Information technology is finding its way into just about every field. From the medical field to retail, computers and other technology are an everyday part of the work environment in today's companies. This means IT is a career path that offers a lot of potential. This guide covers what information technology is, how to get a degree in this field, and what a career in IT looks like.
If you have questions about pursuing training in tech, this resource is exactly what you need.
Chapter 1: Intro to Information Technology
- What is information technology?
- Why is information technology important?
- Why should students study information technology?
Anywhere you look in the world, you will find technology. People carry technology in their pockets and purses and even wear it on their wrists. Companies and organizations rely on computers for everything from keeping time clocks for employees to ensuring transaction integrity at the point of sale for customer purchases. With so much technology making the world run, professionals who can manage that technology are an important asset in every modern industry.
What is Information Technology?
So, what, exactly, is information technology as a field? Information technology is often defined as the application of technology to the business world. It is through information technology that businesses can successfully navigate the confusing world that is computers, digital file storage, and technology operations. Companies and organizations rely on their information technology departments to solve their technology problems, both big and small, so they can continue operating smoothly.
Most companies operate an IT department or have at least one IT professional on staff. The IT department has three main responsibilities. These are:
- Building Hardware and Infrastructure: The physical components of IT systems, like the phone lines, the routers, and the actual computers, fall under this area of IT. Professionals who work in this field learn how to install and care for these physical devices.
- Information Technology Operations: Operations is the daily work handled by the IT department. This may include testing the security of a network, handling tech support, and managing devices.
- IT Governance: IT professionals have to create the processes and policies that keep their tech running smoothly and protect the company's interests. This work falls under IT governance.
Most IT departments will handle all three of these things, but in tech-heavy companies, they may have dedicated departments for each one. Regardless, for information technology systems to run smoothly, all three legs must be in place.
IT encompasses computers and networks, but it can cover much more. Within the bounds of information technology, companies may also handle:
- Video equipment for making and editing videos
- Phone lines and networks
- Mobile systems and their use
- Cloud-based technology for file storage
- Processors for managing large amounts of data
- Electronic health records databases
Clearly, information technology is critical to the overall function and well-being of modern businesses, especially in a remote working environment.
Why is Information Technology important?
It's hard to imagine a modern business without computers, phones, and websites, and those are just the most obvious types of technology in use. The databases, servers, networks, and overall infrastructure that runs behind the scenes is equally important. To the modern company, tech is everywhere. As a result, most companies and organizations would not be able to accomplish much work if IT departments and systems disappeared. Technology is so ingrained in the modern way of doing business that it's difficult to imagine any company without a network and computers.
Information technology plays a role in most of a business's plans and actions. Some of these include:
- Communication: Email and mobile communication are the primary means of talking between employees, customers, and suppliers, as well as the business as a whole. Even telephone communication often falls under the IT department's guidance, especially with the increase in the number of companies using VOIP phone services.
- Inventory: Managing inventory often relies on tech-rich inventory management systems. With these systems, companies can track the exact number of products in their warehouses and retail locations. Inventory management is tied to the point of sale system to ensure accurate numbers at all times.
- Data: Today's companies handle vast amounts of data, and that data often needs to be kept secure. Companies need storage solutions that allow them to transfer paper files to digital files to make the most of their physical useable space.
- Customer Service: Companies are using technology in the customer service realm, too. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems track the customer engagement process. They strive to create an enriching experience and build rapport with every customer, from the initial contact through the purchase decision. Technology helps track this process and guide the customer through the booking process.
- Healthcare: The mandate to use electronic medical records (EMR) means every healthcare provider is now deeply rooted in technology. Many clinics and hospitals need dedicated IT teams to help them navigate this technology.
As technology becomes even more ingrained in daily life and business, IT departments are going to grow in importance. Companies have to stay at the forefront of technological advances, and they rely on their IT pros to do this. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see an 11 percent growth in IT occupations between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average across occupations.
Why should students study information technology?
Strong income potential, a growing field, and a wide variety of job functions are all reasons to consider pursuing study in information technology. In addition, this is a field that is constantly changing, so those who have had training in the past can benefit from continuing to expand their knowledge base into the newest technologies.
Studying information technology means opening the door to a great career. It is an interesting and dynamic field with strong income potential. It is also important to the success of today's businesses and organizations, which means students can start careers in a field that will bring them intrinsic rewards through high job satisfaction.
