Understanding Information Technology A Guide to IT Career Opportunities

The information technology industry employs nearly 6 million individuals across a range of industries, from technology to healthcare, finance and education. As an occupational field, information technology is projected to be one of the fastest growing in the nation, collectively producing 18 percent additional job openings nationally between 2012 and 2022. The following page serves as a high-level introduction to information technology, from the trends and drivers impacting change, overviews of career avenues and earning potential, as well as a discussion about landing a job in the industry.

Top Information Technology Careers and Average Salaries

  • Computer and Information Research Scientists - $113,190
  • Software Developers, Systems Software – $106,050
  • Computer Network Architects - $100,710
  • Software Developers, Applications – $99,530
  • Information Securities Analyst – $91,600
  • Computer Systems Analyst – $87,320
  • Computer Programmers - $82,690
  • Database Administrators – $82,280
  • Network and Computer System Admins – $79,770
  • Web Developers - $68,670
  • Computer Network Support Specialists - $66,140
  • Computer User Support Specialists - $51,500

What is Information Technology?

IT Fast Facts

Did you know that global telecommunications revenue is expected to reach $460 billion US by 2017

The information age has ushered in advances in computer and communication technology, advances that have sparked what has been termed the “information revolution.” At the heart of this revolution is the exponential demand for access to, management of, and transformation of information. Information technology drives the dynamic information infrastructure that has become integrated on a global scale socially, culturally, and economically. Databases. Apps. Computer software. Websites. Mobile data. Servers. Voice networks. Each part of the larger, interconnected informational ecosystem.

Broadly, information technology can be defined as the use of computing via various components (e.g. hardware, services, software) to develop, manage, transform, share and store information in different forms. Example components of information technology include the following:


Systems deployment, support, repair


Mobile applications, network security, desktop applications


Cloud computing, Internet, telecommunications


Servers, mobile devices, network systems, computers

Careers in information technology deal with the design, creation, management and maintenance of the varied components of the system, including software, hardware, networks, systems integration and multimedia. Broadly, information technology can be divided into four central pathways: network systems, information support and services, programming and software development, and Web and digital communication. Down each career avenue exist myriad occupational opportunities, ranging from database administrator to computer systems engineer, digital media specialist to systems analyst.

Network Systems.

Careers in this field are responsible for designing, analyzing, developing and implementing network systems.

Information Support and Services

Careers in this field are responsible for deploying and managing computer systems and software, providing technical support and maintaining information systems.

Programming and Software Development.

Careers in this field are responsible for planning, designing, updating and managing computer software and systems through software programming and development.

Web & Digital Communications.

Careers in this field are responsible for the creation and production of interactive media, including digital and multimedia products.

The Rise of Careers in the IT Field

At the end of 2014, there were more than 1 billion websites on the Internet. Globally, eMarketer projects there will be more than 2 billion smartphone users by 2016. In 2014, Apple sold 13.27 million iPads, 5.20 million iPhones, 4.41 million Macs and 2.96 million iPods – in the 3rd quarter of the year alone. The three most valuable brands in the world? Apple, Microsoft and Google. Start-up Snapchat is floating a $19 billion valuation in 2015; Dropbox, $10 billion; and Uber, $42 billion. During the last two decades, advancements in technology have started to make one thing crystal clear: nearly anything is possible.

Workplace boundaries have dissolved thanks to wireless connections, tele- and web-conferencing. Data has become a commodity and technology is moving from the desktop to watches and eyeglasses. These technological advancements have created a world of endless possibilities where the exchange of information has become sacrosanct and the world has become slightly smaller.

According to CompTIA’s “IT Industry Outlook 2015” report, the IT sector employs more than 5.7 million workers in both technical and non-technical occupations. Approximately 4.88 million of that number can be attributed to technical IT occupations that are found in departments across every industry in the world. Of the global IT industry, the major segments consist of telecom services (44 percent), IT hardware (27 percent), IT services (18 percent) and software (11 percent). By percentage growth, CompTIA notes the career fields experiencing the largest employment gains in 2014 included Web developers, information security analysts, computer systems analysts, software developers (applications, and software developers (systems software).

