Information Technology

How to Become an IT Manager (The Tech Job That—When Done Well—Nobody Notices)

How to Become an IT Manager (The Tech Job That—When Done Well—Nobody Notices)
IT management can be a lucrative career, yielding an average salary of $138,220 per year. Image from Unsplash
Mary Kearl profile
Mary Kearl October 17, 2019

When things are running smoothly, no one gives IT managers much thought. That's the way they like it.

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When IT managers do their jobs well, their clients are barely aware of their existence. Do the computers work properly? Do emails arrive and send without a hitch? Is the network secure? Are system upgrades implemented on time, preferably in the middle of the night? When the answer to all these questions is yes—as it is when IT operates at peak performance—no one really gives IT much thought.

Nor do they give IT a call, which is the way IT professionals like it. They don’t need to bask in the glory of the myriad business functions their work facilitates. They just want to be left alone to do what needs doing to keep the business running. A great day in IT is a day when no one has to say “Have you tried rebooting?”

Overseeing this essential, underappreciated enterprise are IT managers. IT management is a critical role in any business or organization, and as a result, it can pay quite well. Those who do it seem to enjoy the work: according to US News & World Report, IT managers have the third-best job in technology, the 12th-best STEM job, the thirteenth-best-paying job, and the 28th best job overall.

Better still, the field enjoys a low unemployment rate and an 11 percent employment growth rate. Those are two more reasons to give becoming an IT manager further thought.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • What does an IT manager do?
  • IT manager salaries
  • Where IT managers work
  • Education needed to become an IT manager
  • Certifications for IT leaders
  • What is the typical career path for an IT manager?

What does an IT manager do?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical IT manager’s responsibilities include:

  • Assessing company computer needs and recommending upgrades as needed to the leadership team
  • Keeping computer hardware and software maintained
  • Overseeing the company’s network security and the security of electronic files
  • Acting as the subject matter expert on new technologies
  • Managing IT staffing needs
  • Assigning work for fellow team members (computer systems analysts, information security analysts, and computer support specialists)
  • Liaising between third-party vendors and negotiating contracts

Core competencies of IT management include:

  • Analytical and problem-solving skills: IT managers need to be able to diagnose and troubleshoot problems quickly and effectively.
  • Decision-making skills: You will be the one managing the decision-making process and pulling the trigger on some important decisions. You need to be comfortable with this responsibility.
  • Leadership skills, management skills, and organizational skills: As you grow in responsibility, you’ll be overseeing teams and helping guide others to be effective in their roles. In addition, you’ll need to work cross-functionally to support and manage relationships with key stakeholder groups. You’ll report to systems managers and other significant players in your company or organization, and you will need to impress them with your competence, confidence, and mastery.
  • Time management and communication skills: When it rains it pours and, as an IT manager, the odds are high that you’ll be pulled in 100 directions at once. You’ll need strong time management skills to juggle the demands of multiple people at once, and the patience to remain cool-headed while communicating with clients or coworkers who are in the middle of an IT meltdown. (A thick skin helps, too.)


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IT manager salaries

IT management can be a lucrative career, yielding an average salary of $138,220, according to U.S. News & World Report. Salaries are generally highest in San Jose, San Francisco, New York City, Newark, and Taunton, Massachusetts. Overall, the pay outlook for IT managers is higher than for software developers, computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer systems administrators.

Where IT managers work

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2018 there were 414,400 IT manager-related jobs in the U.S., with the largest employers in the following sectors:

  • Computer systems design and related services: 22 percent
  • Information services: 11 percent
  • Finance and insurance: 11 percent
  • Management of companies and enterprises: 10 percent
  • Manufacturing: 7 percent

Education needed to become an IT manager

Job postings for IT management positions typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the BLS, the two most common undergraduate degrees for IT managers are:

Both degree programs include coursework in computer programming, software development, and math.

While not always necessary, a graduate degree (such as a master’s degree) can confer a competitive advantage to job hunters. Graduate degrees typically held by successful IT managers include:

Certifications for IT leaders

Which certifications will be the most helpful in your career will depend a lot on the specific IT role you seek. Different situations will call for different types of technologies, tools, and project management practices. The more training and certifications you complete, the better.

Common IT certifications include

According to PayScale, popular technology capabilities common among information technology candidates include:

  • Microsoft Office
  • Windows Operating System
  • Network management/administration

What is the typical career path of an IT manager?

Most IT managers work their way up from entry-level roles over the course of five to ten years of work experience before becoming an IT manager, according to U.S. News & World Report.

To what position does an IT manager advance? Some options include:

It’s also possible for IT managers to rise to other c-level positions, including CEO. They might also become board members.

Beyond IT director and CTO or CIO, seasoned IT professionals who rise to the c-level within a company may also ” target=”_blank”>start their own company or grow into a bigger role at a larger company, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Is becoming an IT manager right for you?

How ambitious are you? IT manager is a job that comes with a lot of responsibility, meaning a lot of stress and a lot of demands on your time and energy. When the company’s internet unexpectedly goes down, the phone service fails, the servers crash, a storm causes a power outage, or some other major technology issue or weather-related crisis strikes, you and your team will get the call. Any time, night or day.

In addition, this—like many tech fields—continues to be male-dominated, a self-perpetuating problem that can only be rectified by talented, ambitious women willing to face down potential bias and other hurdles. Fortunately this situation is improving, although experts say we are at least a decade away from achieving gender balance in the field.

In spite of all that, this is also a challenging, interesting, and highly remunerative profession in a growing job sector. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, you should find pursuing a career in IT management well worth the effort.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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