Everyone wants to be needed at work. A degree in information technology means you will be one of the more vital people within the organization wherever you choose to work.
Chapter 2: How to Earn Your Degree in Information Technology
- What are the different types of IT degrees available?
- How long does it take to get your information technology degree?
- Is a master's degree in information technology worth it?
With the high demand for IT professionals and the rewarding career opportunities this degree provides, you may be thinking that it's time to consider an IT degree. But the road map to starting this career is not always clearly defined. Here is a closer look at what you need to know before taking this first step toward an IT career—earning that important IT degree.
Before starting down this path, first, consider the skills that work well in an information technology career. A strong foundation in math and science is helpful in starting an information technology degree. Students will also benefit from having good attention to details, a basic understanding of how to use computers and mobile tech, and a passion for technology in general. Strong analytical thinking skills are also very beneficial for these students.
A typical career path for an information technology professional will follow these steps:
- Earn an undergraduate degree: Students can pursue an associate or bachelor's degree in information technology, depending on their initial goals. Students need to find a school that offers the right information technology degree that will focus on the areas they are most interested in.
- Complete an information technology internship: Information technology internships provide practical, hands-on training under the care of a knowledgeable and experienced IT pro. Students who can get information technology internships will position themselves better to stand out on job applications.
- Gain work experience: Either through the internship or through a paying position, IT professionals can benefit from learning on the job. Getting a position in IT, even if it is just an entry-level position, can help a student fine-tune their interests to determine what further training would help.
- Consider graduate work: Some of the best opportunities in IT come with graduate-level training. With some work experience and an undergrad degree, students are well-positioned for master's degrees or doctoral work. Online degree programs make it possible to pursue this education while still working.
What are the different types of IT degrees available?
There's more to earning an IT degree than simply applying to the school of your choice and starting your degree program. There are multiple types of information technology degrees. Before you can start your degree and career path, you must decide what degree you wish to earn, and create an outline for your path to get there.
First, information technology degrees can be divided based on degree level:
- Associate degrees: Associate degrees provide a basic introduction to the field. They require about two years of study. With an associate degree in information technology, the graduate can get an entry-level job in the field or eventually transfer into a four-year program.
- Bachelor's degrees: Bachelor's degrees take about four years to complete and delve deeper into the field. They are often the minimal degree required for a number of information technology career paths. They provide the option to specialize in a particular aspect of info tech.
- Master's degrees: A master's degree is often the two-year program you take after completing your bachelor's degree program. This can provide a student who has a BS in something else the opportunity to expand their knowledge into the IT field. They also provide a greater level of specialization.
- Doctoral degrees: A Ph.D. in information technology tends to be research-based. Students with these degrees may be looking to lead teams or be part of the decision-making process in the IT world.
Specialization or concentrations provide an opportunity to focus your training on one particular part of the large information technology world. Here are some common specializations offered with IT degrees:
- Cybersecurity: One of the fastest growing areas of information technology, cybersecurity refers to building networks and systems that are secure from cybercriminal attacks. Malware is making it easier than ever for people to become cybercriminals, and that puts sensitive data at risk. In the first half of 2019, data breaches put 4.1 billion records on display. Numbers like this show the importance of trained cybersecurity professionals.
- Data analytics: All of the computers and programs businesses are using today gather a significant amount of data. Data analytics helps companies look at the large, complex data they are gathering and break it down to make better operational decisions. Data analytics professionals know how to extract and categorize big data to make it useful.
- Network systems administrators: This field focuses on managing the day-to-day operations of computer networks. Network systems administrators know how to make sure physical computers are working as they should. They also work to ensure that the networks that connect them are not malfunctioning.
- IT management: Information technology management training equips students to manage information technology teams. It also teaches the skills necessary to lead the way in making complex technology-related business decisions.
- Robotics and artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence is growing increasingly common within businesses. Companies are using computers and robots to do everything from sorting and packaging products for shipping to predicting buying behaviors and guiding customers to a purchase decision. IT professionals who understand robotics and artificial intelligence can help design and maintain these systems. This often requires more training past an initial bachelor's degree.
- Software: Software can fall under both information technology and computer science. In the information technology field, software study is focused on how to use software to meet business needs. Information technology professionals who have software training may also use their degrees to develop and launch software and applications to further their company's success.
