What is Information Technology? – Southern New Hampshire University

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Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.
This article was updated on Oct. 24, 2023 with additional contributions by Mars Girolimon.
From checking email on our phones to crunching numbers on our laptops to organizing a teleconference over cloud-based software, it’s hard to overstate the importance of information technology (IT) in the workplace — and the ever-growing roles in the IT field. But what, exactly, are we talking about when we talk about IT?
The phrase “information technology” goes back to a 1958 article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Authors Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler defined several types of information technology:
“While many aspects of this technology are uncertain, it seems clear that it will move into the managerial scene rapidly, with definite and far-reaching impact on managerial organization,” they wrote.
Six decades later, it’s clear that Leavitt and Whisler were onto something big. Today, information technology refers to everything that businesses use computers for. Information technology is building communications networks for a company, safeguarding data and information, creating and administering databases, helping employees troubleshoot problems with their computers or mobile devices, or doing a range of other work to ensure the efficiency and security of business information systems.
Renard Spratling with the text Renard Spratling The distinction between IT and computer science is frequently debated in the tech world. “If you search it or if you ask AI, you probably get 5,000 different answers every time,” said Renard Spratling, associate dean of technology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
Within the higher education context, a computer science degree is largely focused on programming and software development, while information technology is the study of computer systems and networks as they relate to the operation of a business.
“As you go deeper into the science of computers, it’s an actual scientific process of exploring new possibilities of what computer software can do,” Spratling said. “Information technology on the other hand, tends to focus more on the technologies that are necessary to manage all this information.”
Spratling also offered another way to understand this distinction. “I would look at computer science as a subset of information technology,” he said. No matter how advanced you get with a software program, you’re still dealing with information technology, according to Spratling.
Either subject can be the foundation for a great career in the field. You may also choose to specialize in particular computer-related areas, such as earning a cyber security degree or continue your education with a master’s degree in IT or in a related field.
So much of today’s world is powered by technology. In fact, Spratling said it’s hard to find any area of modern life that doesn’t already have some usage or application of information technology.
“To add to that, anything can be enhanced or improved or made more efficient through the implementation of technology,” he said. “In a nutshell, that sort of says why it’s important.”
As technology continues to grow and evolve throughout many facets of daily life, the ways we interact with technology are changing, too. “Technology moves so fast, so it’s definitely important that we pay attention,” said Spratling.
He noted laws are always behind technology, so staying current with the technical side is imperative to keeping up with legal and social changes that come with it. In that way, being technologically literate can invite you into vital conversations and allow you to participate in finding solutions.
“Let’s see what problems we can solve,” Spratling said.
When it comes to types of IT jobs, examples run from tiny consulting firms to huge multinational corporations, and from highly technical specialties to management roles that demand strong people skills.
Here are some examples of routes you might choose and their job descriptions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
For many of these career paths, earning a bachelor’s degree is an important first step. But don’t discount what you can do with an associate degree in IT – it may allow you to get your foot in the door and it’s a solid start to earning your bachelor’s.
To have a successful career in IT, you’ll need to be just as comfortable interacting with people as you are with computers. IT professionals regularly assist others with technical issues, which means communication in IT is crucial.
Sheelabanny Vunnam with the text Sheelabanny VunnamSheelabanny Vunnam ’23 didn’t always consider herself a techie, but that changed while she earned her master’s degree in IT. Now she’s confident troubleshooting and problem solving. But, she said she also developed more than technical skills while working as a graduate assistant and completing her program at SNHU.
“I learned how to multi-task, how to interact with supervisors and how to interact with colleagues,” Vunnam said.
Skills like multi-tasking, communication and time management are all necessary for IT professionals. If you’re considering a career in IT, you’ll also want to develop soft skills like these while becoming a techie in your own right, like Vunnam.
As for the best aspects of a career in tech? “Wow, where do I start?” Spratling said.
First, he noted how important flexibility is to many individuals and families. “A lot of the careers (in IT) may give you flexibility in not just location, but also time,” said Spratling, pointing out that many positions in IT allow you to work from home and offer an accommodating schedule.
Another positive of working in IT is that you don’t have to work exclusively with technology itself, according to Spratling. “You could look at it as more — if I have a passion about something, how can I use technology to supplement the passion that I have?” he said.
There are tech workers in every field, as well as positions that combine IT with other fields, like digital forensic examiners working in criminal justice or biotech workers in the healthcare sphere.
The outlook for tech careers offers a potential advantage, too. The field’s growth rate is much faster than average, according to BLS.*
“And it pays well. That’s another benefit,” Spratling said. ” Make some good money and solve some problems at the same time.”
Although salaries vary between roles, BLS reports the median annual wage for tech workers was $100,530 in 2022.*
The first thing you’ll need to do to launch your tech career is develop a foundation of relevant knowledge and skills. For many tech workers, that means earning a bachelor’s degree.
Some schools, like SNHU, offer online degree programs that allow you to work with the latest technologies and create a digital portfolio to showcase your skills and help you land a job. You could even go on to earn a master’s degree after completing your bachelor’s for a more advanced understanding and a potentially higher salary.
But now that’s not the only way you can start a career in tech. “It used to be that you’d have to have a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree to really get started and maybe some certifications on top of all that,” according to Spratling.
He noted trends are changing — employers are adjusting their approach and looking at nontraditional educational paths. “There are shorter term programs that you can complete to get a highly recognized credential or certification that can be very valuable and quicker to get a job,” Spratling said.
For example, if you have an interest in coding you might decide to earn a computer programming certificate.
“I still encourage you to get a degree,” said Spratling. “But you know, that’s not the only path.”
Networking, professional development and experiential learning can also help you move forward with an IT career.
“Training, networking with people, getting your name out there is huge,” Spratling said. “That’s a big part of it nowadays, just the learning and development and on top of that, always developing that mindset of always learning because technology changes so fast.”
If you’re interested in an IT career, Spratling’s advice is simple — explore.
“There are so many avenues you can go down within IT and there’s so many different facets of it. So just explore, try to get a broader sweep first to see what the different arenas are and see what you gravitate to,” he said. “See where it goes you’ll be somewhere in the field that you might be passionate about.”
Regardless of your specific path, the world of opportunities in IT that Leavitt and Whisler saw emerging back in 1958 is still growing today, with no end in sight.
Discover more about SNHU’s bachelor’s in information technology: Find out what courses you’ll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.
*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.
Livia Gershon is a freelance writer focused on education and healthcare.
Mars Girolimon ’21 ’23G is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University where they earned their bachelor’s and master’s, both in English and creative writing. In addition to their work in higher education, Girolimon’s short fiction is published in the North American Review, So It Goes by The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, X-R-A-Y and more. They’re currently writing their debut novel, which was Longlisted for The First Pages Prize. Connect with them on LinkedIn and X, formerly known as Twitter.
SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.


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