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How to Become an Information Technology (IT) Specialist

Find out how to become an information technology specialist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career as an information technology specialist. View article »

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Should I Become an Information Technology Specialist?

An information technology (IT) specialist is a computer support and security administrator who assists companies and organizations with managing hardware, software, networking and solving problems. These professionals go by a range of titles, including information security analyst and network administrator. They can find work in a wide variety of industries, like business, government and manufacturing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), network and computer systems administrators earned a median salary of $77,810 in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's preferred
Degree Field(s) Computer science, information science, or a related field
License/Certification Voluntary certifications available
Experience 3+ years
Key Skills Analytical, organizational, leadership, communication and decision-making skills; familiarity with project management, customer management, and web platform development software; server operating systems and language platforms like Microsoft SQL, C++, and Perl; capable of using computer equipment such as servers and network analyzers
Median Annual Salary (2015) $77,810 (for network and computer systems administrators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

A bachelor's degree is commonly required, but some employers prefer a master's degree in computer science, information science or a related field. Employers also want to see at least 3 years of IT experience, with 5 to 10 years of experience for upper-level positions. The skills needed as an IT specialist include analytical, organizational, leadership, communication and decision-making skills. You need familiarity with project management software, customer management software, server operating systems, web platform development software and language platforms, like Microsoft SQL, C++ and Perl. You should also be capable of using computer equipment, such as servers and network analyzers. While certification is voluntary, it is common within the field.

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Steps to Becoming an IT Specialist

The following are steps you can take to become an IT specialist:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The BLS maintains that a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field is the most common requirement for becoming an IT specialist. Relevant majors include computer science, information systems and software engineering. Students in bachelor degree programs generally start by gaining a solid foundation in mathematics, science and engineering. They build a broad knowledge of computer science subjects in courses in data structures, numerical analysis, data management and programming languages.

Take advantage of computer laboratory resources. Institutions that offer computer science programs may also offer sophisticated computer labs for students. You should take advantage of these resources and the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the programs and software that are taught in classes and used in day-to-day operations of an IT specialist.

Also consider completing an internship. Since experience is an important part of finding employment in this profession, entry-level IT specialists may have trouble finding work. You can gain some practical experience and make professional contacts in the field by completing an internship with a local IT firm or the IT department of a company.

Step 2: Gain Professional Experience

According to a survey of job postings from monster.com in September 2012, IT specialist jobs typically require at least 3 years of experience in the field. The BLS indicates that advanced IT management and security analysis positions may require 5 or more years of experience. Typically, less experience is necessary at smaller organizations, so aspiring IT specialists may find this to be the best place to start their careers.

Consider also obtaining certification. Though certification is not required to enter this profession, it may help demonstrate skill and experience to employers. Additionally, employers often require IT specialists to have expertise with specific products. Vendors like Cisco, Oracle and Microsoft offer certification in their software products. Third-party organizations, like CompTIA, also administer certification for multiple vendors. Certification prerequisites and requirements vary by organization, though certification is usually awarded upon successful passage of an exam.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Master's Degree

A bachelor's degree may be the most common level of education required to become an IT specialist, but some employers prefer to hire applicants who have earned master's degrees in computer science or related areas. Also, master's degrees may create more opportunities for individuals seeking career advancement or higher positions in the field. Students in master's degree programs build on the knowledge that they have accrued during their undergraduate education and explore computer science theory and practice more extensively. They may take courses in computer graphics, algorithms, artificial intelligence, computational modeling and computer vision. Independent study and research in computer science, as well as a thesis, may also be required.

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