Careers in Computers – Career Paths & Earning Potential

Find Your Dream Career or Job in Computers

The global IT market is valued at over $5 trillion with 40% of that staggering figure based out of the US, encompassing 10% of the overall US GDP, according to a joint collaboration by the US Department of Commerce and the International Trade Association. Very few aspects of your life are not directly affected or impacted by computers and technology, from food to flooring. The BLS has announced that the computer and IT industry will grow another 12% by 2028 with an additional half million jobs. And, the median wage for such professionals is roughly $50,000 more a year than the average median wage for all workers in the US. If you want a stable career with good pay and career growth opportunities, working with computers and in IT is the way to go for you.

Computer Career Paths


What Can You Do with a Computer Degree?


A computer degree is essential to most IT and computer-related jobs. You can choose from a variety of degree types and majors. The most common general majors are computer science, information science, and management information systems. You can also choose more specialized degrees such as software engineering, computer programming, or cybersecurity. And almost all IT and computer jobs will require some sort of education including associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and/or certifications.

The type of jobs you can get in IT are nearly limitless and will vary on required technical abilities. Some jobs will be far more technical than others such as network architects, hardware engineers, software developers, and cyber forensics. It is also possible to secure less technical positions with the assistance of existing technology such as graphic design, web development, and project management. It is also important to note that courses in business may be essential for many IT jobs, as you will be working with business professionals and on projects specifically designed for business use in many cases.

You can continue to gain experience by working toward advanced degrees and certifications. With advanced degrees, you can increase your pay, improve your technical know-how, and receive better employment opportunities. Continued education is also an essential component of job and certification retention as technology changes constantly. You must remain current on the most relevant and recent skills and methodologies.

Skills Gained and Learned


The skills you require to be a successful professional with computers will vary greatly based on your exact job title and responsibilities. Many of these skills are universal, while others are more specialized. Remember that, even if you work independently, you still have to interact with people in various situations. And, keep in mind that you will be working in a specialized area of business that most people in the general public do not understand. Patience and the ability to teach people with respect and understanding will go far. Perhaps the most important traits of computer and IT professionals is being ethical while striving to protect and maintain sensitive information at all times.

With that being addressed, the following are the top five skills that are essential to successful IT professionals:

  • Communication :
    Being able to communicate exceptionally well in all ways is essential to be successful in an IT career. You cannot simply sit behind a computer in most computer-based careers. You’ll have to interact with people in various departments, as well as clients, vendors, and more.
  • Teamwork :
    IT professionals must work as part of a team. The very core of IT is designed to improve the way business is conducted. As such, being part of a team will be required to gather feedback, insights, and much more. You might be a part of project-based teams or spearhead teams of your own to make improvements.
  • Planning and Organizing :
    IT is a competitive field today and being able to plan and organize exceptionally well is becoming of critical importance in new hires. You essentially must be able to act as a project manager of your own tasks with remarkable skill. It is unlikely you will have only one project or task at a time; therefore, planning and organizing are essential.
  • Prioritization and Time Management :
    Much like planning and organizing, you will have to develop and master the skills of prioritizing and time management to be successful in IT. Some days, it might feel as though everyone needs your help or that your manager is constantly bugging you for results. On those days, you have to be able to set aside less important tasks to complete more important responsibilities to stay on task. If people have to wait, they have to wait. However, you must still meet deadlines and stay on track and within budget.
  • Self-Management :
    Many IT professionals either work for themselves or spend a lot of time without direct supervision. As a result, you must be able to manage yourself. Much like prioritization and time management, you have to answer to someone to keep your job. If you cannot do your job as requested and outlined by a client, manager, or company, you will not have a job for very long.

Popular Careers in Computer


Cybersecurity is a trillion-dollar industry in its own right. With the rising rates of cybercriminal activity each year, cybersecurity is skyrocketing to the top of all new hire lists for companies and organizations across the globe. You can work in a variety of sectors within cybersecurity, from ethical hacking to providing risk assessments as a consultant. This industry is growing fast and many careers within cybersecurity are expected to grow up to nearly 30% by 2028.

