests. For example, many companies that build software or hardware will have opportunities to do internships in quality assurance and testing. Others may offer internships in support, network administration, or other fields. To find internships, you can either check individual company websites or do a search for internships in your specific field.
- ASIS&T, the Information Association for the Information Age
- Association of Information Technology Professionals
- International Association of Computer Science and information technology
- Association of Information Technology Professionals
- ISACA (Information Security)
Suggested Online Degree Programs
- The University of Maryland offers Bachelor of Science degrees in Information Systems Management and Digital Media and Web Technology.
- Southern New Hampshire University has both an online bachelor of arts degree and an online bachelor of science degree in information technology. Within these degrees are specializations in game design, data analytics, database management, cyber security, website development, software development, robotics, networking, and information technology management.
- US News and World Reports ranks the following online masters degrees in the top five Graduate Information Technology programs:
- The University of Southern California has a number of graduate online programs in computer science and information technology, including a master’s of cyber security and a Master of Science in Computer Science (Multimedia & Creative Technologies).
- Virginia Tech offers an online master’s in information technology.
- Boston University offers an online graduate certificate in information technology with coursework that can be applied towards a master’s degree in computer science, computer information systems, or telecommunication.
- Pennsylvania State University—World Campus offers an online Master of Professional Studies in Information Sciences – Cybersecurity and Information Assurance.