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What is Computer Information Technology?

Computer information technology is a wildly popular area of study in the United States, with computer science graduates qualified to work in a wide variety of lucrative and innovative careers across numerous industries. This area of study is particularly suitable for individuals interested in, and proficient with, computers. While employment opportunities vary, some of the most common options are found in software development, finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.

It’s important to realize that there are many different computer information technology occupations available in Massachusetts. In fact, employment opportunities can be found in most industries because companies and organizations of every kind depend on professionals with expertise in this field. This does mean, however, that work standards and expectations can vary drastically between jobs.

Similarly, work settings can vary. Depending on the position and type of work performed, professionals in this field may have small offices or large research facilities, or they may be expected to move between multiple locations or perform duties from home.

In most cases, professionals in this field perform tasks associated with the study, design, development, implementation, support, and/or management of computer-based information systems. They may also be expected to analyze technical problems, identify computer requirements, and solve various technological problems as they arise, as well as responding to user needs when selecting, evaluating, and administering various computer-based systems. It’s also quite common for employers to assign more than one of the roles mentioned above.

In order to ensure professionals are adequately prepared to work in various settings, most information technology degree programs focus on developing essential knowledge that is easily transferable. As a result, graduates tend to possess skills that can be utilized in almost every aspect of modern computing.

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Online Information Technology (IT) Education in Massachusetts

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in computer science and information technology occupations is expected to increase by 15% from 2021 to 2031. This is much faster than the average of all occupations and will account for approximately 682,800 new jobs in the field throughout the nation. An additional 418,500 openings are expected each year due to the need to replace workers leaving their occupations permanently.

It's worth noting that the overall outlook in this subject is expected to remain good for the foreseeable future. This is because companies, organizations, and the general public are likely to continue valuing cloud computing and information security for stored data.

Computer science and information technology is the sixth largest industry in Massachusetts, accounting for $31.7 billion in revenue each year. This indicates that professionals with expertise in this field are likely to find jobs in the state. Additionally, many companies and organizations outside of the information sector depend on these experts to thrive. As a result, opportunities may be available in business services, real estate, education, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, wholesale, entertainment, retail, and construction.

Many colleges and universities in the United States offer information technology and other related topics as major areas of study. Prospective students are likely to find traditional and online programs, which can make this type of higher education more accessible. It’s important to note, however, that those interested in pursuing employment in Massachusetts may want to give preference to local institutions. Schools within the state typically maintain curriculums that are geographically relevant, which can make finding employment easier. Students interested in completing information technology programs from Massachusetts schools will find plenty of options across the state including Northeastern University, Umass Boston, Harvard, and more.

While a limited number of entry-level information technology or computer science employment opportunities may be available to candidates with high school diplomas or GEDs, most professionals in this field possess some amount of higher education. The majority of employers expect candidates to have, at minimum, bachelor’s degrees. As a result, job available tends to be extremely limited for individuals with basic, self-taught knowledge and skills.

Massachusetts is home to many colleges and universities offering applicable higher education degrees in information technology. Prospective students can generally choose from programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. While earning a degree of any kind is likely to improve employment options, the best occupations are typically reserved for those with more advanced education.

Online Associate Degree in Information Technology (AS)

Associate degree programs in computer science or information technology generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. As undergraduate programs, they incorporate both general liberal arts and major-specific classes meant to prepare students for basic employment, as well as continuing education. While curriculums vary, those enrolled can typically expect to receive instruction in the fundamentals of web development, database management, web programming, and network infrastructure management. The result is a relatively broad introduction to the information technology field as a whole.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals seeking entry-level employment in the field as soon as possible. While instruction at this level is not as extensive as it for four-year programs, graduates are typically prepared to enter the workforce as computer support specialists, industrial engineer technicians, web developers, digital designers, network systems administrators, or computer programmers. Associate degrees often cost less to earn, as well. This is because most programs are offered by community colleges, which charge lower tuition and fee rates than traditional colleges and universities.

It's important to realize that employment is not guaranteed for computer science or information technology associate degree graduates. In fact, these individuals often compete for the same entry-level positions as those who have completed bachelor’s programs. In many cases, hiring companies and organizations will choose candidates with more education and experience first.