Software developers,systems software
Database administrators
Network and computer system admins
Software developers, applications
Computer systems analyst
Information security analysts
Computer user support specialists
Computer network support specialists
Computer programmers
Web developers
Computer and information research scientists
Computer network architects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase of 18 percent in all computer occupations nationally between 2012 and 2022. However, within the information technology space, some jobs are expected to fare better than others. Below is an overview of three IT career paths expected to see even more accelerated growth between 2012 and 2022:

Information Security Analysts

Experts in network and computer security, information security analysts handle all aspects of network security including encryption, firewall administration and network protocols, and may handle a variety of responsibilities from developing security policies to conducting risk assessments and security audits, or from recommending upgrades to data systems security to dealing with data security breaches.

Overall occupation growth Best opportunities by industry
Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts are responsible for integrating business management and data analysis, assessing how automated systems can be implemented to solve complex business problems, providing IT support for business users and making software and hardware recommendations to achieve business objectives.

Overall occupational growth Best opportunities by industry
Web Developers

Web developers have extensive understanding of Web technologies, applications and coding tools such as JavaScript, HTML, AJAX and PHP. Example responsibilities include developing Web-based applications, writing site code, integrating back-end systems and providing technical assistance.

Overall occupational growth Best opportunities by industry

Building a New Grid: Emerging IT Career Fields

For the foreseeable future, the demand of highly skilled IT professionals is expected to outpace the supply, according to human resource consulting firm Robert Half. Specifically, Robert Half predicts companies will be seeking talent in three major areas: big data, security and mobile. The reason? Employers across industry sectors have built those three areas into the core components of their infrastructure, products and services. In turn, what does this mean for the current information technology industry? It’s undergoing a transformation.

  • Mobile

    The impact of mobile technology cannot be understated as it is altering digital, economic and social landscapes on a global scale. Consider research from Boston Consulting Group: In 2014, mobile technologies generated approximately $3.3 trillion in global revenue. Mobile apps and content produced $530 billion in revenue and the sale of mobile devices neared the $1 trillion dollar mark globally in 2014. Venture capital investments in mobile technologies doubled between 2010 and 2014 and now comprises nearly 8 percent of all venture capital investments. In short, the increasingly mobile world is placing great demands on companies to adjust, launch new products and develop mobile-centric infrastructures and content – all of which means IT professionals can expect to see increases in job employment and compensation in mobile-focused positions.

  • Data Security

    In 2014, a data security breach exposed 56 million credit card numbers, while a data attack on Target in 2013 led to the exposure of another 40 million credit cards. Emerging IT fields, including cloud computing, virtualization and bring-your-own-device have boosted the now $60 billion dollar IT security industry. The field sits poised for exponential growth with the ever-expanding needs for encryption, authentication, certificate management, firewall infrastructures and anti-malware. Not surprisingly, IT professionals in this space – such as data security analysts, network security administrators and systems security administrators – are all in high-demand.

  • Big data

    The latest hulking IT industry is big data. The ability to transform massive quantities of raw data into actionable insights has become paramount in the global economic arms race. Getting the data is one thing; harnessing its power is another. Businesses around the world require trained, skilled and talented professionals who understand how to retrieve, analyze, digest and report on that data. Projected to be a $125 billion dollar industry by the International Data Corporation, big data has introduced a wave of new terms, processes and markets, including the Internet of Things, machine learning, automated decision-making and text mining. What does that mean for the IT professional? By 2018, IDC projects there will be 181,000 “deep analytics” roles in the U.S. and nearly 1 million positions requiring data management and interpretation skill sets.

Inside IT: Expert Advice from a Professional

Dana Edberg is an associate professor at the University of Reno, Nevada. Prior to entering the teaching world, Edberg combined her knowledge of business and technology as a programmer and technical support representative/project manager. She offers the following insight and recommendations for prospective and current IT students:

Interview with Dana Edberg

What is your current job title? Could you describe your role and general day-to-day responsibilities?

