I’m often asked if IT is still a good career choice. My answer is an unequivocal yes. IT continues to be an exciting, fast-paced industry in which, according to most of the industry analyst firms, we’ll see explosive growth in various areas of IT. Adding to this excitement is the constant change we experience in this market and, as we all know, change generally means opportunity. For example, look at the changes you are seeing today in cloud-based technologies, wireless and mobile trends, and security from end-point to the data center and cloud!
One way to gauge this fact is to glance at U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Jobs 2015” rankings. Of the eight categories listed, one is “Technology Jobs.” Of the remaining seven categories, multiple IT roles show up under both “Best STEM Jobs” and “Best-Paying Jobs.” It isn’t an exaggeration to say that IT jobs are everywhere.
But which IT jobs are hot can change from year to year. Last year, everyone wanted Big Data specialists. This year, we saw demand for Java and or Ruby developers, security experts, data scientists and, of course, a concierge-level of support services for end users. All of which will likely be in demand over the course of a career!
For young people just entering college or starting a professional career, or for more seasoned workers who want new opportunities, I recommend focusing on an IT career path rather than on a specific IT job. That way, even as your job title changes, your career remains on a trajectory. There’s a lot more out there in IT besides programming!
With that in mind, here are my picks for the top five long-range IT career paths:
1) Field service
Service and support is the bedrock of IT. Virtually every company uses technology, and virtually every one requires a service desk, break-fix support, data center maintenance and similar IT services. Qualified IT technicians are in demand in many ways.
Some would argue that we’re moving toward a lower-touch remote world in which IT technicians are less necessary. But even as organizations move their data centers to the cloud, or leverage more and more self-help and self-healing, the cloud itself still involves physical infrastructure, mobile access and end users require touch! And the number of end-user devices that need support is only growing. The demand for the type of technician may change, but I don’t see demand for technicians dropping off any time soon in the many industries and vertical markets that leverage IT and the wide variety of IT devices.
To get started, you’ll at least want A+ certification from the Computing Information Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which validates understanding of fundamental hardware and software. Many tech schools and universities offer programs that provide basic background in hardware, software and networking, along with certificates from CompTIA. An A+ certification is a foundational cert that leads to other areas of specialization, such as Network+ or Security+ certifications.
2) Cyber security
Cyber security arguably requires more expertise than field service, but as with field service, demand for it won’t lag anytime soon. Any organization that owns intellectual property, manages financial or customer data, or needs to comply with privacy regulations — in other words, pretty much every business — needs cyber security or some form of network or data security.
Many people who pursue a career in cyber security have an undergraduate degree in some area of IT, engineering, or mathematics, although it isn’t absolutely necessary for the degree to be in the field of security. Many are drawn to it because they grew up playing with computers or software and enjoyed figuring out how to get around and through software and networks. The military also provides excellent cyber security training to qualified servicemen and servicewomen.
Cyber security typically requires outside-the-box thinking skills and a high level of intelligence in troubleshooting and problem solving. It’s also helpful to have a fundamental background in hardware, software, networking and programming. One place to start is with CompTIA’s Security+ certification or software providers such as Intel Security or Symantec certifications.
3) Business Consulting/Vertical Industries/Professional Services
One of the best things you can do with IT expertise is combine it with knowledge of a specific industry. Of course, that requires additional knowledge, experience, or both. But few business workers have extensive knowledge of both IT and their industry. The person who comprehends both is invaluable.
A business consultant or technology professional services consultant with IT expertise has tremendous opportunities. Those options could lie within the IT department or within a line of business inside the enterprise. He or she could work as a provider of Professional Services or as a business consultant independently or as a part of a service organization. There are many channels in the market requiring these skills from solution architects with a value added reseller (VAR) to a technology consultant or business consultant working as part of an IT channel partner, VAR or even a traditional consulting firm. This is a high-growth, demanding career with many routes to service markets as a professional in business and IT combined.
There are several high-growth industries in which IT is increasingly important. These include healthcare, retail, energy and telecommunications (or evolving areas such as service provider, or SP). For example, healthcare facilities increasingly depend on interconnected equipment and data (such as Internet of Things, or IoT). Any IT expert who also understands the unique needs of healthcare or a given vertical will be in high demand. Lastly, the topic and technologies within IoT for almost any vertical is an area with huge growth projections. IoT itself will have a very positive impact on careers in each of the topics covered today. We’ll expand on this topic more in the future with opinions and projections from industry experts and use cases for you to consider as a potential next step in your IT career.
4) IT management
IT management isn’t for everyone, and it’s not something anyone will do right out of college. But at some point, everyone in an IT career will have to decide whether to continue with a technical focus or shift into a managerial role. Those who enjoy working with people and demonstrate leadership skills are good candidates for IT management.
One place to start is with project management. That might begin with certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Many project managers also end up managing people for the duration of a project, which is a good way to test out a management role.
At companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, it’s not unusual for one or two managers to oversee the entire IT function. At larger enterprises, management roles will be distributed across key areas such as infrastructure, application development and vendor management. For executive roles such as CTO or CIO, you’ll need deep knowledge of not only technology but also business.
5) IT education
Many IT roles require certifications. But few people pursuing an IT career stop to realize that IT training itself is a superb career path. All your future colleagues seeking certification will need to be trained by someone.
The IT industry is somewhat unique among professional careers in that an undergraduate or Master’s degree are desired but not always required (but they are a plus!). Universities offer excellent programs in computer science, systems analysis, programming and other aspects of IT, but it’s challenging for them to keep up with changing technology. For that, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) certifications or certificate programs such as those from CompTIA are often more relevant.
Many hardware and software vendors offer certifications such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). These are rigorous programs that can take years of hard work to complete. Vendors such as Dell, HP, Microsoft, Red Hat, Symantec, VMware and many others also offer relevant certifications and training. There’s ample opportunity to pursue a successful career in IT education.
In an industry as far-reaching and rapidly changing as IT, it’s impossible to know which particular role will stand out or pay the most in the next 18 months, never mind the next 18 years, but selecting IT as a field of work is a life time career. These five paths should enable you to embark on a long and fulfilling career in IT, and they are all linked and can be leveraged as stepping stones to a long and prosperous career!
Please comment to share experiences and advice in your IT career.