When you think of information technology (IT), you may think of troubleshooting your computer. But, in truth, information technology is a huge industry that covers a wide range of subjects and careers. As more businesses and other institutions make the shift toward digital transformation in their everyday processes, the demand for IT and computer science professionals is on the rise. PR newswire projects the IT industry to be valued at $1,070.28 billion by 2025, which is around a $508 billion growth from 2017.
Students in IT and computer science fields are on track to be a part of one of the fastest-growing career sectors, with jobs available in many industries. Professional opportunities in information technology and computer science continue to expand into new and different roles and industries. This career toolbox will explore how to find a variety of different academic and professional opportunities within these scopes.
What Do Computer Science and IT Encompass?
The fields of computer science and IT include a wide variety of career specializations. These specializations could be:
- Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) can help streamline workflows and improve processes through automation. AI can include both robotic process automation (RPA) as well as cognitive computing systems.
- Business information systems: This includes the hardware, software, and data involved in organizing and managing businesses. This can include payroll, document storage, employee records, and other necessary functions.
- Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity is the protection and defense of computers, information, and online systems from security threats and cybercrimes.
- Data science & big data: Data science includes the different processes by which professionals can extract or interpret knowledge from big data. Big data are data sets that are too large or complex to be processed by a single process or program.
- Data Administration: Also referred to as data resource management, data administration involves planning, organizing, and controlling different data resources that a business has available.
- Geographical information systems (GIS): GIS is a framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing geographic and spatial relationships. These systems typically arrange this data as maps or 3D renderings.
- Human-computer interaction: This is a field of research that studies the ways that humans and computers interact. The goal of this research is to ultimately design technologies that allow humans and computers to interact in new ways.
- Informatics & information sciences: This is one of the more advanced studies in IT and computer science. It studies the structure, behavior, and interactions of all kinds of computational systems. It also includes the representation, processing, and communication of any pattern data discovered.
- Machine Learning: Machine learning is a subset of AI. It involves the study of self-teaching computer algorithms to better understand how machines learn through experience, and how to improve machine learning.
- Software engineering & development: Software engineering involves the design, development, and maintenance of software. This may include writing code, troubleshooting, and even creating new software from scratch.
- Cloud management: Cloud services are becoming more popular in many industries, from e-commerce to the growing gig economy. Cloud computing deals with using remote internet servers to store and manage data. Because the cloud is internet-based, information stored on the cloud can be accessed anywhere, at any time. This increases its functionality, and also its need for management and security.
Growth in the IT Job Industry
As we’ve mentioned before, demand for IT professionals continues to grow as our personal and professional technologies adapt. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 531,200 new computer science and information technology jobs will be created by 2029. This is an 11% growth from 2019, which is much faster than BLS average growth predictions for other occupations.
Some of the best cities for IT jobs, according to Information Week, include:
- San Francisco, California;
- Seattle, Washington;
- San Jose, California;
- Raleigh, North Carolina;
- Austin, Texas.
Where Do Professionals in These Fields Work?
Qualified professionals in the IT and computer science fields have their pick of industries to work in. Private businesses, and even government agencies, are becoming more reliant on technology, and therefore more reliant on IT professionals. Because of the high demand, freelancing or independent contracting is also a sustainable and popular option.
All types of businesses that rely on or use technology for their business will likely employ some kind of IT solution, such as a managed service provider (MSP). For companies who rely heavily on their digital interfaces to perform business functions, having IT on staff is of the utmost importance to keep the business running efficiently and effectively. Examples of IT jobs in the business sector are:
- Website developer: Website developers create websites for different uses. This often includes coding and design elements, with regards to user experience management and troubleshooting. To become a web developer, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field. According to Payscale, web developers can make between $40,000 and $80,000 annually.
- Cybersecurity manager: Cybersecurity managers are responsible for implementing and evaluating the security of any given company’s data. They are typically the first line of defense against cybercrime. To become a cybersecurity manager, you will need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology. Some universities may offer specific cybersecurity degrees or training programs, which can help you enter this field. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for cybersecurity managers is $136,625 annually.
