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What is IT? A beginner's guide to information technology

Information technology plays an essential role in today's fastest-growing industries. IT degrees prepare you for these highly lucrative, specialized, and in-demand careers.
Written by Timon Kaple, Contributor

If you want to know more about information technology as a field and IT degree paths, you've come to the right place. This page offers information for prospective IT students, IT careers, and what types of education programs prepare you for in-demand IT jobs.

Information technology refers to the development, management, and practical application of computer networks, systems, and software. IT plays such an important role in business operations today and significantly affects how we exchange information and communicate in our daily lives. It's no wonder that the IT job outlook is exceptionally bright.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 13% growth in available positions by 2030 for computer and information technology professionals. There are many paths toward a career in this field. This guide explores some of the best jobs in IT and how you can prepare yourself for a career in this area. 

Defining information technology

Information technology's scope often extends well beyond what most people think. To provide some structure on the ins and outs of careers in IT, it's helpful to think about it broken down into three essential categories: operations, infrastructure installation and maintenance, and governance.

We've all benefited from IT professionals who troubleshoot our computer or technology issues so we can carry on with our business. There are more roles and specialties in the IT field than meets the eye, including governing roles that manage and oversee the efficacy of IT's impact in an organization. There's also professionals who specialize in tangible, hands-on materials such as routers and servers. 

Operations: This category refers to the day-to-day operations in an IT department, including device management, tech support, network maintenance, and security testing.

Infrastructure installation and maintenance: This includes setup and maintenance of equipment such as physical servers, cabling, laptops, phone systems. 

Governance: Professionals in this category ensure that IT policies and services meet the demands of an organization. 

Career opportunities for IT professionals

From entry-level positions in web development to senior C-suite roles such as chief information officers, IT careers today exist in varied specialized areas. No matter which of the three main IT categories you can find work, the required training and work experience vary significantly among these diverse careers. 

The good news is that IT is a growing field with many job opportunities for workers at all experience levels. The BLS projects that available positions will grow much faster than average for web developers, information security analysts, and database administrators, to name a few. Moreover, compared to other major industries, IT positions showed relatively strong resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021 alone, IT employers posted more than 365,000 job openings.

Best careers in IT

To help you explore some lucrative career options in IT, here is a list of some of the highest-paying jobs as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Computer and information systems managers

These managers plan and coordinate all computer-centered operations in an organization. They need at least a BS in computer or information science with 3-5 years of work experience. Higher-level management positions, such as chief technology officer and chief information officer, may require a master's degree and up to 15 years of experience. The BLS projects an 11% growth in employment by 2030. Individuals with these positions report a median salary of $151,150.

Computer network architects

These workers design and build communication networks of all sizes, including small local networks to cloud infrastructures. Most of them possess at least a bachelor's degree and 5-10 years of work experience with IT systems. The BLS reports a 5% growth in employment by 2030. Computer network architects have a median salary of $116,780.

Information security analysts

These professionals protect an organization's systems and networks by creating and carrying out security measures. They usually possess a bachelor of science (BS) degree and work experience in an IT department, often as a network or computer systems administrator. These analysts make a median annual wage of $103,590 and can expect a 33% job growth by 2030.

Database administrators

These administrators develop systems to organize and securely store a business' sensitive information. They usually possess a BS or master's in computer and information technology and a strong knowledge of database languages. The BLS projects an employment growth of 8% by 2030. Database administrators report a median salary of $98,860.

Computer systems analysts

Also known as systems architects, these analysts develop strategies or solutions to help organizations' systems operate more efficiently. They usually need a bachelor's degree in IT or a related field such as mathematics. The BLS projects that this field will have a 7% growth in employment by 2030. These professionals report a median salary of $93,730.

Is an IT career a good fit for you?

While careers in IT often come with perks such as a high salary and hybrid or remote environment, you need to consider which types of IT careers might be a good fit for your personality and strengths, too. Here's a list of the five most common characteristics of successful IT professionals.

  • Communication skills: Whether you're working individually or as part of a team, excellent communications skills in IT careers go a long way. Effective communication is crucial if you're interested in tech support positions.
  • Tech-savvy: IT professionals need to adapt to an ever-changing environment and possess foundational skills and expertise in their dedicated area of the field.
  • Management skills: Especially relevant for higher-level positions in information technology, management of both personnel and projects are essential.
  • Organized thinking: Jobs in IT usually require professionals to think through complex issues and solve problems systematically. Organized thinking is a valuable characteristic. 
  • Detail-oriented: IT positions require a sharp eye and commitment to keeping track of daily tasks' details.

Your path to an IT career

There's more than one possible path to a career in information technology. Your path may differ depending on your intended speciality, work experience, and personal traits. When it comes to formal education, these are the most common routes to securing IT career opportunities.

IT certificate

Similar to other technical and academic fields, a certificate serves as an excellent stepping-stone toward an entry-level job. This foundational training also prepares you to pursue two- or four-year degrees. Many schools offer certificates in data visualization, information security, software development, or machine learning.

When choosing an IT certificate, explore the vast offerings of convenient and affordable online programs today. Bear in mind that only accredited schools offer you valuable training and credentials that help you further your career.

Bachelor's degree

A fully online or in-person bachelor's degree in information science and technology is one of the best ways to prepare for entry- and mid-level IT careers. Most popular IT careers, including security analyst, network architect, and web developer usually require a bachelor's degree in IT. 

Undergraduate degrees in related areas, such as a bachelor's in mathematics, computer engineering, or computer science, can also prepare you for IT careers such as network architect and database administrator. 

Bachelor's IT programs strive to provide you with practical and foundational tools and knowledge for today's IT careers. Classes for bachelor's degree-seekers often include web design, networking, server administration, and business intelligence. 

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the top accreditor for IT programs. Accreditation ensures that your program meets the high educational standards of an outside accrediting institution. Enrolling in an accredited IT department also gives you the best shot at getting financial aid or IT scholarships


An information technology internship can be a great way to get real-world, organized experience during or immediately after finishing a certificate or degree program. Some may offer payment or school credit for your work, but many will not. Companies may offer in-person or online internships, both of which provide excellent networking opportunities.

Whichever format works best for you, be sure to locate an internship that offers you experience in your areas of interest and relates to your career goals. 

Master's degree

Professionals do not need an information technology master's degree to pursue entry-level positions. Master's IT programs prepare you for highly specialized jobs and management roles and improve both your hard skills in tech and interpersonal skills. You can find these programs in fully online, hybrid, and in-person formats. You can expect two-year master's programs to cost between $12,170-$27,780 per year.

These programs typically provide learners with the opportunity to pursue a specialty or concentration area. Popular concentrations include cybersecurity, data analytics, robotics, and digital forensics. A master's in cybersecurity management, for example, prepares you for roles such as information security manager. A master's degree in digital forensics trains you for work in many positions, including forensic computer analyst, information security analyst, and malware analysis.

Is information technology a good career?

Yes. Career opportunities in information technology continue to increase and typically offer above average salaries. The median annual wage for computer and information technology workers is $91,250.

What exactly is information technology?

Information technology is a growing field that includes the development and management of all computer-centered aspects of business. This definition includes IT services, software, hardware, and supporting infrastructures.

What are some IT jobs?

Popular careers in IT include network administrator, IT manager, computer systems analyst, cyber security expert, web developer, and cloud administrator. 

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