What Does it Mean to Study Information Technology?
An information technology degree can help prepare you for an exciting career in a variety of industries. As information technology (IT) plays an increasingly important role in business, employers continue to search for skilled workers with experience handling computer and telecommunications hardware and software.
As an information technology major, you'll study how computers process and manage all types of information. IT professionals work in a variety of industries, designing hardware, software, communications networks, internet applications, and more. With the broad range of opportunities available to IT professionals, an information technology degree can help you qualify for a computer-related job in almost any industry.
Types of Information Technology Degrees
Information technology degree programs vary widely depending on the institution issuing the credential. From traditional colleges and universities to accredited online and distance learning degree programs, educational opportunities are available to suit nearly any budget or schedule. Some schools offer certificate courses in specialized areas of information technology. Others offer associate, bachelor's, or master's degree programs designed to produce well-rounded students with broad-based knowledge in many different areas of information technology.
Deciding which program type is right for you can be difficult. Here are several degree options to consider before choosing to major in IT:
Certificate Programs in Information Technology
Certificate programs in information technology usually last between six and 12 months. Generally, these programs certify a student's proficiency in a particular area of information technology, and are widely available through accredited online and distance learning institutions. IT certificate programs are appropriate for those with experience in the information technology field seeking basic, fundamental knowledge in certain specialty areas. They are also a great way to stay current in an ever-changing technological environment, and can help prepare students for an associate or bachelor's degree program. Core courses may include:
- Fundamentals of Personal Computers
- Concepts of Programming
- Foundations of Database Design
- Intro to Data Communications
Associate Degrees in Information Technology
An associate degree in information technology provides students with a broad overview of computer science and communications networks. These programs typically take two years to complete, and include some general education courses. Associate degrees in information technology may be earned through accredited online and distance learning programs. These programs offer working professionals the flexibility they need to continue their careers and education simultaneously. Credits earned in an associate degree program can often be transferred toward a bachelor's degree in a related field. Example course topics include, but are not limited to:
- Problem Solving and Troubleshooting for Computers
- Strategies in Virtual Communications
- Fundamentals of Computer Networks
- Programming Principles
Bachelor's Degrees in Information Technology
IT bachelor's degree programs usually require four years of academic study to complete. The first two years often consist of introductory courses in information technology and general education requirements, while the last two years focus on the more specific and advanced aspects of the field. Typical courses for an information technology major include:
- Fundamentals of Computer-based Systems
- Intermediate Computer Networks
- Foundations of Database Management
- Project Management in IT
Master's Degrees in Information Technology
A master's degree in information technology provides students with advanced training in specialized areas of the field. Students pursuing a graduate-level information technology degree are often working adults who currently hold a job in IT. These programs can help IT professionals advance their careers, and are often the perfect fit for students interested in online learning. A bachelor's degree is typically considered a prerequisite for admission to a master's program. Although curriculum varies by specialty and institution, master's-level courses may include:
- Management of IT Resources
- Organizational Impact of Information Technology
- Fundamentals of Computer Forensics
- Advanced Project Management
- Advanced Computer Networking
Doctoral Degrees in Information Technology
A doctorate in information technology can help prepare students for a career in IT research or postsecondary education. Generally speaking, doctoral degrees allow students to further specialize in various areas of information technology. While graduates often find employment at universities, other employment options include careers in consulting, management, or government. Doctoral programs expose students to the latest innovations in technology and research. These programs typically culminate with the completion of a dissertation. Core courses vary by specialization but may include:
- Cybersecurity Threats and Countermeasures
- Operating Systems Security
- Enterprise Architecture
- Quantitative Methods and Experimental Design in Computer Science
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Information Technology?
As reliance on computers and information systems becomes more widespread throughout all industries, graduates holding an IT degree continue to be in high demand. Students who pursue an information technology degree tend to be natural problem solvers. Quick thinking and the ability to identify, locate, and fix problems in a timely fashion are important skills for working IT professionals.
Those who work in IT are often the only people at their company who know the ins and outs of the computer system. This means they must be able to communicate with their less computer-savvy colleagues in a clear, patient fashion. Thus, excellent communication and people skills are a must. Some career options for an information technology major include:
Computer Support Specialists
Computer support specialists assist customers with solving issues related to particular computer software or equipment. Many support specialists work inside of a call center, although they may also be asked to visit client locations. Some roles may require support specialists to assist IT professionals working for business organizations. Other support positions require interaction with non-IT professionals experiencing issues.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: An associate degree is typically required for entry-level computer support positions, although those holding a certificate in information technology may be considered. That being said, many companies prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor's degree in IT or a related field.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Computer support specialists may be required to earn certifications for vendor-specific products on which they provide support.
IT majors interested in programming languages may choose to pursue a career in computer programming. Computer programmers write and test computer code for computer systems and applications. They adjust their code to ensure each program completes its intended function. These professionals often work alone and may have the ability to work from home.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Most entry-level positions in computer programming require a bachelor's degree.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Programmers may need to know more than one programming language, including Visual Basic, JAVA, and C++. Additionally, they are often required to be certified on vendor-specific products.
Database Administrators (DBAs) create and oversee databases which store and organize data important to their individual company. DBAs are also responsible for ensuring that the information collected is stored in a secure manner. The data must also be accessible to data analysts within the organization. Additional duties may include providing database backups, testing the database structure, and monitoring database performance.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Most database administrators are required to earn a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science, or a related field. Employers may also require prior work experience.
- Special Certifications or Licensures: Generally speaking, database administrators are required to earn certification on the products they use. These certifications are typically offered by product vendors.
Computer Network Architects
Computer network architects are responsible for designing and building data communication networks for organizations. These networks may include wide area networks (WANs), local area networks (LANs), cloud infrastructure, or a combination of several different networks. These professionals must also consider network security and implement measures to ensure company information is protected.
- Minimum Educational Requirement: Computer network architects are typically required to have bachelor's degree, although some employers may prefer candidates with a graduate degree.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: As with most IT professions, certification is generally provided by specific vendors and used to signify that the recipient is proficient with their products.
Computer and Information Research Scientists
Computer and information research scientists seek to improve existing computer technologies or invent new technologies to suit their needs. They are required to solve complex IT problems throughout a number of different industries, and use algorithms to make various computer systems function in the most efficient way possible. These IT professionals may focus on computer programming, data mining, robotics, or other computer related fields. Additionally, many computer and information research scientists find work as professors at colleges and universities.
- Minimum Educational Requirements: For most computer and information research scientists, a Ph.D. is preferred.
- Special Certifications and Licensures: Depending on the specific industry in which they specialize, computer and information research scientists may need to obtain additional training or degrees in that field.
Information Technology Associations and Organizations
Information technology professionals can join a number of associations and organizations that provide professional development and support. Select organizations include:
- Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) -- The AITP is an international association dedicated to helping IT professionals advance their careers. They provide professional resources, a career center, and networking opportunities through local chapters.
- Data Management Association International (DAMA) -- DAMA seeks to support information professionals through a variety of methods, including local chapters, informational webinars, and more. They offer the Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP) designation, as well as an annual conference for members.
- CompTIA -- CompTIA is a non-profit trade association for the information technology industry. They seek to advance the interests of IT professionals through advocacy, training, certifications, and educational resources.
- Computer and Information Research Scientists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm
- Computer Network Architects, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-network-architects.htm
- Computer Programmers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm
- Computer Support Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm
- Database Administrators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/database-administrators.htm