- Data analyst: Data analysts examine and organize data for clients depending on their goals, targets, and other specified metrics. To become a data analyst, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistics, computer science, IT, or another related field. According to ZipRecruiter, Data analysts make an average of $67,294 annually. This number may vary depending on the field you work in, or if you are an independent contractor.
- Managed Service Provider: Businesses with a smaller budget or less frequent IT needs may hire a managed service provider, or MSP. MSPs provide IT support and maintenance as an independent contractor, rather than a department or subsect of the client business. MSPs can work with a wide variety of clients at once with the advancement of remote management and monitoring (RMM) software. Educational requirements for those looking to work as a managed service provider may vary based on the job posting, but a bachelor’s in computer science or IT should be expected. According to Glassdoor, managed service providers make an average of $42,499 annually.
Government IT Jobs
The federal government, as well as state and local governments, also have acute needs for IT and computer science professionals. Here are some of the jobs IT professionals may find in the government sector:
- Systems Administrator: Systems administrators are typically responsible for the design, management, maintenance, and security of the different systems and networks used within a department. To become a systems administrator, you will need a bachelor’s in either computer science, computer engineering, or a related field. According to Indeed, systems administrators in the federal government make $60,846 a year.
- Network Engineer: Network or computer engineers are responsible for strategizing and designing networks and network functions for optimized performance. These functions will be determined by the department you work for, or the goal you are working toward. To become a network engineer, you will need a bachelor’s degree in either computer science, computer engineering, or a related field. According to Glassdoor, network engineers in the federal government make an average of $78,171 per year.
- Data Manager: Data managers are responsible for the organization, presentation, and interpretation of data and data-oriented systems. To become a data manager, you will need a bachelor’s degree in either computer science, mathematics, statistics, or another related field. According to Glassdoor, data managers make an average of $52,861 annually.
- IT Specialist: This job title is seen a lot on USAjobs.gov, and it describes a more general role. An IT specialist, in any given sector, may advise on IT projects or initiatives, troubleshoot devices throughout the department, and carry out cybersecurity measures. This may also be a common posting on state government websites, which may only be hiring for a single position. To become an IT specialist, you will need a bachelor’s degree in IT or computer science, as well as a professional certification. According to Glassdoor, salaries for federal government IT specialists range from $69,684 to $138,717 annually.
When working in the government IT sector, you may be dealing with classified information. Therefore, the application process may be longer, more strict, or require extra experience.
Freelance / Entrepreneurship
Freelancing or entrepreneurship is a sustainable and popular option for IT professionals. With smart software solutions, such as remote access and support and professional service automation, small IT teams or individual contractors can provide service to large clients anytime, anywhere. These solutions can also be incredibly scalable. For example, a company offering smart solutions like Atera, which charges per technician rather than per device, allows you to scale your business naturally with your growth needs, should you start to take on larger clients or projects.
If you’re looking to go into business for yourself, here are some things you’ll want to consider:
- Market Demand: Before you start your own business — whether this is as a contractor or an MSP — you’ll want to define who your target audience is, and the existing demand or pain point they have that your services can answer. You can do this by researching what similar companies are offering and what services seem to be most popular with your target audience.
- Service List: Determining what services you are going to offer is another important factor of working for yourself. You should take into consideration market demand, as well as your experience or training— what services are you qualified or confident in providing? Freelancers may find pursuing professional certifications, or other career development training worthwhile, so they can expand their service list.
- Service Pricing: As a freelancer or entrepreneur, you will also be responsible for setting your own pricing. This may feel daunting at first, but there are a couple of key factors that can help you set this number. First, your pricing should be sustainable. This means that it can help you pay for any overhead costs without incurring a deficit. Next, your pricing should reflect your training or professional experience. Ideally, the more experience you have, the higher your services or input should be valued.
Taking some business courses can be a worthwhile investment when starting your own business, as it can help you with things like how to incorporate your business, help you set your pricing, and teach you about effective marketing strategies.
Education & Skill Development
Most, if not all, computer science and IT professions require a bachelor’s degree. These degrees can take between four and six years, depending on whether you’re going full-time. For more advanced positions in this sector, you may even need to pursue a master’s degree, which can take an additional 2 to 4 years, or a professional certification. These certifications can include:
- Certified data management professional (CDMP): This certification is awarded based on education, experience, and examination of professional-level knowledge. The knowledge covered by this certification can range from data management processes to business intelligence and IT compliance. CDMP can be awarded at the associate, practitioner, and master levels.