Security Analyst

A security analyst is tasked with the responsibility of orchestrating and implementing various security practices best able to thwart attacks from the systems and networks of a company. These positions continue to grow in demand as digital security threats and the sheer number of cybercriminals continues to rise. Your daily duties will vary; however, each will be just as important as the last including monitoring networks for breaches in security, investigating any violation that develops, installing protection software like data encryption programs and firewalls, researching current trends, establishing best practices, providing recommendations on security upgrades, completing reports, and implementing penetration testing. To become a security analyst, you will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. These positions are highly critical to the safety of any organization. As a result, many companies may prefer an MBA in information systems or a similar high-level degree. This will be particularly true for career advancement. You will also be required to have several years of IT work experience in a related field. And, it can only help to complete various certifications, such as that for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional, to specialize your skillset as a way to secure yourself positions with the best companies.

Systems Analyst

A systems analyst is quite different from a security analyst in that, as a systems analyst, your primary role is to address the needs and concerns of the overall systems pertaining to their functionality in the organization rather than to prevent threats and attacks. Computer systems analysts are often titled systems architects. Either way, you will have many responsibilities such as researching new technologies, testing new technologies, collaborating with managers, installing and configuring new systems, customizing systems for the organization, training end users, and performing cost-benefit analyses. You will have to work closely with many individuals. As such, communication and interpersonal skills will be essential in these positions. To become a systems analyst, you will be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Most people choose information or computer science degrees. However, if you have exceptional programming or IT skills with a business degree, you might be considered even more of a catch. If you do pursue an IT-based degree, it’s a good idea to take business classes to become a more desirable candidate for various job openings. Today, many employers actually prefer individuals who complete an MBA with a management information systems emphasis. And don’t forget the importance of certifications in IT professions.

Cyber Forensics

Cyber forensics is a relatively new field that is rapidly growing due to the explosion of new and ongoing cybercrimes. As a cyber forensics professional, you will be responsible for utilizing various electronic discovery methodologies to extract criminal evidence of a technical or digital nature. You will technically be working in the field of law as an IT professional. As cybercrimes continue to grow and find increasing success, often ruining the lives of innocent people the world over, it is of the utmost importance that the world has people fighting to catch these criminals. This is the job of cyber forensics. You will essentially be responsible for catching bad guys from a computer rather than on the streets with a gun. Daily tasks might include tracking email scams and the distribution of copyrighted works, unfolding a digital audit trail, developing applications to prevent cybercrime and to trap criminals, performing file recovery, and analyzing data acquisitions. To become a cyber forensic investigator, you will require a bachelor’s degree in computer forensics or a bachelor’s degree in another field with cyber forensics certification. More and more people are choosing a master’s degree and certifications to secure top jobs and career advancement.

Penetration Tester

A penetration tester, also referred to as an ethical hacker, works to expose system vulnerabilities for organizations or government departments. These jobs are in high demand by companies of all sizes. You will work to break into computer systems so that you discover the cracks in the armor of a company before black hat hackers, or cybercriminals, are able to. Rather than causing damage or stealing information, you will work with other IT professionals to create solutions for these uncovered vulnerabilities. You will have to hold a specific skillset to become a penetration tester such as the ability to write code, write reports on your findings, work with others on solution projects, take on tasks in security administration and technical writing, conduct security evaluations of servers and network devices, create new tests and tools, exploit logic flaws and weaknesses, and much more. You will perform penetration tests on networks, applications, and computer systems. Most top employers will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Small and medium-sized businesses might be comfortable with someone who can demonstrate their skills with certifications such as Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Penetration Tester, PenTest+, Certified Expert Penetration Tester, or Offensive Security Certified Expert.

Security Software Developer

A security software developer works primarily with computer programs so that the software performs the desired tasks for the company or client. You might develop task-based applications, create overall programs or work with systems that operate a device. Daily tasks will be unique to your job specifications such as analyzing user needs, designing software, testing software, recommending program upgrades, creating models and diagrams, and collaborating with other IT specialists. It is likely that you will be responsible for the entire software process from development to execution. The most desirable software developers keep programs and user experience simple yet highly effective. To become a software developer, you must have exceptional proficiency with computer programming and have a bachelor’s degree in a related field. These professionals have the option of advancing their careers to become an IT project manager if they so choose.