- Digital forensics: Digital forensics is closely tied to cybersecurity. Where cybersecurity seeks to prevent attacks through secure networks, digital forensics seeks to track down malefactors after detecting attacks. This can mean working with law enforcement to find and prosecute the actual criminals, or it could mean searching for the source of the attack to help protect against another one.
How long does it take to get your information technology degree?
The length of time it takes to get a degree in information technology varies depending on the school and the degree chosen. At a minimum, it should take:
- Two years for an associate degree
- Four years for a bachelor's degree
- Add an additional two years after a bachelor's degree for a master's degree
Accelerated degree programs offer the opportunity to take classes at an accelerated pace to finish quickly. Many online IT programs offer an accelerated option for those eager to gain the skills quickly and move into the working world. Accelerated degree programs allow you to study without a break, finishing one course and starting the next. In these programs, coursework is compressed into a shorter time frame. Students cover the same amount of material, but in less time. Because the courses run continuously, without a summer break, you can earn your degree in less time. Accelerated programs also often let students test out of core classes using work experience or prior knowledge, which eliminates some of the training needed.
With an accelerated degree program, students can walk away with an associate degree in as little as a year, a bachelor's degree in three years or less, and a master's degree in around 18 months. This not only fast-tracks your career start or advancement, but it can also help you save money and time as you work towards a fulfilling IT career.
Is a master's degree in information technology worth it?
Information technology professionals are in high demand, but does that mean you need a graduate degree to enjoy an exciting and fruitful career in this field? Probably not, but there are several benefits to investing in graduate-level training in information technology, including:
- Staying in the know: If you're already working in IT, graduate training can help you update your knowledge in the field. If you are not, it can provide training in a specific specialization that you did not cover in your undergrad.
- Improved leadership skills: Students who want to get into managerial positions with their information technology background can improve leadership skills with a grad degree.
- Stand out from the crowd: Information technology is in high demand, but it's also a very popular major. With a graduate degree, you can differentiate yourself from other candidates when job openings come, and this could help you get a job more quickly.
- Increase your job prospects: The more training you have, the more openings are available to you. Many roles within IT are open only to those with graduate-level training.
- Expand your earning potential: There's no denying that a master's degree can lead to increased earning potential. People who have a master's earn, on average, $12,000 more a year than those with just a bachelor's degree.
If you are serious about making information technology your career field, it is worthwhile to consider a master's degree. You will have more job options and increased income potential by doing so.
Chapter 3: Information Technology Careers & Salary
- What careers can you do with an information technology degree?
- How much can you make in information technology?
- Are information technology careers really in demand?
Information technology remains critical to modern businesses, and that means it also provides numerous career opportunities. Many of the career fields within the IT realm are in high demand, as companies seek qualified professionals to help them keep up with the demands of their IT departments. Here is a closer look at the specific careers available with a degree in IT.
What careers can you do with an information technology degree?
Information technology professionals work with computers, computer systems, hardware, software, and data. This can present a wide range of career options. Knowing the careers that fall under this training will help you decide not only if this degree is right for you, but what concentrations to consider.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following careers all fall into the information technology field.
- Computer and Information Research Scientists: With a master's degree in information technology, you can enter this field. These professionals look for new ways to use computing technology in the workplace. They also strive to find innovations to make existing technology more effective.
- Computer Network Architects: These professionals design and build data communication networks for businesses. This includes intranets, wide area networks, and local area networks.
- Computer Support Specialists: Computer support specialists provide advice and help to organizations with the computers they use. This is often considered an entry-level position.
- Computer Systems Analysts: These professionals analyze and study the current computers used within a business to find ways to use them more effectively or bring in additional technology to make it work better.
- Database Administrators: This career puts you in the middle of the data that is so important to company success. You will spend your time storing and organizing data and understanding the software that manages these tasks.
- Information Security Analysts: This cybersecurity career focuses on building and implementing plans to protect an organization's computer networks and systems from cyber-attacks.
- Network and Computer Systems Administrators: Companies rely on these professionals to manage the day-to-day operations of their computer networks, so things keep running smoothly while the company's team members utilize their technology.
- Digital Forensic Scientist: In a digital forensics career, you will combine information technology training with criminal justice training to learn how to find and fight cybercriminals.
