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

By DeVry University

April 30, 2021
7 min read

Information technology plays an important role in many aspects of our lives, and in some ways that we may not even realize. Over the last few decades, IT has increasingly influenced the way we connect with each other, the way we learn, the way we work and the different ways our businesses grow, innovate and prosper.

But exactly what is information technology? How is it used by the companies we do business with each day, and how can you prepare to pursue a career in information technology?

  • Information Technology 101: What is Information Technology?

  • Why is Information Technology Important?

  • Understanding Core Concepts in IT

  • Hardware vs. Software

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

  • What are Some of the Job Titles in Information Technology?

  • What IT Certifications Should I Consider Earning?

  • What Skills Are Important for a Career in IT?

  • What Are Typical Salaries in Information Technology?

  • What to Look for in an Information Technology Program?

Information Technology 101: What is Information Technology?

Let’s begin 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.

Information technology comprises everything from computer hardware and software to networks, cloud computing, data security and technical support. It includes the design and development of apps and tools, analysis and data management, IT infrastructure planning and implementation, cyber security and more.

There are many different career paths  in the information technology field, and the demand for IT professionals continues to grow. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 15% growth in information technology occupations on a national level between 2021 and 2031.1 This is much faster than the average for all occupations, with about 418,500 job openings projected for each year, on average. This growth is projected on a national level and will vary by location. These projections are also not specific to DeVry University graduates and may include earners at all stages of their career and not just entry level. 

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 would likely grind to a halt. It would be difficult to find a business anywhere that doesn’t rely at least partially 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 affect only a small fraction of the sensitive data stored online.

Cyber security professionals work 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 which shows how much data is generated every minute. The 1.7 million pieces of content shared on Facebook, 2.43 million snaps on Snapchat, 231.4 million emails sent and $443,000 spent on Amazon per minute in 2022 gives you some idea of how widespread the exchange of data has become and drives home the need for information technology professionals to manage and protect it.

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 adept 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. Whether you call it the help desk, the service desk or desktop support, there is hardly a more useful 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 sought after 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 specific industries like finance, healthcare, gaming, ecommerce and others. 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.

Hardware vs. Software

Modern information technology encompasses a broad array of devices, methodologies, systems, programming languages and connectivity. But even with all its complexities, it can still be broken down to two major parts: hardware and software.

The physical equipment required to manage information is referred to as hardware. This IT component consists of the devices we rely upon daily to communicate and to manage, process and store information such as mobile phones and laptop computers. It also includes peripheral devices like printers, switches, servers and routers that are used in different configurations by work-from-home individuals and giant data centers alike.

The software component of IT has two basic parts: system software and applications. Systems software manages basic computing functions. Without it, your computer or mobile phone would not know how to run the myriad applications that we use every day.

Examples of system software include:

  • Operating systems

    Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android and Linux are all operating systems found in today’s  computers and mobile devices.

  • Device drivers

    Drivers enable communication between the OS and hardware components like printers. As your IT guy may have told you, that printer’s not going to work unless its driver has been installed.

  • Firmware

    Controlling a device’s basic functions, this type of software is typically pre-installed in a device and may need to be updated periodically for the device to function optimally.

  • Utilities

    Like your computer’s own maintenance department, this type of software provides tools for system maintenance and optimization.

  • Boot loaders

    This funny-sounding software helps your computer boot up (start the computer working and prepare for operation) or reboot by initializing the OS during startup.

Application software is the category of computer programs that enable us to perform a wide range of tasks. In large and small businesses, application software is used to manage and analyze data, send and receive emails, create, edit and share documents and presentations and manage payroll and customer relationships. In our personal lives, applications allow us to capture and manipulate images to post on social media, file our tax returns, navigate our way past traffic jams, browse the internet and shop virtually at our favorite stores.


Examples of application software include some that you might use every day:

  • Microsoft’s ubiquitous MS Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) enable us to create and edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets and emails.

  • Internet browsers, like Safari, Google Chrome and Firefox enable web searching and browsing.

  • Real-time online communication tools such as Skype, Zoom and Google Meet are intended to bring us together even if we’re miles apart.

  • Project management applications like Teams, Asana and Slack allow teams to collaborate virtually.