Cybersecurity Consultant

A cybersecurity consultant is in high demand throughout all industries as companies are in constant fear of a security breach. While some breaches are out of their hands, such as those occurring at the locations of partners, cybersecurity consultants work to minimize security risks in internal systems. You might be responsible for securing systems, training end users, keeping companies in compliance and following current regulations, retracing the steps of a hacker, identifying vulnerabilities, and fixing areas of weakness. It is possible to work in nearly any industry anywhere on the planet as a cybersecurity consultant. Many employers prefer a bachelor’s degree with a computer science-related major. You might also consider professional certifications. If you have proven experience with an employer and your skills speak for themselves, a degree and certifications will be less important. However, it is important to note that you should always be learning in this job to continually be able to successfully prevent attacks as cybercriminals are constantly changing the ways they attack.

Professional Organizations

Information System Security Association
The Information System Security Association works to assist members with network expansion, learning and growing, and career advancement.

Women in Cybersecurity
Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) is a national non-profit organization committed to uniting women cybersecurity professionals in all facets of the field.

Center for Internet Security
The Center for Internet Security is a non-profit centered around the collaboration of industry professionals to improve readiness, as well as private and public response pertaining to cybersecurity.

Popular Careers in Hardware/Software Development


Hardware and software professionals remain at the cornerstone of any IT department. These professionals are responsible for the devices, networks, and software applications that allow businesses and organizations to operate today. Most professionals will work closely with a variety of individuals, from internal team members to elite clients. Many of these jobs also require some cross-functional capabilities.

Hardware Engineer

A hardware engineer works with various device components and computer systems throughout the research, design, development, and testing phases. You might work with routers, networks, memory, circuit boards, or processors. Your daily tasks will be dependent upon your job and your employer; however, they will generally include similar activities such as designing new hardware, designing computer equipment schematics for construction, testing hardware, analyzing results, modifying designs, updating current equipment to make it compatible with new software, and managing the computer hardware manufacturing process. Most hardware engineers also work with software systems; as such, it is important to have a working knowledge of computer programming. Hardware engineers also have to consider cybersecurity vulnerabilities in addition to maximizing functionality and effectiveness. And you will be responsible for staying within budget, collaborating with others, and meeting deadlines. Become a hardware engineer will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Most employers prefer a degree in computer engineering, but computer science and electrical engineering are also commonly approved degrees with an emphasis in computer engineering. It is also possible to complete additional certifications to seek better job security and to pursue career advancement. Do not forget to attend reputable and accredited schools and programs and keep in mind that top employers might require an MBA with an IT emphasis.

Software Engineer

A software engineer differs from a hardware engineer in that, in this position, you will work mainly with operating data, programs, and digital systems rather than physical devices and components. You will work with a wide array of other IT professionals to complete your job successfully such as programmers, hardware engineers, cybersecurity specialists, and analysts. Software engineers work to create interfaces, design systems, analyze needs of users, consult with clients, coordinate installations, create design elements, and utilize mathematical models. You will constantly be working to make improvements on existing software and programs, as well as to be innovative and resilient in finding solutions to ongoing problems. It is possible to find jobs in nearly any industry. To become a software engineer, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in software engineering. Some employers will consider degrees in computer science with an emphasis on software engineering. It is also important to graduate from a regionally accredited school. The most desirable new hires will have completed an internship during their undergraduate education. You will experience even greater advantages if you graduate from an accredited program. Do not forget to complete certifications as part of your continued education to increase your pay and to secure promotions.

Software Developer

A software developer differs from a software engineer in that they work specifically with programs and they follow the develop process from the beginning. They also create a design based on theory rather than focusing on engineering principles of software applications. As a software developer, you will be required to have superior analytical skills to be able to evaluate software capabilities with the needs of the end users in mind. You will work with computer programmers; therefore, you must be able to understand various computer languages and work well with others. Communication is vital to the success of software developers, as misunderstandings and failing to ask questions can lead to significant costs and delays to companies. You will have to manage setbacks just as much as you will have to manage progress to complete projects on time and within budget. You will also work directly with clients and vendors far more often than software engineers. Essentially, a software developer’s central focus is to create a highly functional program. To become a software developer, you will require a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or computer science. It is important to take courses specifically focused on software development, and be sure to complete specialized certifications to become more marketable as a potential employee.