Additional careers that can be open to those who study information technology, but that are not yet tracked by the BLS, include:
- Information Technology Technicians: An IT Tech works with support professionals to diagnose issues with computers. When a computer or network won't operate properly, work comes to a grinding halt, and this is the first person called.
- User Experience Designer: Many companies are launching websites and apps that better target their customers. User experience designers focus on ensuring these products meet the needs of the users well. They take in feedback and adjust the design and operation of the apps to meet their customer's demands.
- Data Quality Manager: Data quality managers will manage the practices within a company that relate to its data. For example, they will establish the processes used within the customer relationship management system to keep it functioning well and ensure the company gets usable information from that data.
- Health Information Technology Specialist: This is a dedicated branch of the info tech world. Health information technology specialists focus on information technology as it relates to healthcare. Managing patient records in a secure environment is part of this career. With the rise in electronic health records (EHR) systems, this is becoming an increasingly important role.
Clearly, the work of information technology professionals is quite varied with a number of options available.
How much can you make in information technology?
With all of these varied careers, how much income potential is there for people with an information technology degree? In May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual wage for computer and information technology careers of $88,240. This was higher than the average across occupations, which is $39,810.
Still, the income potential varies significantly from one career to the next, and salaries can vary based on the level of education the candidate has. For instance, in 2019 the median pay for a computer support specialist was $54,760. In contrast, the average salary for computer and information research scientists was $122,840. Some other careers and their potential salaries include:
- Computer Network Architects: $112,690
- Computer Programmers: $86,550
- Computer Systems Analysts: $90,920
- Database Administrators: $93,750
- Information Security Analysts: $99,730
- Network and Computer Systems Administrators: $83,510
- Information Technology Technicians: $74,784
- User Experience Designer: $102,154
- Data Quality Manager: $68,546
Based on those figures, the range of salaries is large, but many careers earn average salaries over $80,000, making this a high-paying career field.
Are information technology careers really in demand?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) seems to think so. And with so many interesting information technology career options to choose from, it’s no wonder. But how can you decide which way to direct your education? In addition to looking at the income potential, it's helpful to look at the potential job growth in the field by job types:
- Information Security Analysts: Among the different information technology careers the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks, Information Security Analysts have the highest anticipated growth, largely due to the increase in cybercrime in recent decades. Between 2019 and 2029, an additional 40,900 jobs in this field are anticipated, which is a 31 percent increase.
- Computer and Information Research Scientists: According to the BLS, Computer and Information Research Scientists are some of the most in-demand of these careers. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS estimates 5,000 new jobs in this field. This is a 15% growth, which is much faster than average.
- Database Administrators: As more and more companies embrace the digital transformation and transfer their paperwork into digital filing systems, a larger number of companies are going to need database administrators to handle all of that data. The BLS anticipates 12,800 new database administrator jobs added in the next ten years, a growth rate of 10%.
- Computer Support Specialists: For those looking for entry-level careers, the job of a Computer Support Specialist has high growth potential. The BLS anticipates seeing an additional 67,300 people added in this field, which is a job growth of 8%. Though not as high of a percent, it is a larger number of jobs added when compared to the Computer and Information Research Scientist role.
- Computer Systems Analysts: Another field that will be in demand over the next decade is the Computer Systems Analyst career field. This one expects to see a 7% growth with 46,600 jobs added between 2019 and 2029.
Chapter 4: Frequently Asked Questions About Information Technology
Here are some common questions about information technology that will help you further determine what program will best fit your career interests.
What is health information technology?
When a patient goes to the doctor, the doctor must record the patient's health information. Under federal law, that information has to be kept by the doctor's office, but these records must be secure and protected. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contained language that required healthcare professionals to adopt electronic medical records (EMR) systems by 2014. This means that today, most, if not all, medical providers are storing their records in electronic formats. EMR systems require IT professionals to manage and protect.
This is a unique type of information technology career because it requires an understanding of HIPAA regulations as well as the technology that runs these systems. These IT professionals must ensure that the records are accessible easily by doctors and nurses, while keeping the sensitive information protected from those who should not have access to them. Information security is a vital part of health information technology careers, so training in these fields is quite well-rounded.
To start a career in health information technology, you will first need a solid foundation in the computer and technology side of things. A degree in information technology is a good starting point. You will then need additional training on EHR systems and HIPAA regulations, which can be attained through concentrations, certification programs, or a little bit of continuing education. This is an in-demand field with jobs in everything from hospitals and research centers to small local health clinics.
