"What is IT?" is a broad question to answer. It's almost like asking, "what is the Earth?"
Even if they aren't technologically inclined, most people know that IT stands for information technology. Still, many systems fall under this category, with almost as many different functions.
The term "IT" was first coined by authors Leavitt and Whisler in the Harvard Business Review. While defining information technology, they broke it down into 3 main parts:
- Processing information rapidly using computers.
- Applying statistics and math to make decisions and solve problems.
- Simulating higher-order thinking with computer programs.
The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) gives us a more general definition of IT, describing it as the "study, design, development, application, implementation, support, or management of computer-based information systems."
Breaking down IT
SearchDataCenter.com provides a more current definition of IT — calling it "the use of any computers, storage, networking, and other physical devices, infrastructure, and processes to create, process, store, secure, and exchange all forms of electronic data."
They also provide several examples of IT work, such as:
- Server upgrades
- Security monitoring
- Data collection and processing
- Creating and applying new software
- Technology upgrades to serve a business
- The practice of user support
Including software in this mix means transactions systems, email and web servers, and even CRM systems can all be considered "IT."
The communication element
Another, more modern way of thinking about IT considers its integration with communications, more commonly known as ICT (information and communications technology).
In short, ICT emphasizes IT's role in communication, encompassing cell networks and digital TVs — and even older technologies such as landline phones and radio and television broadcasting.
With ICT, we can do things like use AI (artificial intelligence) to answer and route phone calls. ICT also enables actions like transcribing a voice message and turning that into data. This can be useful for replying to the message more easily or entering the data into data processing and management systems.
Computer science and IT
Aspects of IT and "computer science" can overlap. But, while IT tends to be about how technology serves businesses, computer science is purely about the logic and technology that's used or being developed.
Computer science is a math-based discipline for programming technological systems to run. IT professionals don't necessarily need a background in computer science, but it can definitely lead to more job opportunities.
Computer Scientists write code to create software that makes use of IT. They're also more qualified to analyze systems than professionals who only have basic IT qualifications.
If you're interested in a career in computer science or IT, you'll need to learn the programming languages underlying IT systems, such as:
Each of the languages above is both versatile and powerful. Their uses include data analysis, hardware programming, back-end development, and more.
Or, if you'd prefer a more tailored course that'll teach you everything you need to know, check out our Computer Science Career Path.
Data science and IT
As with computer science, you can work in IT without a background in data science — but it'll definitely open the door to more opportunities.
Data science involves using various tools to collect, manipulate, and analyze data for valuable insights. Often, data visualization techniques are used to make it easier to understand.
Programming languages like Python, R, and SQL lie at the heart of data science. To learn more about these languages — and their associated libraries and frameworks like pandas and Matplotlib — check out our Data Scientist Career Path. Or, take a look through our data science career guide.
Having asked, "what is IT?" the answer appears to be "many things." In short, it includes all the technologies used to handle information and the communications between them.
Then there's hardware and software, which are also information technologies. Hardware can mean anything from security systems to user interfaces — even something like virtual reality goggles. Software usually involves coding to create and implement any application for a wide variety and range of purposes and tasks. Without that, neither hardware nor communications will work.
For those interested in working in IT, the most important part of the answer is the science behind programming languages and data management. These are expressed through computer science and data science. You can be an IT professional, but to be a good one, these disciplines are a key part of the answer to "What is IT?"