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Information Technology

Overview

CompTIA AITA, a major information technology (IT) industry trade association defines IT as the “utilization of computing via hardware, software, services, and infrastructure to create, store, exchange, and leverage information in its various forms to accomplish any number of objectives. Additionally, the term encompasses the workers that develop, implement, maintain, and utilize IT directly or indirectly.” Key elements of information technology include:

  • Hardware: computers, servers, storage, tablets, mobile phones, printers, network equipment
  • Software: productivity and business applications, network and security applications, mobile apps, video games, cloud computing, virtual reality
  • Services: deployment, integration, custom development, repair/upgrade, managed services
  • Infrastructure: Internet backbone, telecommunications networks, cloud data centers
  • Information: data, documents, voice, video, images
  • Business Objectives: commerce, production, communication, collaboration

Approximately 7.4 million workers are employed in technical and nontechnical positions at IT firms and at companies, nonprofits, and government agencies that have IT departments. About 85 percent of this total are technical workers. Another 206,000 work as self-employed technology professionals. More than 3.7 million people work in support/business (e.g. sales, marketing, finance, human resources, etc.) positions at tech companies. Finally, 133,000 people work as self-employed support/business professionals.

Information technology jobs are found throughout the United States and the world. CompTIA AITA reports that the top five states for IT worker employment are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. Within certain states there are also employment clusters such as Silicon Valley in California and Seattle, Washington. 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 occupational segment: design, programming, administration, sales, and service.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects annual employment growth of 13.5 percent for computer and information technology careers through 2026. The fastest-growing jobs include information security analysts (+28 percent), software developers (+24 percent), computer and information research scientists (+19 percent), and Web developers (+15 percent).

To succeed in this field, IT professionals need strong analytical and problem-solving skills, flexibility, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (for most positions), the ability to keep up with the latest technology, and a solid understanding of computers, the Internet, and IT 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.

Contrary to the stereotype, the industry isn’t merely for pasty-skinned nerds, but it welcomes workers with a wide range of personality types, from techies and creatives, to those with sales-or customer service–oriented personalities. Historically, salaries have been generous (computer and math professionals earned mean annual salaries of $89,810 in May 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor), and the possibility of making a mint in stock options is an especially delicious bonus for those brave enough to sign on with an unproven startup.

Few other career paths can present what technology jobs offer—meritocracy, high salaries, teamwork, and intellectual fulfillment. Information technology careers typically rank high in “best job” lists due to their combination of good pay, relatively low stress levels, challenging work, advancement possibilities, and strong employment demand. In 2018, 10 of the top 80 jobs on U.S. News & World Report best careers list were in IT or related areas (such as data analytics), including software developer (#1), statistician (#6), mathematician (#25), information security analyst (#32), IT manager (#42), computer systems analyst (#46), computer network architect (#49), computer systems administrator (#55), and database administrator (#69), Web developer (#76), and computer support specialist (#77).

Uppers
  • Tech is cool. It’s fun to be on the cutting-edge of technology and help design and build the next iPod, app, or smartphone.
  • A fast-growing industry. Strong employment demand is predicted for many IT occupations. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports that employment for information security analysts will grow by 28 percent through 2026. Job opportunities for software developers will increase by 24 percent during this same time span.
  • Career diversity. Opportunities are available for techies, creative types, communicators (sales, marketing, social media), and people with almost any type of skill set and personality type. There are many opportunities to transition to other careers in the field.
  • Good pay. Those employed in computer and mathematical careers earned mean annual salaries of $89,810 in May 2017, according to the DOL. This is much higher than the mean salary for all occupations, $50,620. Additionally, if you get in on the ground floor of a promising start-up, you might get a big payday if the company goes public.
  • Geographic freedom. Opportunities are available throughout the United States and all over the world. Some positions allow you to work from home. 
  • Happy workplaces. Many tech companies have a reputation for offering fun, laid-back work environments (and excellent perks). More than 15 tech companies were featured on CareerBliss.com’s recent list of the “50 Happiest Companies in America,” including Adobe, Intuit, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Oracle, Dell, Symantec, and Apple. Seventy-nine percent of IT professionals surveyed by CompTIA AITA in 2017 reported being satisfied with their jobs—up 6 percent from 2015. 
  • Great perks. Top companies offer excellent benefits such as free fitness classes and meals, paid sabbaticals, on-site medical care, paid maternity and paternity leave, and complete medical/dental benefits. Some perks are just plain fun. Health care tech giant Epic Systems has a tree-house conference room, a moat, and an Indiana Jones-themed tunnel at its corporate headquarters.
Downers
  • Limited job security. The tech industry is constantly expanding, contracting, and restructuring. Some U.S.-based jobs are being outsourced to foreign countries.    
  • Constant deadlines. When on deadline, you may have to work long hours, including at night and on weekends.
  • Constant learning. Since technology changes constantly, you’ll need to stay up to date throughout your career by attending continuing education classes, as well as by renewing your certifications or earning new, in-demand credentials.  
  • Unhappy workplaces. Some tech companies have a reputation for being stressful places to work at because of unrealistic expectations by managers, excessive work hours, or sexual and ethnic discrimination. 
  • Sedentary work environment. Many jobs involve a lot of time in front of a computer.
  • Fewer opportunities for some ethnic minorities. In 2016, IT workers at Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook were on average 56 percent white, 37 percent Asian, 3 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent black, according to the companies’ diversity reports. These companies, and the industry on the whole, are making efforts to increase these percentages, but progress has been slow.
  • It’s a man’s world. Women are underrepresented in most tech occupations. For example, in 2017, only 18.7 percent of software developers were women, according to the DOL, despite the fact that women make up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. This gender imbalance sometimes creates uncomfortable or even hostile work environments for women. One bright spot: women made up 40.6 of database administrators and 38.9 percent of computer systems analysts in 2017.