What Is Information Technology?
December 26, 2022
The term information technology covers a wide swath of computing and networking fields. Anything to do with computer operations, from software development to cybersecurity, can be called IT.
When someone tells you "I have a friend in show business," what does that mean? Are they a singer, a camera operator, an actor, or a set designer? Same for "a friend in sports": are they an athlete, an announcer, a coach, or a referee? One word or phrase doesn't really cover it.
The same principle applies to information technology. The field has become so broad that just saying "IT" conveys little useful information. Anyone who builds, manages, protects, or repairs computing and communication technology is arguably "in IT." The field covers database management, robotics, cybersecurity, machine learning, and much more.
So, what does it mean to be "in information technology?" This article answers that question by exploring:
- What is information technology?
- Why do organizations need IT departments?
- IT careers
- IT degrees and certifications
What is information technology?
Answers vary depending on who you ask, but all sources agree that IT covers the intersection of data and devices. Consider a few definitions below.
IT encompasses "computer systems, hardware, software, and networks related to the processing and distribution of data," according to tech giant Cisco. "These include networking hardware, such as servers and routers, and applications that allow communication over a variety of networks and the internet at large."
IT Chronicles says IT "refers to a spectrum of technologies, including software, hardware, communications technologies, and related services, used to create, process, store, secure, and exchange data."
TechTarget defines IT as "the use of any computers, storage, networking and other physical devices, infrastructure and processes to create, process, store, secure and exchange all forms of electronic data." The publication adds a significant qualifier: "Typically, IT is used in the context of business operations, as opposed to technology used for personal or entertainment purposes."
Finally, a short-and-sweet definition from CompTIA: "the use of computer systems or devices to access information."
Examples of information technology
IT encompasses a vast spectrum of systems and applications. They include common networks most of us use every day, such as telephone and point-of-sale systems. At the other end of the spectrum are comparatively obscure, poorly understood systems like blockchain, used in cryptocurrencies and other transactions. In between lie background systems such as databases and inventory management, crucial to businesses, corporations, and government agencies.
Here's a partial list, including some items that may overlap or exist as subsets of others. (For example, machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence.)
- Application/software development
- Artificial intelligence
- Biometric authentication
- Cloud computing
- Content management
- Data visualization
- Data/database management
- Internet of things
- Inventory management
- Machine learning
- Maintenance and repair
- Point of sale systems
- Quantum computing
- Reporting tools
- Reputation systems
- Risk analysis
- Sales force automation
- Service automation
- Statistical analysis
- Transaction processing
Why do organizations need IT departments?
Much of the world runs on technology. Organizations need IT departments to make sure it all works–and works together to carry out transactions, store information reliably, track inventory, and serve customers or clients. Behind every database and automated process is a person (or team) working to keep it running smoothly and effectively.
The broad spectrum of IT systems and applications needs a broad range of people to design, build, and maintain them; teach others to use them; and protect them from attacks. Here's a look at seven IT jobs, covering their basic responsibilities and salary ranges.
Computer support specialist
Having trouble with a machine or app? Call a helpline and you'll talk to a computer support specialist. They're the folks doing the grunt work in the IT world, maintaining networks and providing technical support to users.
Computer support specialist jobs don't necessarily require a college degree, and the pay is at the low end of the IT scale. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual income of $62,760 for computer network support specialists in May 2021 and a median income of $49,770 for computer user support specialists.
Computer programmers are the people who make it all happen, writing and testing code and scripts to make apps and software function. They may create new software or modify existing apps.
BLS reports a median annual income of $93,000 earned by computer programmers in May 2021. The lowest-paid programmers earned less than $47,560, while the highest-paid earned more than $155,240.
Information security analyst
In the trenches of cybersecurity you'll find information security analysts. They're the folks who guard against cyberattacks, watching for vulnerabilities and security breaches, maintaining protective software, and helping users with security matters.
Information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $102,600 in May 2021, according to BLS. The lowest-paid analysts earned less than $61,520, and the highest garnered more than $165,920.
Network and computer systems administrator
Network and computer systems administrators are the engineers driving the IT train, managing day-to-day operations. Their duties include installing hardware and software, maintaining security, and handling upgrades and repairs.
They earned a median annual wage of $80,600 in May 2021, BLS reports. The lowest-paid made less than $49,560 and the highest more than $130,830.
Software developers design and build the apps and systems that those support specialists and administrators manage. Developers create software to meet users' needs, testing new applications to make sure they function properly and documenting the process along the way.
The average developer earns a six-figure salary. Software developers had a median annual wage of $120,730 in May 2021, BLS reports. The lowest-paid earned less than $64,470, while the highest earned more than $168,570.
Computer and information research scientist
Software developers give users and organizations the tools they need. Computer and information research scientists may give them tools they don't yet know they need. These creative geeks solve complex problems and come up with innovative concepts, working on everything from computer languages to robotics.
Research scientists usually need a master's degree, and their pay is commensurate with that higher level of academic achievement. They earned a median annual of $131,490 in May 2021, according to BLS. The lowest-paid earned less than $74,210, while the highest made more than $208,000.
Computer and information systems manager
Also known as IT managers or IT project managers, computer and information systems managers keep an eye on the big picture. They plan, coordinate, and direct computer systems for corporations and organizations, working to make sure the hardware and software meets the firm's goals. Job titles may include chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), or IT director,
The heightened responsibility of computer and information systems managers provides a salary to match. They drew a median annual wage of $159,010 in May 2021, BLS reports. The lowest-paid made less than $95,220 a year, while the highest took in more than $208,000.
IT degrees and certifications
Take a first step toward an IT career with a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science, computer engineering, information networking, or a related field. Gain a competitive edge by earning a master's degree from schools such as Case Western Reserve University and Southern Methodist University. The school offers MS degrees in computer science with specializations such as cybersecurity, software engineering, and artificial intelligence and machine learning. The University of Washington offers an online Master of Science in Information Management that should facilitate opportunities in the field.
There are multiple paths to an IT career, not all of them requiring a degree. Organizations offering certification programs include:
- The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies, which offers Advanced Security Practitioner, Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), Certified Expert Penetration Tester (CEPT), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Security Essentials Certification (SEC), and many others.
- ISACA, which offers an IT Audit Fundamentals Certificate, Certificate in Cloud Auditing Knowledge, Computing Fundamentals Certificate, Software Development Fundamentals Certificate, and more.
- CompTIA, which offers a general IT Fundamentals certification along with ones in networks, security, cloud, data, and other specialties.
Dig around a little and you'll find even more IT educational options, career choices, and specialties. The world of information technology is boundless, and if you want a job in IT you'll want to get a lot more specific.
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