I am a tenured associate professor of information systems. My job is to teach, perform research and help support the university and community through service. I teach classes each year in database design and implementation, data warehousing, business intelligence and computer application development. In addition to teaching formal undergraduate and graduate students in those classes, I also supervise internships and independent study projects, as well as serve as a committee member/chair of a variety of master’s degree thesis committees. As part of my research agenda, I do both academic and practical research. For example, I worked with a team of faculty members to evaluate the implementation of a health information exchange in Nevada that was conducted as part of the HITECH Act.

We have published one paper from that research and have three others in various stages of completion.All tenured faculty members also provide service to the university, academic and professional communities. For example, I serve on curriculum committees that perform ongoing evaluation of the curriculum delivered to undergraduate and graduate students. As part of that service, we recently created a new emphasis in our graduate degree (Master’s of Science in Information Systems) to focus on interdisciplinary data analytics.

Where did you get your education and why did you choose that program? How has your degree/education helped you in your IT career?

I took my first course in programming and fell in love with writing programs. It was such an incredibly creative outlet – writing programs to have a computer do something.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in information systems from the University of Nevada, Reno over 35 years ago. That degree program provided me with the background I needed to succeed in my job first (programmer for Harrah’s) and then as a technical support representative and project manager for the Burroughs Corp (now Unisys). The degree program combined knowledge of business with technology, helping me understand how technology can be used effectively by organizations and individuals. I learned about business processes and accounting, making it much easier to automate those processes in organizations. It would have been tough to automate an accounts receivable process if I had no idea what accounts receivable actually did.

After working for a number of years, I returned to UNR to earn my MBA. While working on my MBA I taught classes and found I really enjoyed teaching. After teaching at UNR (and managing computer labs) I decided to pursue a PhD so I could become a tenure-track professor. I earned my PhD in Information Systems from Claremont Graduate University.

I chose the IS program because I didn’t want to become a medical doctor. I started my undergraduate program in pre-med, found that I didn’t really like pre-med courses so started taking courses in a variety of areas. I love the logic and structure of writing programs and making a computer do something that it hasn’t done before. It is great fun!

My degree program helped me learn the basics of computer technology, business and programming allowing me the opportunity to expand on that knowledge with experience after graduation.

Where do you see the IT field heading?
What are the emerging trends in the field?

Hard question. The IT field goes through fads fairly reliably. Rather than a single line progression from one period to the next as an “emerging trend”, I think it is more of a spiral where we revisit certain technologies and organizational structures. We go through the same “trends” over and over again at different levels. For instance, we moved from mainframes/centralized computing to end user/distributed computing and then back to software as a service, and then to individual mobile apps, and then to software as a service in the cloud accessible by mobile apps. We continue to focus on providing more power in individual devices that can be connected with other devices to get work done for people. A totally different direction would be if we were focusing on making devices that are more simplistic and easy for people to use, but we continue to create greater complexity with more powerful, sophisticated multi-purpose devices. So rather than having a device that does one thing really well (like a phone that makes good consistent phone calls) we have a device that does many things pretty well (like a phone with apps for email, web access, games, home device control, shopping, etc.). The trend continues, but emerging stuff within that includes big data, more complex devices, more cyber crime, non-relational databases, more virtual social connections, etc.

From your professional experience, what are
the most important skills an IT professional should possess?

I think an IT professional should have an almost insatiable interest in what is going to happen next and why.

Curiosity is a “skill,” right? An IT professional should have a scientific, methodical approach to problem solving. In other words, the ability to isolate the symptoms of a problem from the actual problem, the ability to identify a set of potential solutions and the discipline to try methodically one solution at a time until an appropriate solution is found. An IT professional should be patient enough to try different solutions in a systematic way. So, I’d say curiosity, scientific problem solving skills, discipline and patience are crucial. Another key skill includes the ability and desire to communicate with others. An IT professional is creating and enhancing systems that change people’s lives – so that professional should be able to communicate effectively with the people whose lives s/he is touching. As far as technical skills, I think an IT professional should be able to program and test in at least one programming language to understand at some level how technology works. S/he should also understand how computers store and access data and how computers communicate in a network.

What advice do you have
for prospective students considering a career in IT?

