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What Can I Do with an IT Degree?

By Lauren Landry
May 31, 2018

Information technology (IT) helps companies operate more efficiently, enables employees to work remotely, keeps computer systems safe, and powers the mobile apps smartphone users thumb through daily. IT is an integral part of everyday life and, as a result, expected to experience a job growth rate of 13 percent by 2026.

“IT builds and maintains all aspects of the computing environment for businesses,” says Lynda Hodgson, associate teaching professor and lead faculty member for Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in Information Technology program. “We write the software, keep the servers up, make sure the data is properly organized and protected, and keep the networks safe. We kind of do everything.”

IT is responsible for various technical aspects of a business, which Hodgson breaks into three overarching categories:

  1. Software
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Database administration

Here’s a closer look at the responsibilities that fall under each IT specialty.

The Responsibility of IT in Business

1. Software

Software professionals define and develop the core functionality of a computer program, mobile application, or system based on users’ needs. Developers will often be given “very vague descriptions of what the user wants and what it is that needs to be built,” according to Hodgson, and will need to write and test computer code, create mock-ups for end users, and provide examples of where a finished project could go.

There a variety of different programming languages developers work in, such as Java, Ruby, Python, and PHP. Hodgson recommends students start with Java, a more flexible and universal programming language used at big-name brands like LinkedIn, Amazon, and eBay.

“Coding takes patience, persistence, and usually some attention to detail if you want to be a good coder,” Hodgson says. “What the end user has in his or her head might be different from what you think.”

2. Infrastructure

IT infrastructure encompasses hardware, such as servers, storage subsystems, and network devices, like switches, routers, and modems. Professionals focused on infrastructure design, develop, and test hardware and ensure it works with new software. Most prefer not to code, according to Hodgson, and instead focus on troubleshooting.

3. Database Administration

Database administrators interface with the software side of the business, and are responsible for determining the types of data that need to be stored, what that data looks like, and how it’s organized. They also work to make sure that the company’s data, which could range from financial information to customer shipping records, is secure from unauthorized access.

Companies often request that administrators make data easily accessible via cloud servers, further reinforcing the need for IT security. Database administrators will often set user privileges, as well as monitor and optimize system performance.

So, What Can I Do With an IT Degree?

As technology continues to evolve, so do opportunities within the IT space. Approximately 557,100 new IT jobs are expected to surface by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, offering an average annual salary of $84,580. A majority of these jobs request candidates have a bachelor’s degree in IT or a related field.

Some information technology careers popular among bachelor’s degree holders are:

1) Web Developer

Average Annual Salary: $67,990
Estimated Job Growth by 2026: 15 percent

Web developers design, create, and maintain websites. Some work on what’s called “the front-end,” overseeing the look and feel of the site, while others specialize in back-end development and focus more on how the site works, paying close attention to site speed and responsiveness. 

2) Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Average Annual Salary: $81,100
Estimated Job Growth by 2026: 6 percent

These administrators oversee and optimize the daily operations of an organization’s computer systems, including local area networks, intranets, and other data communication systems. They also often assess company’s needs and determine which hardware and software to install, while working to maintain system integrity.

3) Database Administrator

Average Annual Salary: $87,020
Estimated Job Growth by 2026: 11 percent

Database administrators organize, store, and protect companies’ data. They monitor database performance, set user privileges, and often oversee the development of new databases, including any security measures that are needed. 

4) Software Developer

Average Annual Salary: $103,560
Estimated Job Growth by 2026: 24 percent 

Software developers design, build, and test computer programs and applications. They determine a software’s core functionality based on users’ needs and create each piece of the system or database. Developers also recommend software upgrades and may perform routine maintenance.

5) Computer Network Architects

Average Annual Salary: $104,650
Estimated Job Growth by 2026: 6 percent

These architects, sometimes known as network engineers, design and create data communication networks, including local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. They also typically upgrade hardware and software, as well as research new technologies that could better support their company.

“This path can take you all the way up to the C-Suite,” Hodgson says, noting that individuals in IT can work their way toward becoming chief information officers or directors of telecommunications. “It’s all about keeping your skills up to date. There’s always a new language, new protocol, new project management style; the change is constant. Those who succeed are those who don’t mind learning more.”

Emerging Trends in Information Technology

In an effort to stay current, there are a variety of trends emerging in the IT field that today’s professionals need to be aware of—the first being cybersecurity.

In 2017 alone, credit reporting agency Equifax experienced a data breach that affected 145.5 million customers; a strain of ransomware called WannaCry attacked an estimated 300,000 computer systems; 198 million U.S. voter records were exposed; and the information of 14 million Verizon customers was found unsecured online. And that’s just a small portion of the cyber-attacks that occurred over the last year.

An estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs will be available by 2021, according to cyber economy research and publication firm Cybersecurity Ventures. Those who pursue a bachelor’s degree in IT can position themselves for those roles, according to Hodgson, and help companies devise and implement security policies and ensure employees are safely downloading and installing software.

Another area Hodgson sees growing is around user experience. Rather, how can companies build systems that are more intuitive for end users and easier for them to learn how to use?

“There’s a big field opening up for how systems should look that doesn’t get into the code that makes them work,” Hodgson says.

What’s promising about the IT field, Hodgson adds, is that technology doesn’t need to be a professional’s sole interest. IT touches nearly every industry, enabling students to explore and pursue their other passions through their full-time work.

Says Hodgson:

An interest in theater arts could lead you to working with ticket sales software or managing theater operations. An interest in animals could lead you to working with systems that store pet medical records or creating a great web presence for pet stores. The fashion industry uses IT systems to help make buying decisions, manage suppliers, and route apparel to specific stores. There’s an IT component in any interest you can think of.

Breaking into Information Technology

For those who are new to IT and interested in breaking into the field, Hodgson recommends leveraging free online resources, such as Coursera, and taking introductory networking and coding classes. Not only can the experience help professionals see if it’s the right fit for them, but it can also help them determine whether they prefer to work in the hardware, software, or database space.

“I think people think IT is this really hard thing,” Hodgson says, “but I also think there are people out there who could be great at IT. Most people do much, much better than they think they will.”

Are you interested in further exploring the field or advancing your current IT career? Check out Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in Information Technology

About Lauren Landry
Lauren Landry is the former associate director of content marketing for Northeastern University.