IT is one of those fields that’s so broad, most people don’t actually know all that it encompasses, even if they know it stands for “information technology.” Within an organization, many systems fall under the IT category, with almost as many different functions.
The term "IT" was first coined by authors Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler in 1958 in the Harvard Business Review. While defining information technology, they broke it down into three main parts:
- Processing information rapidly using computers.
- Applying statistics and math to make decisions and solve problems.
- Simulating higher-order thinking with computer programs.
They packed a lot into a two-letter acronym, huh? 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 like 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.
Why is IT important?
IT has become a cornerstone of our society. Businesses use it to manage their daily operations and collect, store, and analyze data about their clients and customers. On a personal level, it helps us keep in touch with our friends and family, connect with new people, binge-watch our favorite shows, and more. IT's even allowed us to send people to the moon.
It's hard to imagine where we'd be without IT — and as it becomes more and more integrated into our daily activities, the need for IT solutions (and professionals) grows even greater.
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: Machine Learning Specialist career path. Or, take a look through our data science career guide.
Hardware vs. software
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.
IT is generally comprised of hardware and software. (There's also middleware, which helps different software communicate, and firmware, which helps hardware and software communicate with each other.)
Hardware is the physical objects that come to mind when you imagine a computer. The monitor, hard drive, CPU, memory, cables, etc., are all examples of hardware.
As you can tell by now, IT is a broad field with a variety of subfields, like software development, cybersecurity, and network and database management. The diversity of roles within IT means there's room for people of all backgrounds. Whether your skills are technical, creative, or interpersonal — there's room for you in the field.
And it's a great time to enter. IT is booming, with the demand for IT professionals expected to rise by 15% over the next decade. Plus, careers in the field often offer six-figure salaries. For example, some of the highest-paying jobs in IT include:
- Application Architect: Application Architects help businesses find the best software to achieve their goals and train team members on how to use it. In the U.S., their average salary is $156,000.
- Data Engineers: Data Engineers collect, clean, and prepare data so it can be analyzed for insights that can help improve systems and processes and inform decision-making. On average, they earn $125,000.
- DevOps Engineers: DevOps Engineers help foster DevOps culture in organizations by implementing tools and practices that help facilitate communication and collaboration. They make about $119,000.
- Enterprise Architects: Enterprise Architects are in charge of creating and maintaining an organization's IT infrastructure, including networks, services, and software and hardware resources. They earn $130,000 on average.
- Full-Stack Developers: Full-Stack Developers build the front- and back-ends of a website and everything in between, and they earn an average of $100,000.
How to get into IT
Ready to launch your career in IT? First, check out our free Introduction to IT course to learn more about computing, networking, software development, and cybersecurity. Then it's time to do a little digging — look into some of the different careers in the field, and try to find two or three roles you can see yourself in. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- What Does a Web Developer Do?
- What Does a Cybersecurity Analyst Do?
- What Does a Database Administrator Do?
- What Does a Computer Systems Engineer Do?
You can also try our career paths. In each path, you'll learn all the skills you need to find an entry-level position in tech and use them to create projects you can use to build a portfolio. We'll also help you prepare for your job search with tips from technical recruiters, interview prep courses, and other helpful resources you can find in our Career Center.
Kofi Friar, Senior IT Manager at Codecademy, points out that breaking into IT is the hardest part. “Once you’re in the field, it’s easy to move around to other areas,” he says. “You can also go the strategy and management route where you’re no longer actually pressing the buttons, but developing technical strategies for success.”
Want to learn more? Check out our tips for breaking into IT.