Consider your own personal characteristics before pursuing a career in IT. Do you enjoy change? Do you get bored easily? Do you want to do something different often? Are you comfortable not always knowing what you are doing, but trying to do the work anyway? Do you like working in a fairly fast-paced environment? If yes, then IT may be for you. Technology changes so often that you will probably never feel very comfortable or confident that you know exactly what you are doing. But you won’t be bored, either.

Top Employers in IT Careers

CompTIA reports that the IT industry, logically, employs the largest number of information technology workers, while other major industries include finance and insurance, information, government and manufacturing. At the business level, IT professionals can pursue a range of employment opportunities in industries ranging from healthcare to banking, retail and human resources. A review of reports from Fortune, Forbes and Dice Holdings, Inc. reveals some of the top employers seeking IT professionals in 2015 include the following:

Capital One Financial
Publix Super Markets
Goldman Sachs
Mayo Clinic

An IT Tech’s Toolbox

Across the board, information technology professions are technical-skill-focused, requiring proficiency in specialized areas of training. IT shares common skill areas including problem solving and task management, project management and troubleshooting. As process-based occupations, other skills have been identified to routinely appear across IT fields, including development, documentation, analysis and design, testing and implementation, according to the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET).

Yet, as NWCET reports, IT skills indeed differ across various position and occupational fields. However, employers typically seek candidates who think systematically and can solve problems through methodical approaches, conduct research, develop a series of rational solutions, test solutions effectively, verify problems are solved, and document the solution. Further, NWCET divides IT skills into three general categories: employability skills, technical skills and industry-specific skills.


Includes universal skills and foundational abilities to apply technical knowledge in each IT field. Example skills include:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Critical Thinking
  • Decision Making

Includes common skills applicable not only across IT, but to individual career clusters. Example core skill areas include the following:

  • Programming languages
  • Computer software and hardware
  • System architecture
  • Internet principles

These skills are unique to career clusters, specific occupations, or industries, demonstrating the IT professional’s advanced understanding of their field of practice. Example industry-specific skill areas include:

  • Compliance standards and protocols
  • Vendor specific certification
  • Industry-specific terminology
  • Company or industry practices

At the career-level, Robert Half has identified a range of skills that can impact annual earnings, in some cases leading to a 10 percent increase in take home pay.







Salaries in Information Technology

Multiple salary surveys all point to the same conclusion: both confidence and salaries are on the rise for information technology professionals. Consistently been on the rise, multiple IT careers pay on average salaries north of $85,000 per year according to the BLS. The table below details 2014 salary data from the BLS for 12 informational technology career fields:

Occupation Average Lowest 10% Top 10%
Software developers, systems software $106,050 $63,250 $154,800
Database administrators $82,280 $44,470 $123,780
Network and computer system admins $79,770 $46,220 $120,000
Software developers, applications $99,530 $56,310 $149,480
Computer systems analyst $87,320 $50,780 $129,980
Information security analysts $91,600 $50,300 $140,460
Computer user support specialists $51,500 $28,280 $80,180
Computer network support specialists $66,140 $35,870 $104,010
Computer programmers $82,690 $44,140 $127,640
Web developers $68,670 $33,790 $112,680
Computer and information research scientists $113,190 $66,030 $165,600
Computer network architects $100,710 $55,160 $150,460

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 Occupational Wage and Employment Estimates

However, salary varies by experience, location, certifications, industry and employer. To provide IT professionals with a better understanding of the state of pay in the IT industry, Robert Half’s 2015 salary survey offers a more generalized range of salaries based on data from salary respondents. The table below outlines earning potential in four IT career areas: applications development, database administration, Web development and networking/telecommunications:

  • Project Manager
    $91,250 $139,250
  • System Analyst
    $79,500 $114,500
    $115,750 $159,500
  • Database Developer
    $98,000 $144,750
  • Database Manager
    $112,250 $160,250
  • Database Administrator
    $91,000 $134,750
  • Web Developer
    $104,500 $144,250
  • Web Administrator
    $66,500 $102,000
  • Web Designer
    $64,000 $105,500
  • Network architect
    $115,000 $165,250
  • Network Engineer
    $98,000 $137,250
  • Network Manager
    $90,750 $131,250

Locating and hiring IT professionals is only part of the challenge for companies. Retention, according to Robert Half, is becoming a bigger challenge as the demand for qualified and skilled IT candidates continues to increase, with job candidates more willing to explore and pursue multiple employment opportunities. Across the board, individuals working in information technology have access to a suite of employer benefits, in addition to above average salaries.