- Certified information systems security professional (CISSP): This certification is awarded by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. To qualify for the exam, you must provide proof of at least 5 years of professional experience in information security. CISSP is awarded at practitioner and master levels.
- Cisco certified network associate: Cisco offers this certification to professionals who showcase an ability to install, set up, configure, troubleshoot, and operate a medium-sized computer network or wide area network (WAN). To qualify for the certification exam, you need one to two years of professional experience.
- Cisco certified internetwork expert (CCIE): Cisco offers this certification to networking professionals who showcase an expert ability to design, build, implement, maintain, and troubleshoot complex networks. To qualify for this exam, applicants must have three to five years of professional experience and a Cisco certified network associate certificate.
- Certified information systems auditor (CISA): CISA candidates must have a minimum of five years of professional experience in information systems auditing, control, or security. To qualify for the certification exam, you will need to provide proof of five years of professional experience.
Your university may offer these certifications while you’re pursuing your degree, or you can pursue them through online programs depending on your needs.
Low-Cost Online Resources to Grow IT Skills
Because professions in IT and computer science are so technical, it’s important to stay on top of your skill development. Taking additional skills courses can be great, but it can be time-consuming and expensive. Luckily, there are several low-cost options for students to continue their training in hard skills online, such as coding and software building. Some of these resources are:
- Github: Github is a code hosting platform that allows you to collaborate with other coders. Not only can it help sharpen your coding skills through practice, but it can help you learn how to work with a remote team. Github has free and paid options, with paid options starting at $4 per user/per month.
- CodeRunner: This desktop app is designed to run 25 different code languages, with additional languages available via manual input. CodeRunner features code completion and debugging features. This can be useful for students looking to test a project or sharpen their troubleshooting skills. CodeRunner is $19.99 to download, then users have access to all features.
- NIST dictionary of algorithms and data structures: The National Institute of Standards and Technology offers a free, comprehensive dictionary of algorithms and data structures. This is a useful short-hand tool for any student, and any professional, to refer to. You can download this file as a PDF on your device, or access the web version.
- PowerShell Documentation: Microsoft’s PowerShell documentation is a tool professionals can use to automate tasks via scripts. Using PowerShell documentation can be a great introduction to the basics of script automation. Users can write their own scripts or find pre-written scripts in shared script libraries, which can be paid for on a month-to-month basis. PowerShell documentation can be downloaded for free from the website, and additionally has a few community forums where users can discuss and troubleshoot problems together.
Scholarships and Grants for IT Students
There are many scholarships and grants available to students in the IT and computer science fields. You can search out scholarships based on your demographics to access, for example, resources for women in technology or first-generation college students. Or, you can search by a specific university or program. You can also look for national scholarships. These can be more competitive, but can also be more widely applied. Some of the national scholarships available for IT students include:
- Foundation for Information Technology Education: The foundation for IT education offers several $2000 scholarships, available to IT students. For all scholarships, applicants will need to have:
- A GPA of 3.0 or higher;
- Completed one full semester of college;
- Be enrolled as a full-time student;
- Be a US citizen or permanent resident.
- Adobe Research Women in Technology Scholarship: Adobe offers a one-time $10,000 scholarship to female undergraduate and master’s students studying artificial intelligence/machine learning, data science, computer science, or mobile/web development at North American universities. To be eligible for this scholarship, you must:
- Identify as female;
- Have completed at least one year of higher education;
- Be currently enrolled as a full-time student;
- Have no relations to any current Adobe employees
- American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship: This is a 10-week program where science, engineering, and mathematics students are hosted by different nationwide media organizations to enhance science-based journalism. The fellowship awards $7,000 for the summer, including travel expenses to and from AAAS sites. To be eligible for this stipend, you must:
- Be enrolled as an upper-level undergraduate, masters, or doctoral student;
- Major in a technical field, such as computer science or mathematics;
- Be a U.S. citizen, or have a valid visa.
