An Information Technology Career: Pros and Cons
When working in information technology (IT), you may be responsible for managing a network, designing and developing computer software or keeping important data safe and secure. The following pros and cons may help you to decide if a career in information technology is right for you.
|Pros of an Information Technology Career|
|Expected above-average job growth for some computer occupations from 2012-2022*|
|Good earning potential (anywhere from $52,000 to $124,000 average yearly salary depending on the position)*|
|Unlimited learning potential (advance your career by keeping up with technology)*|
|Variety of specialty areas (programming, software, support, networks, systems)*|
|Work is autonomous and often flexible (can sometimes be completed off site, allowing for telecommuting)*|
|Cons of an Information Technology Career|
|Might have to compete with workers overseas for jobs*|
|Support positions often work long hours (may be on call overnight and weekends to update servers and fix issues)*|
|Certain skills, jobs may become obsolete as technology changes*|
|Work is sedentary and can be isolating, requiring long periods in front of a computer screen*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job Titles and Descriptions
You'll have different responsibilities depending on what area of IT you decide to focus on. Computer programmers, software application and systems developers, computer hardware engineers, web developers and computer network architects work to design, create and implement what makes up the IT infrastructure of an organization. Systems and security analysts as well as database administrators test, maintain and secure the IT infrastructure. Computer support specialists support the IT infrastructure by working closely with the employees who depend on it. Finally, computer and information systems managers are responsible for managing IT departments and staff.
In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an average annual salary of $83,000 for computer programmers; $105,000 for software systems developers, $93,000 for security analysts, $70,000 for web developers and $102,000 for network architects. Computer user support specialists were at the low end - making on average about $52,000 per year - and computer and information research scientists were at the high end, averaging around $124,000 per year.
Software developers had a good job outlook in IT according to the BLS, with employment expected to grow 20% for systems developers and 23% for application developers between 2012 and 2022. Employment for network and systems administrators (12%), security analysts (37%), web developers (20%) and network architects (15%) were also predicted to grow as fast as or faster than average during the same time period. Security analysts may especially be in demand given organizations' increasing need to secure data, like medical records, and safeguard against cyber attacks. Computer support specialists should see about 17% employment growth while and computer and information systems managers should see about 15% employment growth, which is faster than the 11% average the BLS projected across all occupations.
What are the Requirements?
Education and Training Requirements
Entry-level positions in IT typically require a bachelor's degree in an area like information technology, information systems, computer science or software development. In some fields, like computer programming, an associate's degree is sufficient. If you're interested in a career in management, you may want to consider a master's degree in management information systems or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Information Systems.
Advancement in many IT professions is tied to advancements in technology, which makes on-the-job training, continuing education and professional development so valuable. Computer support specialists must be aware of changes in technology to be able to solve problems as they arise. Computer programmers must stay up to date on new and upgraded programming languages.
What Do Employers Look For?
Besides a bachelor's degree in an area of IT, employers may look for field-specific training or experience. For example, a database security analyst should have experience as a database administrator, and a computer and information systems manager looking to work in a hospital should have previous IT experience in a healthcare setting. Communication and listening skills are important for IT professionals who work directly with people, whereas programmers and security analysts should be analytical and detail oriented. Read the following actual job postings to learn what employers were looking for in an IT professional during April 2012:
- A senior-living and healthcare management company is looking for a support specialist at its White Plains, NY, facility. The ideal candidate should have a computer science degree, knowledge of specific applications and experience troubleshooting mobile devices and working with computer hardware, operating systems and diagnostic utilities.
- An IT company northeast of Richmond, VA, that provides services to the government and defense sectors is seeking a computer programmer/software developer with an active security clearance, programming language certification, 5-8 years of software development and two years of programming experience.
- Santa Clara County in San Jose, CA, is looking to hire information systems managers in various departments who have current knowledge of network architecture, database systems and structures, programming language source code and security techniques.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
Numerous certifications are available for IT professionals in areas such as software, programming languages and networks. Becoming certified will help you to demonstrate competence in a certain area and may enable you to stand out to potential employers. Popular hardware, software and systems certifications include those from companies like Microsoft, Cisco, HP, IBM and Linux. C++ and Java are the most common programming languages in which to become certified, and more general certifications are available for network, security and support professionals.
Other Fields to Consider
Perhaps you like the idea of working with computers and technology, but you'd rather be in a position that allows your creative side to flourish. If you love video games and have graphic arts or multimedia design skills, you could become a video game designer. You'll work with a team of designers and technical and production staff to design characters, story lines, mechanics and other game features. Bachelor's degree programs in computer and video game design are available, or you could combine degrees in visual arts/design and computer science. PayScale.com reported in April 2012 that the median annual salary for a video game designer in the entertainment or game software industry was around $56,000.
Perhaps you'd like the challenge of developing new technology as well as solutions to problems on both the product and user ends. If that's the case, you may want to consider becoming a computer and information research scientist. A Ph.D. in computer science or a related area is often required for this highly technical and research-driven career. According to the BLS, in May 2011, computer and information research scientists earned a mean annual salary of around $103,000.