Pros and Cons of Becoming an IT Engineer
IT engineers can either specialize in software development, such as smartphone applications, or computer hardware engineering to design physical products. Check out the list of pros and cons below to see if a career as an IT engineer is programmable with your lifestyle.
|Pros of Being an IT Engineer|
|Excellent job growth for software developers (22% increase from 2012-2022)*|
|Jobs are found in a variety of public and private sector organizations*|
|High pay for hardware engineers (middle 50 percent earned from $84,600-$135,840 in 2014)*|
|Some jobs allow for telecommuting*|
|Cons of Being an IT Engineer|
|Overtime is often required (close to 25% work more than 40 hours weekly)*|
|High stress work environment*|
|Slow growth for hardware engineers (7% increase between 2010 and 2020)*|
|May need advanced degree for advancement*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job duties for IT engineers range from repairing and maintaining hardware to testing and resolving problems with software applications. As an engineer, you may also create computer programs, design data systems and oversee installation. When software or equipment is not performing as it should, you could find yourself working long hours to resolve these critical issues. Writing reports and creating documentation and instructional manuals will demand strong communication skills. IT engineers may also be involved in strategic planning sessions to determine what technologies are available and what could be utilized to satisfy future needs.
Employment Prospects and Salary
Advancements in technology and the widespread use of computers may contribute to the belief that careers in information technology and computer operations will expand in the coming years. In some cases, that is true. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected a 22% increase in the employment of software developers during the 2012-2022 decade, due in part to the explosion of mobile technology and, more specifically, the need for new applications. Salaries for qualified engineers are also very high. The BLS estimated that in May 2014, systems software developers earned an average yearly wage of over $106,050 and software application developers received about $99,530 in annual pay.
However, not all fields of IT engineering will grow at such a fast rate. Predictions from the BLS show that the employment of computer hardware engineers will grow at a rate of only 7 percent between 2012 and 2022. This low rate of growth can be contributed to the fact that more technological advances occur in the area of software development than with actual computer equipment and other related devices. Salaries are still impressive, with computer hardware engineers earning an average of more than $110,650 annually, based on BLS figures from May of 2014.
Education and Skills
Whether an IT engineer decides to work with computer hardware or develop software, employers most often require engineers to hold a bachelor's degree. Computer hardware engineers generally seek degrees in computer or electrical engineering and take courses in science, math and computer science, including programming. Software developers major in related programs such as software engineering, mathematics or computer science. According to the BLS, below are additional skills you may need to possess:
- Think creatively
- Pay close attention to details
- Find solutions for difficult problems
- Effectively communicate with co-workers
- Working in a group environment
What Are Employers Looking for?
A large number of employers prefer to hire IT engineers who have earned a degree in computer science or related field, but many will consider candidates who have several years of work experience or industry certification. A thorough understanding of computers and working knowledge of various servers and operating systems is essential.
In addition, strong verbal and written communication skills are necessary. Check out real job postings from April of 2012, summarized below, to get an idea of what skills and qualifications employers want:
- A telecommunications company in Texas is seeking an IT engineer with a bachelor's degree and four or more years of experience in maintaining servers and diagnosing problems with printers and personal computers. Job duties include testing systems, hardware and software, configuring and repairing routers and switches, creating test plans and assisting with network upgrades. Experience in systems administration and knowledge of Windows, Linux and Oracle operating systems, sniffer packet tracing and Wireshark are also required.
- A Fortune 500 applications company in Texas is looking for a logistics IT Engineer with either 12 years of related experience or a bachelor's degree in systems engineering and at least six years of experience. The ideal applicant should have knowledge of Oracle/SQL Server, as well as the capability to obtain secret clearance.
- A municipality in Arizona is looking for an IT Engineer II that can provide customer support of CMMS and GIS applications. Experience in developing and taking care of technical documents, writing reports and implementing web tools and applications is required. Knowledge of ArcGIS, ARCObjects, Windows servers, SQL and Oracle is a plus. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree in a related computer field, but can substitute 3-5 years of work experience in application programming or Web development in lieu of a degree.
How to Stand Out
According to the BLS, engineers need to know about new, emerging technologies to keep systems and software current and efficient. Much of this can be discovered while taking continuing education courses and going to trade events, conferences and seminars. It is also essential that engineers are familiar with the industry that they are employed in so they may better understand the needs of their company.
For example, an IT engineer in charge of creating and maintaining computer systems at a healthcare company needs to understand what medical data is collected and how doctors and patients utilize technology to access it. Engineers working at a bank or other financial institution may gain valuable insight by completing courses in business administration and finance.
Many employers are beginning to desire engineers who have a master's degree in computer science or engineering. Obtaining a Master of Business Administration could help you advance to management in an IT department or other areas in an organization.
Many companies that create IT software, computer systems, servers and other equipment offer certification for engineers. These designations show employers that an engineer is dedicated to their job and possess a higher level of technical expertise. The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) and Cisco's Certified Network Associate (CCNA) are among the certifications that many companies desire their candidates to possess. To qualify, engineers must pass an examination or series of tests.
Computer Support Specialist
If earning a four-year degree in computer science seems overwhelming, you might want to consider a career as a computer support specialist. Although some employers may prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree, many lower-level support positions can be obtained with just an associate's degree or some post-high school training in computer or information science.
On-the-job training provides many of the skills needed to complete job duties. Computer support specialists monitor and maintain company networks, test systems, and resolve issues with computer equipment. While some job duties many overlap with those of an IT engineer, computer support specialists do not usually design systems for a company or organization and the level of responsibility is considerably less.
Because many companies and organizations are constantly upgrading their computer systems to keep up with emerging technologies, the demand for computer support specialists is likely to grow in the near future. The BLS predicted the employment of these specialists might increase by 18% from 2010-2020. In May of 2011, the BLS estimated that the average annual salary of computer support specialists was close to $52,000.
If you like to work on electronic equipment but don't want to design and maintain software programs or networks, you might be interested in a career in electronics engineering. Electronics engineers assess organizational equipment needs, create plans and analyze costs, design equipment and parts, troubleshoot performance issues and recommend modifications to enhance or improve efficiency.
To work in the industry, you will need to obtain a bachelor's degree, preferably in electrical engineering or related engineering field. Certification is not necessarily required, but many employers prefer to hire professionals who hold the Professional Engineer (PE) license.
The employment growth rate for electronics engineers, as determined by the BLS, is projected to be slower than average, only five percent between 2010 and 2020, due to the decline of manufacturing industries. The BLS measured the median salary of electronics engineers who do not work with computers to be approximately $92,000, similar to pay earned by IT engineers.