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Industries & Professions /
The information technology (IT) field is a segment of engineering focused on developing, installing, and implementing computer systems and applications to store, process, and receive data electronically. IT can be divided into three broad categories: hardware, software, and the Internet. Hardware refers to the physical equipment of a computer, such as motherboards, memory chips, and microprocessors. Software includes the programs that tell the hardware exactly what to do and how to do it. The Internet is composed of numerous global networks that are connected to each other.
Recent trends that have impacted the field of information technology include downsizing of computer systems and replacing big mainframe computers with client-server architecture that allows users greater computing flexibility and increased access to data; and the rapid growth of the Internet and World Wide Web, which has revolutionized information sharing through real-time video conferencing, e-mail services, online research, help lines, and long-distance telephone calls. Internet use on handheld and tablet devices, such as iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and Nooks, through wireless networks has revolutionized people's access to technology.
Computer manufacturers and software companies hire a wide range of professionals with many employers located in certain areas, like Northern California, Seattle, and parts of the East Coast. IT employment opportunities vary by industry segment. Within the hardware and software branches of the computer industry, many positions overlap and not every company will hire people to fill positions in each basic segment: design, programming, administration, sales, and service.
Jobs in the design and programming segments include designers who research and evaluate the market or existing technology to find opportunities for improvements or new product design. Programmers write the coded instructions that make computers work properly; systems programmers write the instructions that make different computers and peripherals work together; and software programmers write instructions for how computers should respond to various input and what on-screen displays should be generated. Positions in administration and sales include computer administrators who are in charge of daily operations of different kinds of computer systems; network administrators, who attempt to isolate the causes of problems and fix them if a network server goes down; and sales representatives, who work for computer manufactures to market and advertise their products. Sales representatives may also work in retail stores selling products directly to consumers. Computer service is a broad category of careers with positions that include systems setup specialists, technical support specialists, and computer repairers.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that as of May 2012 there were approximately 3.5 million people employed in computer occupations, of which about 1.4 million people worked in jobs related to software development and programming. Information technology weathered the recession of 2007 to 2009 better than many other industries, shedding only 1 percent of its workforce in 2009 and then growing to surpass its 2008 employment numbers by 2010. Employment opportunities for computer professionals, including software engineers, systems administrators, network administrators, computer systems analysts, database administrators, and support specialists are expected to increase through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
To succeed in this field, computer professionals need flexibility, a formal education, must keep up with the latest technology, and need a solid understanding of computer basics. However, the technology of today may be obsolete in months, if not weeks, and only those individuals who work to remain on the cutting edge will have long-term growth potential during their career.