Web Developer

The job of a web developer is exactly as it sounds in that you will design and create various websites. Web developers are always in demand despite it being easier than ever to create your own website. Most people are not technologically sophisticated enough to create a polished website or they simply do not want to create websites themselves. It is important to understand that you will likely be required to provide more than a basic website. You have to understand the most effective elements of a website in each industry in order to be able to produce a successful website. You must follow trends and integrate video, audio, and graphics without slowing down the customer experience. You have to ensure that the website can operate efficiently, manage periods of high traffic, and incorporate methods of payment if necessary. It is also important to make the site as safe as possible from potential threats. You must work with clients, developers, and others to ensure the website functions and appears exactly as the client wishes. To become a web developer, your education requirements will depend on your employer. If you can demonstrate your skills through previous sites and have a good portfolio, a few certifications might be all an employer needs to hire you. However, if you want to work for top employers, you might require a bachelor’s degree and certifications. You could also work for yourself and begin a dedicated web development company.

Application Developer

An application developer is almost as much in demand as a web developer, as more and more people depend upon their smart devices to communicate, shop, interact, socialize, dine, and work. Application developer jobs and responsibilities will vary based on your employer. It is possible to work for an application development company, become self-employed, or work directly for a single company or organization that wishes to develop an application. You will likely have to write programs for mobile development using a variety of programming languages. You might choose to work exclusively with either Android or Apple platforms, though large apps are often on multiple platforms. App developers also have to protect their products from being able to be hacked or violated by cybercriminals. It is possible to become employed as an application developer without a degree if you have proven experience and an exceptional portfolio; however, most employers prefer candidates to have at least a bachelor’s. It is best to have at least some certifications to secure top jobs and to pursue career advancement.

Network Architect

A network architect designs and constructs communication networks such as WANs, Intranets, and LANs. The size of the network can vary greatly depending on when the client or company needs. You might work with cloud infrastructure or customized enterprise business networks. Regardless of the type of network with which you work, you will have to design and create a network that accomplishes the goals of the employer or client. To do so, you must create and present plans and layouts, take security into consideration as a priority, research new technologies, troubleshoot issues, and test the network as it is put into place. You will have to upgrade adaptors, routers, network drivers, and multiple pieces of hardware and software. Network forecasting of future needs is also a critical part of network architect positions, including estimating growth. You also might work with clients, end users, vendors, and more. To become a network architect, you will require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, information systems, or another IT-related field. Many employers today prefer an MBA with an IT emphasis and you will likely be required to have some work experience of between 5 and 10 years before you can become a network architect. You might also require specialized certifications to work with some employers.

Professional Organizations

Association for Computing Machinery
The Association for Computing Machinery unites professionals throughout the industry to promote standards, networking, professional growth, learning, and career development.

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence is a non-profit society committed to the scientific understanding of intelligent behavior in machines.

Association for Women in Computing
The Association for Women in Computing focuses on helping women advance in the profession of computing through high standards and growth opportunities.

Careers in Management


IT management careers require a careful balance of technology know-how and business acumen. These positions are often filled by individuals who have completed an MBA with an IT emphasis. You will have to balance budgets, manage individuals, direct projects, and guide the direction of technology initiatives. IT management careers come in the form of managing a small group of employees to overseeing the directives of an entire department, as well as advancing to the C-suites.

Network Administrator

A network administrator oversees the daily operations, organization, installation, and support of various networks. Such networks might include Intranets, WANs, LANs, and others. The responsibilities of a network administrator will vary; however, many duties will be consistent such as the implementation of upgrades, making repairs, adding users, assigning permissions, training users, evaluating performances, optimizing functionalities, and solving problems. You might be in charge of internal services, mobile equipment, and desktop network infrastructures. Each day, you will likely work with many other IT and business professionals, such as departmental employees, clients, network architects, and outside consultants. Given the enormous threat of cybercrime today, one of the fastest areas of responsibility of network administrators is to create the safest network possible. As with many IT professions, you may not be required to have a bachelor’s degree if you have a certificate or an associate’s degree. However, most employers simply feel more comfortable when their employees have a bachelor’s degree. Such degrees should have a major or emphasis in information or computer science. Keep in mind that you will have to continue your education throughout the course of your career, as technology changes fast. Specialized certificates and master’s degrees are an exceptional way to remain in the know and to secure promotions.

