What is Information Technology? A Beginner's Guide to IT

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By DeVry University

April 30, 2021
7 min read

No matter where we go or what we do, information technology increasingly connects us to the world around us in new and exciting ways. Oftentimes, you might not even realize it.

But exactly what is information technology? How does it impact the companies we do business with each day? What degree is best for information technology careers?

Information Technology 101: What is Information Technology?

Let’s start at the beginning by answering the question “what is information technology?”

For many people, information technology (IT) is synonymous with the individuals we call for help when our computers aren’t working. While this view isn’t necessarily incorrect, information technology encompasses much more. IT involves the governance and maintenance of computer systems and their operations, along with the development and management of infrastructure such as networks and software.

From that, we can safely say that information technology comprises everything from hardware, software, networking and cloud computing to data security and technical support. It includes the design and development of apps and tools, analysis and management of data, IT infrastructure planning and implementation, cybersecurity and more.

There are many information technology degree jobs and specialization opportunities, and they only continue to grow. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 11% growth in information technology occupations through 2029.1 This is much faster than the average for all occupations and includes approximately 531,200 new IT jobs to be added.1

Why is Information Technology Important?

At its core, information technology serves to solve business or organizational problems on a broad scale. Without functioning IT systems, work in many organizations may likely come to a halt. It would be difficult in the modern era to find a business that doesn’t at least partially rely on computers and the networks that connect them.

And as competition rises among markets, many businesses find it necessary to implement more sophisticated programs and solutions. Having strong IT systems can potentially help set businesses apart from their competitors by outsmarting, outpacing and out-delivering them.

Understanding Core Concepts in IT

Under the larger umbrella of information technology are many specialties and subspecialties. Most align to a handful of core concepts that touch all aspects of computing, across every type of business and industry. These include:

Information Security

In our interconnected world, personal and sensitive data lives on our devices and online at banks, healthcare providers, e-commerce sites and anywhere else we conduct business. We frequently hear of breaches or hacks that compromise data; although major incidents make headlines, these instances represent only a small fraction of the amount of sensitive data stored online.

That’s only because there is an army of information security professionals working behind the scenes to keep your data safe from cybercriminals. People who specialize in this area are skilled at assessing threats, developing countermeasures, ensuring network security, auditing system usage and implementing disaster recovery plans. They also have the knowledge to trace and identify the source of threats using computer forensic techniques.

Database and Network Management

Cloud computing company Domo released their annual “Data Never Sleeps” infographic in 2020 which shows how much data is generated every minute. The 150,000 Facebook messages, 500 hours of video uploads to YouTube and 41+ million WhatsApp messages are just the beginning.

It’s not just social media and ecommerce providers either. Businesses of all sizes depend on the accurate and timely sharing of data to get the job done. IT professionals who specialize in database management are experts in data storage and retrieval, database management system (DBMS) architecture, data backup and recovery, data archives and more.

Database professionals often work alongside network managers and analysts who understand how data is transmitted from person to person and from device to device. These specialists excel in network design, in-house company networks, cloud computing, mobile networks and network security.

Computer Technical Support

Ever have a problem with your computer that required professional help? Then you already understand the basics of computer technical support, which can go by many names such as help desk, service desk or desktop support. There is hardly a more valuable resource to a frustrated user than the technical support employee who can solve their computer problem.

Successful support professionals are patient and understanding, with the ability to ask the right questions and get to the root of an issue. They have a broad-based understanding of hardware, software and systems, oftentimes with knowledge of and training in specific applications and software packages relevant to the industry in which they work. The technical support team is typically organized in tiers, with entry-level employees escalating complex problems to their more experienced colleagues.

Business Software Development

Software developers are coveted by businesses that seek to update existing programs or create new proprietary applications. Developers work closely with business analysts and users to audit and upgrade systems, generate code for new software solutions, maintain and test software and document how programs and apps work.

Some developers specialize in types of software (apps, databases, operating systems), while others focus on a specific industry like finance, healthcare, gaming, ecommerce and beyond. Many developers work on technology product teams, but there are some who work solo to develop their own apps for sale on the open market.

Becoming an IT Professional: What Degree is Best for Information Technology?

As you might guess, the best degree depends on where your interests lie. Do you want to be a hands-on developer? Help solve complex problems for users? Manage systems, networks or data? Become an IT leader?

The good news is that no matter what your goals are, there are technology degree programs at all levels – associate, bachelor’s and master’s. Popular degrees include, but are not limited to:

  • Computer Information Systems: Learn how to code and write programs, update existing programs, debug programs and create and test code. Areas of focus can include computer forensics, cybersecurity, database management, software programming and more.
  • Information Systems Management: Build essential knowledge of information security, data administration and management and IT project management. Learn how to apply information systems concepts to real-world challenges and evaluate potential technology solutions.
  • Information Technology Management: Gain the skills to advance your knowledge of information systems, networks and applications. Learn how to apply management techniques, business acumen and analytical abilities to technical environments.
  • Information Technology and Networking: Study the Internet of Things (IoT), operating systems, programming, hardware, connectivity and security. Specialize in areas such as automation and electronics, information systems and programming or network systems administration.
  • Network Systems Administration: Learn how to install and configure routers and switches, troubleshoot common problems and monitor network performance. Gain critical thinking and system analysis skills, as well as prepare to earn industry certifications.
  • Software Development: Gain interdisciplinary skills and knowledge of operating systems, programming, hardware and connectivity. In addition to learning how to develop desktop, web and mobile apps and tools, a focus on software development may also offer specializations in big data and analytics.

You may also consider undergraduate technology certificate programs, like DeVry’s IT Essentials Certificate, that focus on core skills you can apply toward specialized degrees later on. 

What are Common Job Titles in Information Technology?

Information technology degree jobs may go by different names depending on the organization, but some of the more common titles by area of expertise include:

  • Computer Information Systems: Computer Programmer, Computer Security Specialist, Computer Support Specialist, Data Analyst, Database Administrator, Software Engineer
  • IT Management: Computer and Information Systems Manager, Database Manager, Network Systems and Data Communications Analyst
  • Networking: Computer Network Support Specialist, Computer Systems Analyst
  • Software Development: Software Application Developer, Software Systems Developer

What Are Typical Salaries in Information Technology?

Salaries for IT professionals can vary based on experience, education and the company or industry in which they are employed. For a general understanding of earning potential for information technology degree jobs, we recommend referencing the occupational data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There, you can learn more about median salary ranges, education requirements and more.

What to Look for in an Information Technology Program

Deciding what degree is best for information technology careers depends on your goals and areas of interest. However, there are some commonalities that make for a successful program. Look for:

  • Hands-on work with foundational technologies and IT concepts.
  • Access to computer equipment and tools that help you gain real-world skills.
  • Opportunities to specialize your IT degree in a niche discipline.
  • Curriculum that prepares you to earn industry-recognized certifications.
  • Professors with strong academic credentials and experience in the IT industry.
  • Options for on campus, online and hybrid learning.
  • An accredited university that empowers students to achieve their goals.

Ready to Get Started in IT?

Achieving your goals may be closer than you think. Explore our information technology degree and certificate programs and contact us to start building a path toward your future.

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1Growth projected on a national level. Local growth will vary by location. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm