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To become an information technology (IT) consultant, technology lovers have many different routes available to them. It's first important to realize how many career options are out there in the IT field. It's a highly diversified field of computer programmers, database experts, software developers, and computer science researchers. The field is also so skill-driven that, even though there are plenty of college degree options available, a determined person can teach themselves the skills they need to succeed. After all, many of today's IT managers started out with degrees in humanities or mathematics.
This page covers the wide and deep information technology field. We pay special attention to IT consultants, which make up a large percent of the professional landscape and offer great salaries to those hoping to make it in the tech world. Students and others who are eager to become IT consultants are encouraged to read the entire page as it's sure to inform their career decisions going forward.
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Steps to Becoming an IT Consultant
One of the first steps towards becoming an IT consultant is recognizing one's talents for computing and technology in general. Youngsters might start their IT journey by creating and programming small machines using an Arduino kit, for example. Other kids might take to creating video games using plug-and-play online tools, pass time solving logic puzzles, and delight in complex video games. Budding tech workers also gravitate to gadgets, programming languages, and electronics kits.
Technology experts frequently show a talent for mathematics and excel in their science courses. IT professionals often find an intellectual home in physical science and may even dabble, if not major, in physics in college. During their high school years, IT professionals might be found in upper-level Calculus courses, the computer lab, and even taking electronics courses for an elective. Thus, it may be easy to spot which kids will have the best future in IT.
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Once a future IT consultant determines that they have the talent and desire to work in the IT field, they need to start working on a degree. They can also do some independent learning. These days, computer aficionados can learn programming languages from books or non-academic online courses. While many online outlets offer cheap or even free certification in various programming languages or technologies, there is little substitute for a college degree.
To get a start in college, students might first opt for an associate degree in computer science. Most community colleges offer these degrees in IT or computer science. This is a cheap and effective alternative to enrolling in a four-year IT degree program. In fact, a growing number of states offer free or steeply subsidized community college degrees. Thus, even if a student has a bachelor’s degree in computer science as their long-term goal, an associate degree could dramatically cut their overall costs while also offering ample training for many entry-level IT jobs.
Though college degrees don't come with any guarantees, a bachelor’s degree is often the next step on the ladder of success. While an associate degree will provide the basics of the IT universe, a full four-year bachelor’s degree program will provide the time to delve deep into the subject matter. Not only can students take their IT coursework farther, but they can expand on their learning with a minor concentration or even a double major. Some IT students expand their learning with courses in subjects such as management, computer science, or mathematics, among other options.
On top of their classroom work, students can also augment their learning with experiential learning options. Some IT departments offer cooperative programs where students alternate terms working for an IT department before returning to class for a term or two. Colleges also tend to encourage internships which provide students the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge in real-world situations.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in information technology, professionals can either enter the job force or opt for a master’s degree. For those who exit college in their early twenties, a job as an IT consultant can be a particularly good fit. These jobs often require a good deal of travel, which may be difficult once they begin to build a family.
Other IT professionals might decide to dive directly into a master’s degree program for information technology. There are a few other options that might also appeal to early-career professionals. For instance, they could enroll in an MS program for computer science, management information systems, or even healthcare informatics. Another option is an MBA with a concentration in IT. Along these lines, there are also dual MBA programs that pair the business administration degree with a master’s degree in a technology field, such as IT, among other options.
What is an IT Consultant?
An IT consultant is a technology professional who works with various clients to address their computing needs. IT consultants may also conduct various sorts of IT audits, in which they analyze a firm's security, databases, and networking to seek out inefficiencies. After taking stock of a firm's information technology needs, they will present solutions to their client. This may include installing new software, purchasing new hardware, or even instituting new security protocols for employees.
What Does an IT Consultant Do?
On a day-to-day basis, IT consultants are hard at work analyzing databases, testing networks, and even researching new IT solutions for their clients. They often spend a good deal of time writing new code or conferring with software developers and software engineers to customize computing solutions for the client.
Thus, most of an IT consultants work is done at a computer terminal. While this work can often be done from locations remote from the client, they frequently need to travel to their client. This is especially the case when a client needs to install new hardware systems, but software installations may also require on-site consultants to get the job done right.
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Though the bulk of an IT consultants work is done at a keyboard, these technology workers will also need to make presentations to their client. After all, most IT consultants charge a hefty fee, so their clients are likely to want to meet and have the consultant present their projected needs. They may also need to work with a client's employees to see what is likely to work best for them. This is particularly important when an IT consultant rolls out a new cyber security system. If employees are not briefed on new security protocols or do not buy into the need for the new system, all of that work may be for naught.
Skills to Learn
- Communication Skills:
IT consultants need to be able to communicate their professional opinions to their clients as well, as to their team. Furthermore, to succeed, IT consultants frequently need to persuade clients to spend money in order to achieve their desired ends. It's also important to be able to translate a client's stated needs into technical jargon in order to address the core issues.
- Analytical Problem Solving:
This is imperative for an IT consultant because, often, the solutions don't present themselves readily.
- Computer Programming:
While many IT professionals aren't needed to create software, programming skills may be needed to facilitate installations or other tasks. A knowledge of code can certainly come in handy when a client needs certain customizations to their systems.