What is the difference between computer science and information technology?
If you love technology and computers, you may think that a career in information tech is the perfect fit, but don't overlook the computer science field itself. Computer-savvy students must weigh computer science vs information technology to find the right path.
Information technology and computer science are very similar courses of study. They are actually connected in some colleges and universities with computer-based degrees covering both disciplines. However, they are not technically the same thing. Here is a closer look at computer science vs information technology, so you can understand the subtle differences and make an informed choice.
Information technology focuses on using technology to manage the information handled by businesses and organizations. People who work in info tech are almost always working to make a business or organization more successful or streamline operations for their companies using technology.
IT degree holders need to understand operating systems and server software. They need to be comfortable handling the hardware connected with computer networks. They need to be well-versed in cloud architecture and technology. A working knowledge of computer security and cyber forensics is also helpful.
Information technology professionals are more likely to serve in roles that work with people and tech. These are the people that companies call when they need to have their computer systems repaired, and good people skills in addition to strong technical knowledge are helpful.
On the other hand, computer science professionals study discrete mathematics and computer science theory. These students are less focused on helping organizations succeed through the use of technology, and more focused on the theory behind that technology. They may graduate and go on to become web programmers or software developers, which means they may not work closely with a business at all times.
Computer science is often the base degree needed for advanced training in specialty areas, like artificial intelligence programming or software development. These professionals are less likely to be employed in people-facing roles and more likely to work behind the scenes with tech.
Is information technology hard?
Some students hear the word technology and automatically assume the coursework will be challenging. The course work within these programs is rigorous, and it does require a working knowledge of math and science. However, students who are interested in technology will find that it is not too difficult to earn a degree in this field.
The most difficult parts of information technology programming for many students are the advanced math and the coding languages required in this field. The right degree training program will work students up to these courses, so they are well prepared for the more challenging aspects of an information technology degree. If a student is passionate about technology and willing to work hard, attaining a degree in IT is possible.
What information technology programs does University of the Cumberlands offer?
University of the Cumberlands has a wide range of degree programs for students who are interested in information technology careers. From associate degrees to doctoral programs, you can find what you are looking for in our program offerings.
Undergraduate On Campus
If you are looking to study at our main campus, we have an information technology degree program to fit, including:
- Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology Sciences:This degree covers IT management, software engineering, cybersecurity, and IT infrastructure for a well-rounded education in the field.
Our online programs provide the flexibility to study around your work and family responsibilities, without the need to head to campus:
- Associate Degree in Information Technology Sciences: This degree will provide entry-level training in the field. It works as an introduction and opens the door to research and IT careers as well as further training in a specialty area.
- Associate of Applied Science – Information Technology: Our AAS program provides a well-rounded foundational education. The information technology track is designed to provide a starting point for a career in tech.
- Bachelor's in Information Technology Sciences: This degree provides real-world application of technology education and has a strong focus on security topics.
- Bachelor of Applied Science Information Technology: This is a fully online bachelor's program that is designed to meet the needs of working adults. Students study applied science and can take a concentration in information technology to launch a successful career.
Are you already working in IT but need to take your career another step further? Or do you have an undergraduate degree in another field, but want to switch to IT? These graduate degrees are available fully online, and one of them could be the right fit for you:
- Master’s in Information Systems Security: If you are already working in IT and want to learn more about the cybersecurity issues plaguing today's businesses, this online master's degree would be a good fit.
- Master's in Information Technology: This is a broad master's degree that covers analytics, data intelligence, computer science, and security, opening the door to many different career paths in IT.
- Master's in Digital Forensics: This master's degree program trains students to fight cybercrime. Graduates can work with law enforcement or within companies to track and put a stop to cybercriminals.
- Doctorate of Philosophy in Information Technology: This is the ultimate IT degree and opens the door to research and analytics careers. Doctorate students study theories, strategies, and tactics that make the IT world run. Holding a Ph.D. in IT is also a prestigious accolade, and this degree is fully online.
University of the Cumberlands makes it easy for you to pursue training in information technology no matter where you are in your current education and career. With flexible online training programs and many different information technology systems training programs to choose from, you can find one to fit your schedule and your interests. If you are interested in learning more about undergraduate information technology degrees or graduate information technology degrees offered at the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.