  • Paid Time off
  • Dental Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Retirement Benefits
  • Flexible Work Hours
  • Subsidized Training or Education
  • Work-at-Home Options
  • On-Site Cafeteria
Less Common
  • On-Site Perks (e.g. dry cleaning)
  • Subsidized Transportation
  • Mentoring Programs

The IT Job Search

Even though information technology professionals are in increasing demand doesn’t mean landing a position will be a walk in the park. Increased demand leads to one thing: increased competition. However, getting your foot in the door is important in information technology as opportunity and career advancement possibilities abound. Aspiring tech professionals may want to temper their sights as not everyone can work for Google or Apple, but gaining entry-level work experience can lead to positions at a technology leader or the country’s hottest start-up. Here are a few steps to finding and earning that dream IT position.

  • Earn certification

    Together with work experience, certification has long been the norm in the information technology industry. Although no longer a surefire way to gain employment, certification does demonstrate a candidate’s advanced skills and understanding of their area of practice (usually vendor-specific).

  • Network

    There are multiple avenues to professional networking in information technology, from making connections on LinkedIn to attending conferences, joining industry associations and participating in local or regional events.

  • Complete an internship

    Internships – even at small companies – provide experience and skill-building opportunities and may even be leveraged into full-time positions. For individuals lacking significant work experience, an internship is one way to start building a resume.

  • Start small

    Prospective IT professionals should not shy away from taking an entry-level position. Everyone has to start somewhere, especially new graduates. Those early jobs afford the opportunity to get a foothold in the industry, develop technical proficiencies, make connections and gain relevant experience.

  • Tailor the resume

    Not all jobs have the same requirements or are looking for the same skill set in Web development or network architecture. That means a general resume won’t cut it. Take the time to tailor the resume to the specific organization and position, instead of relying on a shotgun, one-size-fits-all approach.

  • Prepare for the interview

    At its core, the interview is actually a financial transaction. The candidate is selling his or herself to the company in exchange for a salary. In turn, preparation to make the sale and close the deal is vital. Preparation can be distilled into three components: 1) Know the organization; 2) Know the position; and 3) Refresh the skill-set.

    Know the organization

    Take the time to research the organization, its history, its products and services, and its leadership. Learn about the industry’s vertical. Who are the competitors? What about the track record of the organization’s growth and success? Being a prepared candidate leads to confidence and demonstrates to the interviewer they are diligent, organized and care about the position.

    Know the position

    Research the technical requirements of the position. Are there unfamiliar technical skills or terminology listed in the job description? For example, if the candidate is not fully versed in C++, they may want to take the time to brush-up on their knowledge. Being a prepared candidate demonstrates they both want the job and are a company fit.

    Refresh the skill set

    Some companies may ask candidates to take a test or demonstrate their skills through a series of technical questions. That means prospective candidates should refresh their industry knowledge, study and take the time to read practice examples for possible technical questions in their area of practice. Being a prepared candidate demonstrates they take their craft seriously and are ready to make a contribution.

For the prospective IT professional, it should come as no surprise there are a handful of technology hubs throughout the country, led by Silicon Valley (San Francisco and San Jose) and New York City. However, many states and cities have recognized the importance of attracting technological investments and have taken steps to reorient their local economies around the tech industry. In turn, new technological hubs have taken hold across the U.S. Major publications, such as Forbes and MIT Technology Review, and popular publishers such as Nerd Wallet regularly study trends in the industry and have commonly identified a host of emerging technology hubs. Some of those hubs include the following:

  • Boulder Colorado
  • Corvallis Oregon
  • Seattle Washington
  • Austin Texas
  • Boston Massachusetts
  • Washington D.C.
  • Salt Lake City Utah

Schools with Information Technology Programs

Degree Level
School Type