With this in mind, many associate degree graduates go on to pursue further education by enrolling in bachelor’s programs. As most colleges and universities accept undergraduate transfer credit hours from other accredited institutions, it’s often easier to obtain a more advanced degree than anticipated. Many start their new programs as juniors rather than freshmen, with only two additional years of instruction needed to meet graduation requirements.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees in information technology generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. As undergraduate programs, they incorporate both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. While curriculums vary, students can typically expect to receive instruction in information technology infrastructure, database management, cyber security, and information systems design. Those enrolled are also likely to learn about web design and programming, as well as developing various skills in technical communication and mathematics.

Some colleges and universities also allow students to select concentrations in relevant sub-fields. This is particularly helpful for individuals planning to pursue employment that requires specialized knowledge and skills in specific areas. This type of degree is ideal for those seeking employment as computer systems analysts, cyber security consultants, or software development specialists. Additionally, graduates often possess knowledge and skills that make them highly desirable in other industries. As a result, it may also be possible to pursue jobs in education, healthcare, manufacturing, and business.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of computer and information technology occupations require candidates to possess bachelor’s degrees. Not all graduates seek professional employment right away, however. Instead, many choose to pursue further education by enrolling in master’s information technology degree programs. Those planning to enroll in graduate school should be prepared to provide official undergraduate transcripts to gaining institutions. Applicants will also need to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test score requirements.

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Online Master's Degree in Information Technology (MS)

Master’s degree programs in information technology generally consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. These programs no longer incorporate general liberal arts classes into the curriculums, although some major-specific undergraduate classes may be required as prerequisites for admission. Students typically spend their time exclusively studying key topics in the field such as software design, operating systems, data management, financial management, project management, and program and application development. However, at this level, students may also take a project management course, courses on business intelligence, and similar subjects. Those enrolled should also expect to complete related capstone projects before graduation.

It’s also common for colleges and universities to allow information technology students to select concentrations in relevant sub-fields. This is particularly helpful for individuals planning to pursue employment that requires specialized knowledge and skills in specific areas. Popular examples include data analytics, information security, information technology management, smart technology, and web design.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals seeking more extensive education and training in the field. Graduates at this level often enjoy more employment opportunities and higher pay. While opportunities vary, they regularly qualify for jobs as advanced positions as data managers, network administrators, software engineers, and cyber security analysts.

Online PhD Degree in Information Technology (PhD)

Doctoral degree programs in information technology vary significantly, but generally consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that take three to six years in to complete. Some accelerated online programs do exist, however, which are comprised of requirements that may be met in less time.

While curriculums vary, most incorporate a variety of pertinent topics in computer science, information systems, networking, and database administration. It’s also common for those enrolled to receive instruction in strategic analysis research, research design, quantitative research, and qualitative research. Those in PhD programs are also likely to learn about programming languages, software systems design, and modeling communication networks.

Although students should expect to spend a lot of time in traditional classroom settings, they will also perform a significant amount of independent study and research. As those enrolled progress through these programs, the focus typically shifts towards more research and writing. The majority of doctoral information technology degrees culminate with the presentation and defense of dissertations before a board of professors.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals seeking employment in research and/or higher education. Graduates may also qualify for jobs as information technology architects, information technology project managers, postsecondary educators, and senior data scientists. Notably, however, doctoral degrees are rarely required for most other computer information technology occupations.

Become an Information Technology Expert in Massachusetts

As there are many different types of computer information technology careers available, it’s important to determine your ultimate career goals as early as possible. Knowing which profession(s) you are most interested in can help you plan the most efficient course to success.

Every occupation has its own hiring standards and expectations. By identifying and researching your preferred job, you can learn exactly what is needed in order to become employed. Not only will you be prepared to select the most appropriate degree program, but you will also know which minor areas of study, electives, extra-curricular activities, and/or internship opportunities will serve you best.

In addition to acquiring the necessary education and training to qualify for your intended profession, it can also be helpful to obtain one or more certifications and/or licenses. These credentials demonstrate an overall dedication to the field but can also be used to highlight specific knowledge and skills in specialty areas. This is particularly relevant when trying to distinguish yourself from others during the hiring process. In general, becoming licensed or certified is a great way to improve your employment prospects and, in some cases, can lead to promotional opportunities and/or more pay.

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In most cases, information technology and computer science certifications are offered by well-known technology companies, professional associations, or professional certification boards. While many options are vendor-specific, there are numerous vendor-neutral credentials available as well.

