The term “information technology” gets thrown around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean and why is it important?
Computer information technology, or IT, is a relatively new field that first emerged in the 1990s when computers became the basic tools used for work and everyday life. With the rise in computer use came the need for professionals that could develop and maintain their infrastructure. Computer information technology is often used to refer to technical support, but it’s become much more than that.
IT is the development, maintenance, and use of computer systems and networks; but it encompasses a wide variety of tech-based disciplines that deal with information and data. Security and communication are huge elements of the technology industry, especially as systems become more public and technology continues to evolve.
Why Is Information Technology Important?
Technology impacts nearly every aspect of our lives, including the way we communicate, learn, socialize, work, bank, and more. IT ensures that this technology—and the networks and software that connect it—operates effectively. Thanks to IT, organizations and individuals enjoy better connections through faster, more accessible communication and increased productivity through easier access to information. From finance to farming, nearly every industry relies on information technology, and this dependence is only going to become stronger.
What Areas Does Information Technology Include?
IT includes many career paths and disciplines, but the following are the five main professional areas of IT:
- Administration handles the daily operations and deployment of software upgrades, security, and data management.
- Support answers questions and troubleshoots problems.
- Applications works with third-party applications to deliver critical business capabilities and services.
- Compliance secures and monitors access to business data and applications to ensure they’re used according to business governance policies that meet regulatory requirements.
- Cybersecurity develops and utilizes software that secures computer-based systems and keeps digital assets safe.
What Are Some Examples of Information Technology?
Obvious examples of IT include computers, networks, and software. But IT also encompasses anything related to computing technology and its distribution—including online shopping, streaming movies and shows, and social media platforms.
Additionally, there are many other examples of IT-enabled innovation, the most notable being artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. AI can simulate certain characteristics of human intelligence. It’s used in problem-solving, speech recognition, planning, learning, and so on. It can even provide you with suggestions based on your previous searches, online activities, and purchases.
In the healthcare industry, AI is helping to provide more efficient and safe care for patients everywhere. It’s being used in various treatments in patients, as well as surgical operations. It’s also used for electronic health records to store and learn from data, in scheduling services for doctors and patients, and in the many technological devices doctors use daily.
In today’s classrooms, teachers and students can utilize AI for educational purposes, such as plagiarism checkers, citation finders, research archives, and more.
Machine learning is another example of IT innovation. It’s based around the idea that we can give machines data and allow them to learn for themselves. Social media platforms utilize machine learning algorithms and intelligence to serve you ads, to display content that goes with your preferences, and more. Machine learning also helps autonomous technology work (think, self-driving cars). Cars can now learn from situations they're in, recognize how traffic signs impact their route, observe pedestrians and other vehicles, and more.
What’s the Difference Between Software and Hardware?
Think of hardware as any part of a computer that’s physical (like a keyboard, hard drive, monitor, etc.) while software includes the unseen elements (such as programs, apps, photo editors, and web browsers). Simply put, software tells hardware what to do and hardware acts on those directions. The two serve very different purposes but rely on each other in order to function.
Software-based jobs in IT involve developing applications or programs and include the following:
Hardware-based IT jobs involve working with computer networks, equipment, and systems, and include any of the following:
What’s the Difference Between Information Technology and Computer Science?
While the two fields often overlap, there are some key differences to know, especially if you’re interested in pursuing a tech career.
Information technology focuses more heavily on the practical operation of computers, networks, and systems, so that others in an organization can do their work efficiently.
Computer science deals with more abstract programming and mathematical algorithms and is often strictly computer based.
IT professionals deal more with running an organization’s computers, making sure the related networks, systems, and security are operational. Computer scientists, on the other hand, generally work on designing and building computers and their programs. While computer science knowledge isn’t vital for some IT careers, IT experience and education is important for anyone hoping to pursue a computer science career.
Computer Information Technology Skills
As the demand for technology grows, so does the need for skilled IT professionals. If you’re curious about what it takes to work in this growing career field, here are some of the fundamental skills—hard and soft—that you'll need:
- Tech-savvy. Although specific technical skills can vary by position, every IT job requires some degree of technical proficiency, including a basic, foundational understanding of computers, software, and networks.
- Problem-solving and troubleshooting. IT professionals use these skills when they're trying to determine why a line of code isn't working as it should or why a network connection failed. Identifying the source of a problem is critical, and so is your ability to assess situations, identify errors, and develop solutions.
- Communication. You’ll need to be able to communicate effectively about IT systems, orally and in writing, to audiences of varying technical know-how. This skill is especially useful if you’re in a role that supports professionals such as marketers, retailers, and lawyers.
- Information systems management. This skill helps IT experts collaborate with and assist other departments of an organization. It requires a basic understanding of how to manage a company’s network and allocate user permissions that connect employees with the resources they need.
- Data analysis. In any IT job, you’ll need to be able to interpret and analyze complex data to produce actionable reports. This helps inform future business decisions and explains to everyone, from consumers to executives, how well a project performed and what that means for a company.
- Project management. IT professionals need to be able to plan, execute, and monitor projects, as well as schedule projects, allocate resources, assess risks, measure performance, and report on results.
An IT degree is a great way to gain these skills and can put you on the path to being competitive for many exciting and in-demand IT jobs. If you’re someone who likes solving problems, designing solutions, and working with the latest technologies, getting your IT degree online from WGU is a solid choice.