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Click Into Career Connections With Information Technology Programs

When you think about information technology (IT), computers are probably what come to mind. And that's not wrong industry-wise, IT is a broad term that can refer to all of computing. But in academia, information technology gets more specific. "IT tends to focus on user and system needs and how pieces of a system fit together," says Heidi Ellis, chair of the department of computer science and information technology at Western New England University in Springfield, MA. IT professionals are the ones who take care of an organization's information technology infrastructure as well as the people who use it.

And IT is a field that's growing in leaps and bounds. "Any company today needs information technology," says Ellis, noting the wide variety of opportunities for IT professionals, including positions in health care, scientific computing, and more. "IT grads are going to have all sorts of choices in terms of where they want to go and what they want to do."

If you're looking for a career with limitless potential, consider the fast-paced, fast-growing field of information technology.

Information Technology Degrees
"In the academic world, IT is a fairly new discipline that's rapidly evolving," says Ellis. Information technology degrees are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, depending on your particular career goals. Typically, two-year IT degrees prepare students for technician positions, while four-year IT degrees can propel graduates into management or higher-level systems or network administrator positions. Community colleges may even have articulation agreements with four-year colleges so that students can successfully parlay an associate degree in information technology into a bachelor's degree down the road.

New Degree Spotlight: Health Information Technology
Some of the most exciting applications of information technology can be found in the field of health care, with new degrees popping up to provide interdisciplinary training. In a health information technology degree program, students learn to design, operate, and maintain the specific technology that makes the health care system tick. With an associate degree in health information technology, graduates may be poised for a career as a health care applications developer or health information technician. With additional training at the bachelor's and master's degree levels, graduates can move into health information management. Students should look for IT programs with curricula that follow guidelines set forth by the American Health Information Management Association.

Information Technology Career Skills
Problem-solving skills are helpful in any discipline; in information technology careers, these skills are essential. In fact, those who gravitate to IT careers are often the ones helping family members and friends fix their computers or resolve technology-related issues. "IT is oriented around solving user problems," affirms Ellis. As such, the best IT professionals have the desire and the skill to see systems work smoothly and efficiently, she adds.

In order to do this, IT professionals must stay abreast of the latest trends in the industry, including mobile platform development, wireless technologies, and cloud computing. A commitment to mastering the latest technologies and translating them into layman's terms are critical skills in any IT career.

Inside Look at Information Technology Programs
Students who choose to major in information technology at Western New England University gain a well-rounded, liberal arts education in an in-demand field. "At many community colleges, the IT programs are focused in one area frequently networking," says Professor Ellis. "We provide breadth across the curriculum so students can do things beyond networking." In addition to the required IT and mathematics courses, IT majors at Western New England University can focus on two out of five areas: system administration, network security, wireless networking, web design and development, and network administration. Plus, all IT students are required to do an internship so that they can apply what they're learning in the classroom to a real-world environment.

And the real world is not far off when you've got an IT degree. "All but two of my seniors last year had job offers by February or March at the latest," says Ellis. The jobs are out there, she says it's just a matter of getting students in the door and into the workforce to meet the growing demand.

Spotlight on 5 Information Technology Career Paths
With the abundance of information technology jobs available, which career path is right for you? Consider one of these five popular IT careers.

>>Network and Systems Administrator
Network and systems administrators are the backbone of the IT industry, responsible for designing, installing, and supporting an organization's computer systems. A bachelor's degree can get you in the door, and network security certification and skills can enhance opportunities in the field. And opportunities abound the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment to increase by 23 percent by 2018. The job pays well, too: network and systems administrators earn about $69,160 per year.

>>Computer Support Specialist
If you have a way with computers and the people who use them your skills could be put to good use as a computer support specialist. In this frontline IT career, you'll provide end users with hands-on technical assistance such as computer repair and software installation. An associate degree can get you hired, and a bachelor's degree can increase your opportunities for advancement. According to the BLS, computer support specialists earn about $46,260 per year, and employment is expected to increase by 14 percent.

>>Database Administrator
If organization is your strong suit, consider a career as a database administrator. These IT pros identify user needs and determine ways to store and organize data utilizing database management systems software. A computer-related bachelor's degree is ideal for entry into the profession, and database management certifications can enhance career opportunities. According to the BLS, database administrators pulled in $73,490 in May 2010, and employment is expected to grow 20 percent by 2018.

>>Computer and Information Systems Manager
These are the top dogs in the IT profession, responsible for implementing and administering all the technology within an organization. To oversee the work of other IT pros, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree, though a technology-related MBA is preferred. Employment is expected to grow 17 percent, with these IT managers making about $115,780 per year, reports the BLS.

>>Web Developer
It takes some serious skill to create an interactive, user-friendly website. Web developers are the IT gurus responsible for the technical aspects of a site, wielding software languages and tools to create web apps that work. Learn the ropes in a bachelor's degree program, and you'll be set up for a career that pays about $71,100, according to the BLS. And who can resist getting into an occupation that's projected to grow a whopping 53 percent by 2018?

Fun Facts About Information Technology

  • IT degrees are still considered "new kids on the block" the Association for Computing Machinery just established the first curriculum guidelines for information technology in 2005.
  • Studying information technology can be all fun and games some of the most popular IT degrees today focus on game development and design.
  • Employment of IT degree holders is through the roof in the next few years, 78,900 new positions will be added in network and systems administration alone