Some of the most popular options include:

  • Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)
  • Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE)
  • Certified Data Professional (CDP)
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CSIM)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • CompTIA
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

Although some employers specify which certifications are necessary in job descriptions, the majority of information technology professionals pursue credentialing opportunities that align with their personal interests and/or career goals. While not always the case, the credentials sought often correspond directly with the type of work performed.

Once certified, you will likely need to take various measures to maintain the credential over time. Because the field is constantly changing, many certifying bodies require professionals to meet continuing education expectations. This ensures familiarity with current updates and trends. Standards vary by credential, but this requirement can usually be met by participating in training programs, attending relevant convention seminars, and enrolling in academic courses. In most cases, free and paid options are acceptable.

Another important factor to keep in mind is security clearance. Some companies and organizations will only hire computer information technology professionals who are cleared to work with highly sensitive materials. It’s not uncommon for employers to offer jobs contingent upon obtaining the necessary clearance within a specific amount of time. Others may only consider candidates who already possess the specified clearance level.

Potential Careers for CIT (CIS) Graduates

  • Animator
    Animators work to create 2D and/or 3D animations often utilized in games, films, television shows, and commercials. Utilizing a variety of programs and software, as well as hand drawings and motion capture animation, these professionals are capable of designing cartoons and other images in many different styles. According to PayScale, animators make an average base salary of $58,791 per year.
  • Application Developer
    Application developers are employed by companies and organizations to create programs and software used on smartphones, computers, tablets, and more. They can also work for themselves or as independent contractors. While responsibilities vary, these professionals primarily focus on developing, managing, and maintaining the various technological elements of their apps. In some cases, they may be tasked with collaborating with other web and information technology professionals. According to PayScale, application developers make an average base salary of $73,797 per year.
  • Cyber Security Analyst
    Cyber security analysts are hired by companies and organizations to maintain the overall safety to their information technology infrastructures. This often entails conducting assessments, offering advice to leadership, and reporting possible intrusion attempts. They may also take various steps to detect potential security threats, as well as spending time analyzing alarms and monitoring associated networks and systems. According to PayScale, cyber security analysts make an average base salary of $78,642 per year.
  • Data Scientist
    Data scientists are hired to analyze, process, model, and interpret data for companies and organizations. Using computer science, statistics, and mathematics, they are capable of preventing and solving various problems that may arise. They also often recommend more cost-effective changes to existing procedures. According to PayScale, data scientists make an average base salary of $98,342 per year.
  • Graphic Designer
    Graphic designers are employed by companies and organizations to visually communicate messages and/or present products in alluring ways. They can also work for themselves or as independent contractors. Utilizing various colors, illustrations, and text fonts, they spend most of their time creating logos, product packaging, print materials, and websites. While the majority of graphic designers are proficient with multiple mediums, some choose to specialize in only print or web-based media. According to PayScale, graphic designers make an average base salary of $48,966 per year.
  • Network Analyst
    Network analysts provide a wide variety of services such as coordinating data communications networks, cable installations, network systems planning, monitoring, testing, and servicing. They’re also responsible for troubleshooting various network-related problems and planning and organizing the load configuration of central communication processors. According to PayScale, network analysts make an average base salary of $60,821 per year.
  • Software Designer/Engineer
    Software designers are hired by companies and organizations to create computer software. They can also work for themselves or as independent contractors. Depending on the job, this may require collaboration with other professionals, such as programmers and testers. Additionally, these professionals spend time answering questions about their creations, troubleshooting issues that arise, and generating detailed resource guides for programs. According to PayScale, software designers make an average base salary of $79,591 per year.
  • Software Quality Assurance Analyst
    Software quality assurance analysts are responsible for implementing regular test plans and using various troubleshooting computer applications in order to verify that software development data is error-free. They also develop automation tests and recommend processing systems updates and assist in the creation of related company standards. According to PayScale, software quality assurance analysts make an average base salary of $64,563 per year.
  • Web Developer
    Web developers are employed by companies and organizations to create web pages and websites using code. They can also work for themselves or as independent contractors. Additionally, they may be tasked with testing and/or modifying new software before it’s incorporated into various company projects. In some cases, they might be expected to ensure assigned materials are maintained and easy for other workers to access databases. According to PayScale, web developers make an average base salary of $61,797 per year.

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