- American Indian Science and Engineering Intel Growing Legacy Scholarship: AISES awards per year scholarships to American Indian students. This scholarship awards $10,000 per academic year to master’s students, and $5,000 per academic year for undergraduate students. To be eligible for this scholarship, you must:
- Provide proof of tribal citizenship from a federal or state-recognized tribe;
- Major in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering;
- Possess a GPA of 3.0 or higher;
- Be a current AISES member.
Internships can be a great way to acquire professional experience in your field. This can be especially beneficial for students in IT and computer science, as many job listings as for previous experience due to the highly technical nature of the work. Companies that offer regular IT and computer science internships include:
- Microsoft: Microsoft offers tech internships for undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students. They have opportunities around the world, both paid and unpaid. To qualify, students have to be enrolled as a full-time student, with a corresponding major to the internship focus. Students must also plan to return to their University for at least one term after the internship period to be approved.
- Boeing: Boeing offers engineering and information technology and data analytics internships. These internships are paid, and eligibility requirements for them can be found on the specific job listing. Boeing also offers international opportunities for interns, in Europe, India, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., but relocation may not be covered by the program.
- Apple: Apple is another place you can find internship offerings in computer science and IT as an undergraduate student. Curriculum requirements, or how many college credits you have to be enrolled in to qualify may vary depending on the internship. Apple has paid internship opportunities around the world, but again, relocation may not be covered by the program.
- Google: Google is another great place to find IT and computer science internships. Their internships are typically 12 to 14 weeks, and their curriculum eligibility requirements will vary from internship to internship. All Google internships are paid, and there are international opportunities, but relocation may not be covered by the program.
Universities will sometimes offer college credit for internship hours. You’ll want to discuss this possibility with your academic advisor and internship coordinator, to get the most out of your experience. Your university may also be able to help connect you with local internship opportunities, through resources such as the career center or career fairs.
Finding an IT Job
Finding an IT job is first about getting the necessary qualifications for the career you want, and then about knowing where to look. You can find job postings in a variety of places.
Online job boards, such as Indeed or LinkedIn, have become an invaluable tool for the modern job searcher. When using these job boards, you may find it helpful to follow these best practices:
- Keep your profile up to date: On these job boards, employers can also search for candidates, and your profile is often your first impression. This is why you should keep your most current contact information and relevant work experience updated on your profiles.
- Follow-up: Sometimes, jobs posted on these boards can receive thousands of submissions, so it’s not a bad idea to follow-up. The best time to do this is typically one week to 10 days after you’ve submitted your resume. Your follow-up email should be brief and reiterate your name, the position you applied for, and the best place to contact you.
- Sign up for job alerts: Many of these sites will allow you to save keywords or tags for you to be sent job alerts. This can be incredibly useful, as you’ll be seeing the most relevant jobs to you. Job alerts can also help with timing, as the sooner you can apply for a position, the better your chances.
University Career Centers
Many universities have career centers that can help in your job search. They can help you look for postings, find internships, help you craft your resume, and even provide tips for interviewing across different industries. Students typically have unlimited access to these services, though the services offered will vary depending on the university. You can find whether or not your university has a career center by getting in touch with admin services, or looking through the university directory.
Another way to find an IT or computer science job is to go directly to the source. Many company websites, including government websites, have job portals where you can find postings or submit applications. Using this method, you can go directly to the companies or institutions you have the most interest in. Companies may also keep postings on their own website more up to date than those posted on a third-party site or job board.
IT Career Networking Opportunities
Career networking is a great way to find new job opportunities and strengthen your relationships with other professionals in your field. This can be one of the slower ways to generate job leads, however, it can also be the most fulfilling, as you can build long-lasting and mutually lucrative professional relationships. You can start networking by attending industry networking events, joining online groups, or becoming a member of a career association. Some professional IT associations include:
- Association for Information Science and Technology; ASIS&T provides professional development, including training, research resources, and publication, for professionals in tech, science, medicine, law, and engineering fields.
- The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA); CompTIA offers professional and student association memberships. Professional members receive product discounts and access to a professional network, while student members get access to scholarship opportunities and career advice in addition to product discounts.
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology; IACSIT is an international association that organizes conferences, workshops, and provides sponsor or technical support to conferences and workshops for IT and computer science professionals.
You may also want to check online to see if there are any local associations or organization chapters in your area that can help you connect to local professionals.