Database Administrator

A database administrator has similar responsibilities to those of a network administrator, only they focus on data and information rather than the network. As a database administrator, you will have to protect all organizational data, restore and backup all data, create databases accessible to users, test databases, add or remove permissions, and combine old and new databases. You will manage the performance of various databases and gather information. You might have to fix bugs, provide patches, and install upgrades. Security management will also be a large part of your daily responsibilities. To become a database administrator, you will require at least a bachelor’s degree for most reputable employers. This degree should be based on computers or information. You will likely require a master’s degree in database management, computer science, information technology, or information systems if you want to be promoted to head an entire department. You will also require a solid understanding of various database languages such as SQL, and programming languages. Many database administrators will have various vendor software certifications, as well.

Information Systems Security Manager

An IS security manager might also be called an IT security manager. Either way, your overall duties are to organize and implement security practices and controls. You will work with other IT professionals to determine company vulnerabilities at every turn, including through software, hardware, networks, and more. You will be responsible for creating backup systems, recovery practices, employee training, risk assessments, and leading investigations. You may also manage the internal security team and remote workers, requiring them to meet deadlines and, depending on the employer you may have to work unorthodox hours, as one never knows when an IT security emergency might occur nor the length of time it will take to resolve. It is expected that you will have at least a bachelor’s degree to become an information systems security manager. Some employers will require a master’s degree in information science or computer science, might also require additional certifications in specialized areas, and you can expect many employers to require more than five years of experience before you will be awarded this caliber of a position.

Project Manager, IT

An IT project manager will have a far more in-depth understanding and know-how of technology matters than a traditional project manager. As an IT project manager, you will be responsible for small and big IT projects. You might have to manage a project worth several million dollars to implement a new system or network or you might take on a project that requires you to restructure the IT department. In many cases, you will have to work to make improvements, add security, utilize new programming languages, unite databases, or incorporate new technology devices. Regardless of the project, you will be responsible for keeping team members on task, meeting deadlines, and staying within the established budget. You might even determine all of these aspects for a given project. As a project manager, you will have to assign tasks, provide support, motivate team members, and relay feedback and progress to higher-ups. You are often the face of the project and the one who rises with project success and falls with a failure. To become an IT project manager, you will require a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field or a business field with an IT emphasis. You will also require work experience in the industry and within IT, and don’t forget about certifications and continued education, which will help you increase your salary and secure job promotions.

IT Manager

An IT manager differs from an IT project manager in that you will be responsible for an entire group of IT people each day rather than for just one project. You will have a variety of responsibilities, including computer and technology needs assessments, network security, computer software and hardware maintenance, vendor negotiations, establishing personnel requirements in the short-term and long-term, and performing cost-benefit analyses. You may not be responsible for all these duties at the same time and you might have assistance from lower-level managers to complete them. As an IT manager, you will also be responsible for team performance, risk evaluations, and process improvements. To become an IT manager, you will require at least a bachelor’s degree, though you can choose from various IT-related fields such as management information systems, computer or information science, computer programming, or software development. Many companies will require any manager to complete a master’s degree and most companies will require you to have between 5 and 10 years of experience. Do not forget to complete various specialized certifications to secure top IT management positions.

Professional Organizations

International Association of IT Asset Managers
The International Association of IT Asset Managers is dedicated to both organizations and individuals working with IT, software, or hardware asset management.

EDUCAUSE
EDUCAUSE is a non-profit committed to evaluating the significance and impact on various elements of IT such as academics, industrial, education, communities, and more.

Healthcare Information Management Systems Society
The Healthcare Information Management Systems Society centers around IT leadership throughout the healthcare industry by means of technology and information.

Business Career Salaries and Job Growth


OccupationAnnual Median SalaryJob Growth 2014 to 2024Required Education
Web Developer$67,990162,900Associate’s Degree
Software Developer$103,5601,256,200Bachelor’s Degree
Computer Programmer$82,240294,900Bachelor’s Degree
Computer Network Architects$104,650162,700Bachelor’s Degree