If your only reference point for IT is the voice on the end of the help desk that answers your frantic computer questions, that’s understandable — but you might be overlooking a fascinating field full of opportunities for people who want to work in tech.
To put it simply, IT (which stands for “information technology”) is all about “making sure technology is working together,” explains Kofi Friar, Senior IT Manager at Codecademy who oversees the technology, user accounts, and systems for all Codecademy’s internal services.
One pervasive misconception about the IT field is that it’s monotonous or, well, sleepy. Most people don’t realize how broad the IT field is, says Austin Turecek, Senior Cybersecurity Analyst at Flashpoint (who has contributed to Codecademy’s cybersecurity courses). The reality is that there are lots of different roles within IT that extend beyond repairing hardware and software, like cybersecurity, operations, and systems management.
For example, Austin’s job is in deep and dark web intelligence and analysis — meaning he researches malware and tools that threat actors utilize, and then finds ways to mitigate the risks. In other words, Austin tracks down the internet bad guys.
So what’s it really like to work in IT? If you’re intrigued, be sure to check out our Introduction to IT course to learn the basic IT skills and get a taste of the industry. Here, IT professionals dispel some common myths about working in IT and dive into rewarding IT jobs that you may not know exist.
The misconception: You have to be a computer genius to work in IT.
IT professionals aren’t walking computer manuals, despite their extensive knowledge and problem-solving prowess. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about computers to get hired, because a lot of learning takes place on the job. “It helps if you have a good knack for computers and you understand them,” Austin says. “But there's such a broad and open door to IT.”
Like developers, people in IT often use Google to fill their knowledge gaps. “Being able to research and apply solutions based on what you read online is a talent that is really needed when it comes to IT,” Kofi says. “So analyzing and interpreting information is really important.”
A baseline understanding of how to code is nice to have in IT — but critical thinking skills and the ability to “think like a computer” are just as valuable, Austin says. “One of the biggest things is the ability to pay attention to process, to problem-solve, and to identify issues quickly enough that they don't become larger issues,” he says.
The misconception: You’re mostly fixing broken hardware.
While responding to individual IT support tickets might fit into an IT professional’s day-to-day life, the “break-fix aspect” is just one part, Austin says. Working in deep and dark web intelligence and analysis, Austin’s days are never quite the same: “Some days, I will sit there and code for 10 hours straight, and that is my day,” he says. “Other days, you're just reading through reports and documents.”
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of writing in IT, Austin says. You’re often tasked with writing reports, memos, policies, standards, or instructions for diverse audiences. For example, you might need to summarize complicated material for people in C-level or upper management who may only skim a document; and then you also may have to provide in-depth technical explanations for colleagues to follow, he says.
The misconception: Soft skills aren’t necessary in IT.
There’s a stereotype that people who work in IT are quiet, introverted, and maybe even dismissive. Like any field, IT attracts a mix of personalities, including folks who are naturally quiet and those who are energized by being around other people.
In IT, you’re constantly interacting with your customer base, whether that’s a group of software engineers or someone in a nontechnical role who needs troubleshooting guidance. “In my experience, IT is a very community-driven job,” Austin says. “I can't fix your broken internet if you don't call me and I don't talk to you — so it is a very social position.”
Interpersonal skills are super valuable in IT. Kofi affectionately refers to IT as “technical therapy,” because there’s often an emotional component attached to tech problems. For example, you might find yourself consoling someone who can’t access an essential file or talking to someone who’s angry that their kid spilled a drink on their laptop.
Patience and compartmentalization can help handle these difficult scenarios: “It's so easy to focus your frustrations on something like a computer because it doesn't talk back,” Kofi says. “People may take that energy to you when they come to the help desk for support — but you’ve got to understand that's not directed at you.”
The misconception: IT operates mostly behind the scenes.
In some ways, IT can be “hidden,” which only adds to the misconceptions about the field, Austin says. “You have people who are maintaining the aspects of the computers that you don't necessarily consider,” he says.
It’s true that IT is typically involved in “doing the behind-the-scenes things to help a business operate more smoothly,” Kofi says. However, IT can also have a major influence on a company’s big-picture strategy.
For example, someone in a position like Kofi’s would have to evaluate the status of a company’s internal technology and make decisions to improve processes. That could be anything from upgrading cybersecurity measures to setting up hardware services when companies return to the office. “It’s a lot of project management, which requires an understanding of how our organization works, and who uses what tools and how,” he says. “The strategy side of things really excites me.”
If IT sounds like the right path for you, check out our Introduction to IT course, which will give you an overview of core IT subjects, like operating systems and networks. To go a little deeper into cybersecurity, including how hackers gain access to a system, consider our Skill Path Fundamentals of Cybersecurity. And for even more advice about how to find a job in tech that you’re passionate about, head to our career center.