  • Graphic and computer-aided design software, such as Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, Canva and AutoCAD, help create the graphic files used in marketing, manufacturing, construction and other business sectors.

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

As you might guess, the right degree for you 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, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates. Some of these 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 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 Some of the Job Titles in Information Technology?

Information technology degree jobs may go by different names depending on the organization, but some of the titles you might come across 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 Analyst and Data Communications Analyst

  • Networking

    Computer Network Support Specialist, Computer Systems Analyst

  • Software Development

    Software Application Developer, Software Systems Developer

What IT Certifications Should I Consider Earning?

Certifications are an important consideration in information technology. They are intended to validate the skills you’ve learned and can help you stay competitive as a candidate for a new job in IT. They can also help you stay on top of the latest technology and industry best practices throughout your career. That’s why at DeVry, we’ve designed several of our tech programs with industry-recognized certifications in mind. Each certification has its own prerequisites and exam characteristics, such as the cost, duration, number of questions and passing score.

Sought-after certifications in the areas of cloud computing, data privacy, cyber security, data management and project management include:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate

    Useful for cloud solution architect, project managers and developers, this certification puts your skills in creating and using AWS (Amazon Web Services) cloud initiatives on display.

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional

    This certificate recognizes advanced-level technical skills and knowledge of design, management and security of data applications and infrastructure of cloud computing. It’s built around the policies and best practices established by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium.

  • Google Professional Cloud Architect

    One of several Google-related certifications, this credential acknowledges your ability to design, develop and manage resources on Google’s cloud architecture.

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

    Offered by EC-Council, the CEH v12 certification focuses on the latest methods used by hackers and information security professionals to lawfully hack an organization’s systems. This one is a bit different than most certifications, in that you have to apply to the EC-Council and submit an exam eligibility form before you can purchase an exam voucher.

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor

    Recommended for professionals working in information security (IS) auditing, security or control, the CISA certification is recognized globally as the primary certification for audit control.

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

    Offered by ScrumAlliance as the first in a multi-step learning journey, the CSM credential is an advanced project management certification.

  • CompTIA Certifications

    CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) offers multiple certifications that verify foundational IT skills across a range of devices and operating systems. Their CompTIA A+, CompTIA Cloud+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications are all sought after by employers.

  • Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE)

    Offered by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), this credential demonstrates the knowledge and skills required to assess, build and implement thorough data privacy solutions. At least three years working in privacy governance is required to pursue this certification. 

What Skills Are Important for a Career in IT?

If you’re preparing to pursue a career in information technology it’s important to know that, as in many other career paths, technical, or what’s known as hard skills are important, but you should also understand the importance of the various non-technical, known as soft, or interpersonal skills that could help make you a more attractive candidate as your career progresses, especially if you’re working toward IT management positions.

Hard skills for IT professionals include hardware and software deployment, database management, cloud computing, and machine learning and artificial intelligence. Technical proficiency in these areas can help you to troubleshoot issues as they arise and better understand your organization’s information technology goals.

No matter what level your position is, knowing how to work well with others is vital to developing strong working relationships, which is where soft skills come into play. As an IT manager, these skills become even more important. Depending upon the size of the organization and its IT department, your management responsibilities could include interviewing and hiring team members, leading IT department meetings, supervising and training IT specialists and evaluating employee performance, leading IT department meetings, and setting goals and managing budgets for teams, projects and initiatives.

But no matter your role or level, having well-developed relationship skills like these will help you be as effective a team player as possible. Examples of these skills are:

  1. Communication

    Robust verbal and written communication skills enable IT professionals to work effectively within their team members, speak clearly and confidently with their counterparts in other departments, and help non-technical personnel to understand technical subject matter.

  2. Strategic thinking

    Information technology professionals use this trait to make informed decisions relative to project management, scheduling, budgeting and other aspects of their department’s operations and initiatives.

  3. Time management

    Strong time management skills enable IT staff and their teams to meet deadlines and maintain an overall higher level of productivity.

  4.  Planning

    With strong planning skills you can be more effective in organizing projects, budgets and presentations. A good planner knows how to break down a goal into actionable steps to be taken by individuals or the team collectively. 

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.


2At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied.

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