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Becoming an Information Technology (IT) Professional - Education, Experience & Certifications

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Technology is at the core of most businesses. There is the technology that is used to run the business such as computers, points of sale, and networks. There is also the provision of a technology-related service to customers, 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 that encompasses many different industries. Professionals in this field manage software, hardware, and networks. Roles can include providing support to customers 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 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 (2020), on average an IT specialist can expect to earn $56,806 per year. However, network and computer systems administrators earn $82,050 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019).

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

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 towards 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.

In the absence of 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 (Two to 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. ASU’s program offers three tracks: networking and computer system security, information systems, and enterprise computing. Students take courses in calculus, information modeling, network systems, and statistics. The 120-credit program is completed over the course of eight terms, which typically takes four years to complete.

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 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. For entry-level jobs, it is also helpful for applicants to have a little bit of experience with several different software systems or languages. 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 slowly specialize in one software system or language. To remain competitive in the workplace professionals should pursue the vendor-specific certifications that will further their education and expertise in the field. These certifications are sometimes required for continued employment or advancement.

Certifications which 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 vary 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 necessary skills to fill top-level positions in technology companies. These programs are offered on campus or online.

Arizona State University offers a fully online master’s in science in information technology that professionals can complete without having to give up a career or move. Students learn how to meet the needs of an organization or societal group through the application of technology projects. This 30-credit program features courses in security analysis, middleware programming and database security, and software development for information technology.

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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