How Do I Become an Information Technology (IT) Specialist?

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Technology is at the core of most businesses. There is technology that is used to run a business, such as computers, points of sale, and networks. There is also the provision of a technology-related service to customers, and professionals are required to keep computers running smoothly. For many companies, this means employing information technology specialists.

“Information technology specialist” is a broad job title encompassing many industries. Professionals in this field manage software, hardware, and networks. Roles can include providing customer support or maintaining those systems within a company. Necessary qualities include strong listening skills, the ability to solve problems quickly, decision-making skills, the capacity to multitask, and a strong understanding of computer systems.

IT specialists have typically earned at least a bachelor’s degree in a major related to computer science. Certifications are not usually required for entry-level work, and many are vendor-specific such as Oracle, Apple, Microsoft, or Cisco. Once employed, professionals may choose to pursue certifications for the technology utilized by their employer. These certifications may be necessary for job retention or career advancement. More senior roles at many companies require a master’s degree in an information technology-related field.

As this can often be an entry-level career, the pay can be lower than in more specialized roles. According to PayScale (2022), an IT specialist can expect to earn $58,326 per year on average. However, network and computer systems administrators earn an average of $91,250 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021).

Keep reading to learn the steps required to become an IT specialist.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Information Technology (IT) Specialist

Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

Graduating high school is the first step toward becoming an information technology specialist. Obtaining a diploma demonstrates the ability to complete a program and also yields the necessary credentials for admission to a two or four-year institution.

Without completing high school, students may complete a GED program. Aspiring information technology professionals should take courses in high school to prepare them for further studies such as computer science and advanced math.

Step 2: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (Four Years)

While the actual roles filled by information technology specialists can vary widely, most professionals in the field have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Typical majors include computer science, computer engineering, information science, electrical engineering, informatics, or information technology.

Students can complete their degrees on campus or online at programs such as the bachelor of science in information technology offered through Arizona State University.

Arizona State University

An online bachelor’s degree in information technology through Arizona State University can help students build expertise in core IT concepts, preparing them for IT careers where they can design, administer, and implement computer-based information solutions. Students in this program will have the option to specialize in one of the following two tracks: information systems or networking and security. By following a specialized track, students can prepare to transition into the professional world with a functional set of abilities.

Students take courses in operating system architecture; introduction to internet networking; information modeling, storage, and retrieval; foundations of information and computer system security; managing configurations and active directory; introduction to UNIX utilities; network information communication technology; and web programming for human-computer interface. The 120-credit program is completed over the course of eight terms, which typically takes four years to complete.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as computer network administrators, computer network analysts, computer network technicians, computer systems analysts, information security analysts, and security managers.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $700 per credit

Step 3: Obtain Entry-Level Work (Timelines Vary)

Completing a degree provides much of the theoretical knowledge an IT specialist needs; however, it needs to be translated to practical knowledge through experience in the field. Students can begin their job search in the final year of their undergraduate degree. Many employers recruit directly from universities and colleges from the top programs in the country. Typical entry-level workplaces for IT specialists include:

  • Application developer
  • Technical support specialist
  • Web developer
  • Business or systems analyst
  • Database administrator

Students who have internships or work experience are at a competitive advantage when interviewing. Completing a minor in related or useful fields such as business, communications, psychology, or math can also improve the chances of getting hired. It is also helpful for applicants to have a little bit of experience with several different software systems or languages for entry-level jobs. Employers aren’t looking for experts in the field but rather that is already a base knowledge or understanding.

Step 4: Pursue Vendor-Specific Certifications (Timelines Vary)

Once in a career as an IT specialist, professionals find that they will quickly specialize in one software system or language. To remain competitive in the workplace, professionals should pursue vendor-specific certifications that will further their education and expertise in the field. These certifications are sometimes required for continued employment or advancement.

Certifications that can be earned early on in a career include:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Apple Certified Associate (ACA)
  • Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
  • Linux Essentials Professional Development Certification (PDC)

The cost for the various certifications varies, and some employers will even pay for their employees to complete the process.

Step 5: Earn a Master’s Degree (Optional, Two Years)

Certifications can help retain or even advance employment as an IT specialist, but often further education may be necessary for more senior roles. Master’s programs such as business analytics, cybersecurity, big data, or information technology will bolster resumes and provide the skills required to fill top-level positions in technology companies. These programs are offered on campus or online.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers a fully online master of science in information technology program that professionals can complete without giving up a career or moving. Students learn how to meet the needs of an organization or societal group through the application of technology projects. The curriculum of this program emphasizes core technologies and allows students to select from two specialization areas: information systems management and systems development or computer architecture and information security.

This 30-credit program features courses in advanced information systems security; principles of computer and information technology architecture; advanced database management systems; software development for information technology; middleware programming and database security; security analysis; developing security policy; and systems administration of UNIX.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science, information technology, engineering, applied computing, or a closely related field from a regionally accredited college or university, a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, a completed graduate admission application, official transcripts, a personal statement, a current resume, and proof of English language proficiency.

Upon successfully completing the program, graduates can take up roles such as network forensics engineers, database architects, network engineers, cybersecurity specialists, big data specialists, information systems modelings, and network administrators.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $740 per credit

Additional online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in information technology (IT) can be found on our online information technology (IT) programs page.

Helpful Resources for Information Technology (IT) Specialists

Becoming an IT specialist takes some education and lots of on-the-job experience. Staying up to date with the latest technology within a given field is critical. Professionals should pursue certifications in their specialization and continue learning, be it through advanced degrees or vendor-provided programs. Below is a list of useful resources for those exploring a career as an IT specialist.

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