While this isn't a term most will associate with a STEM career, when an IT consultant is able to devise unique solutions, their clients may be impressed and will be more willing to recommend you to others, which can be vital for a consultancy.
- Database Skills:
IT consultants often need to help clients move, design, or otherwise work with their databases. Thus, a working knowledge of SQL and its related languages will come in handy.
Corporations need fully functional and secure networks in order to share files, communicate, and more. IT consultants need to be experts at designing and maintaining these networks.
- Project Management:
While many IT consulting firms will employ project managers, when the IT professionals can do this work or help facilitate the work of their project manager then the job will be more likely to go smoothly.
The IT field is one that doesn't require any specific degrees or licenses from its workers. In fact, some top IT professionals started their careers with degrees in subjects like English literature, political science, and philosophy. There are even many who launch successful careers after teaching themselves the skills they needed to succeed. Thus, the IT field is rife with opportunities for those who wish to take alternative paths.
One way to get started in IT without a degree is to work on online courses. There are many affordable, and even free, courses online that will teach anyone the basics of IT. Many of these courses are geared towards a professional certification, which often does come with a price. When an unschooled person has one or more certification, they are much more likely to schedule interviews. Some certifications include Microsoft's MCSE, Oracle certifications, and Linux credentials. And for anyone who is willing to pay for the courses and examinations, the opportunities are available.
Some will still wish to pursue a degree. The path of least resistance in this case is an associate degree. There are some terrific, ABET-accredited associate degree programs in IT. Many of these are available as online IT degree programs, in case they are too far away.
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IT Consultant Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
IT consultants most often work for consultancy firms. These might be small, boutique firms that have a small staff and a select client base. However, there are large consulting firms that serve a wide national and international clientele. In fact, the broad field of IT consultation can include very small shops that cater to individuals and very small businesses. There is also a great demand for IT professionals to consult in the healthcare arena. The healthcare informatics field is growing by leaps and bounds.
Some consulting firms exist to service one specific company, or even a government agency. Large corporations often spin off departments such as IT and then hire them back on a consultation basis. There are consultancies that contract with the US military, for instance, and thus require that their consultants qualify for a security clearance. Other government contracts might be for less sensitive agencies, such as the Department of Education.
Given the diversity and pervasiveness of technology, it's possible to find IT consultants working with many different specialties. Some may focus on web development, for instance, while others might focus on cyber security. Many penetration testers work as independent consultants, as do database designers.
Since technology impacts every aspect of professional and personal life these days, the career outlook for all information technology professionals is quite rosy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the IT field is garnering very healthy median salaries. At the top, computer information research scientists are earning a median wage of over $126,000. At the lower end, computer support professionals are earning around $55,000 without any specific education or experience requirements.
Other top IT professions include information security analysts, who earn over $100,000 per year, and software developers, who are reported to earn more than $110,000 in base salary. The field also includes web developers, digital designers, and even video game professionals.
As for growth, the overall IT field is expected to grow quite a bit in the coming years. Since the field is not homogeneous and contains many different career paths that are expected to grow at different rates, it's helpful to look at a few job descriptions to get a sense of the growth rate. Computer network architects, for instance, can expect their ranks to expand by 5% through 2029. On the other hand, software developers and testers are projected to need 22% more workers in the same time frame. Another high growth career option is for information security (infosec) analysts who will need a whopping 31% more workers in the near future.
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The IT field is extremely varied and can include anyone from a PhD who specializes in data science to a self-taught computer support professional. It's important for the technically skilled to keep this variation in mind. After all, with just a bit more work and an added certification, an IT professional can raise their salary significantly.
- Computer Programmer:
These IT professionals often specialize in one programming language, but it's wise to know multiple languages to really succeed. This job description seems to be on the decline, but it might also be in the process of being absorbed under the heading software developer.
- Computer Network Architects:
Every business needs a local area network, if not a wide area network for larger organizations. These professionals design and build computer networks that satisfy the needs of their client or employer. IT consultants are often called in for networking jobs.
- Computer and Information Research Scientists:
These information technology experts are at the vanguard of new technology. They often have advanced degrees and may work for elite IT consulting firms. These days, many of these scientists may be involved with designing and optimizing algorithms, blockchain solutions, or artificial intelligence.
- Database Administrators:
To succeed in this field, it's likely that IT professionals will need to know SQL in all of its various permutations. It may also be vital to have a background in information security. These jobs command good salaries because, sometimes, a business is only as good as its database.
- Information Security Analysts:
Cyber security is one of the most important fields these days. IT professionals who specialize in infosec are sure to garner high salaries and enjoy long and fruitful careers.
Advancing From Here
IT consultants have many options before them. Since the field tends to attract workers who have a more independent mindset, IT consultants might consider opening their own consulting firms. However, many young consultants soon find that they are weary of all the travel and desire a steady job in one town. Thus, they might seek employment with one of their old clients or else find work elsewhere in their ever-expanding professional network.
For those who desire to move up from hands-on IT work, an MBA is a terrific option. With an MBA that includes an IT concentration, upper management and even a position in the C-suites may be possible. The business training can even prepare entrepreneurial minded workers for opening their own consultancies.