What Do You Learn in an IT Degree? Will a Certification Help You Prepare?
Whether you are just finishing up high school or are contemplating a move into a different career, a job in the IT field is an attractive option. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this area is expected to see strong job growth in the years ahead and has a median wage of more than double the average for all industries.
If you are thinking about the IT field, though, you know you’ll need some appropriate skills and knowledge in order to be competitive on the job market. A traditional way to gain them is with a college degree. As you explore that option, one question you’ll want to answer is, “What do you learn in an IT degree?” We’ll address that question and also explore where certifications fit in when it comes to preparing for a career in IT.
What Is IT, Anyway?
Before we talk about an IT degree, it’s a good idea to give a brief overview of the field. IT stands for information technology and concerns everything related to digital information. It is also sometimes called computers and information technology to emphasize the centrality of computer technology to the creation, processing, storage, and retrieval of data.
You can see that it is a broad domain. Though there are lots of subfields, some of the major ones are:
Software design: Someone has to create the programs that allow us to collect and work with data in useful ways.
Networking: A crucial part of modern IT infrastructure is connectivity.
Databases: Modern business relies upon the efficient processing of massive amounts of data, which requires the design and maintenance of databases.
Systems support: The IT systems for a modern organization are complex. Individuals are needed who can plan, deploy, and support them.
Security: With increased connectivity comes increased vulnerability. Safeguarding company and customer data for both internal and external networks is a top priority.
One other thing to note about IT is that the focus for this sector is on the computing and information needs of organizations like businesses or educational institutions. It is not primarily about computing in the context of entertainment or personal use.
To summarize, then, IT focuses on helping businesses and other organizations use computing and communications technology to support business operations.
What Will You Learn When You Earn an IT Degree?
Something you’ll notice right away if you begin to look at programs at specific universities is that there is a lot of variety in what degrees are called and what the program of study involves. This can be a bit confusing.
It is helpful to think about degree programs as falling on a spectrum. One end of the spectrum is very theoretical and focuses on the underlying concepts and mathematics involved in computing. The other end is very applied and pays much more attention to the actual use of computing and communications technology in a business setting.
On the theoretical end is a BS in computer science. The courses you’ll study here will include plenty of advanced mathematics and programming languages. You will be well equipped for things like software development and database administration. This can be a good choice if you love numbers, programming, and the technical side of computing.
A BS in information technology will focus on more applied topics. You’ll typically get an introduction to the topics covered in computer science, but in much less depth. Instead, you will learn about things like computer hardware systems, web development, networking, and security. You are also likely to have a number of business courses that will cover topics like economics, marketing, and project management.
Again, you’ll find that different schools will use different names for their degree programs. Instead of information technology, for example, you might see computer and information science. You will want to look closely at the program description and the actual courses you’ll study to see where the program falls on the spectrum we’ve described.
By design, a bachelor's degree in IT covers a fairly broad array of topics. This is especially true for those programs on the applied end of the scale. It will give you a solid foundation of knowledge in the core areas needed for any career path you might pursue in IT.
However, you might already have an idea of which area in IT you’d like to pursue. In that case, is it possible to specialize?
Yes. You’ll find two different ways to do this. On the one hand, most programs will have a set of courses that are required and also allow you to take additional courses of your own choosing. This lets you take a deeper dive into a particular area, like software design.
On the other hand, some schools have entire programs that focus upon one subfield within IT, like data security. This may be a good choice if you’re really confident about your future direction.
One other thing to keep in mind is that most programs will also include a number of required courses that are outside your major. These will include areas like history, academic writing, and literature. These kinds of courses are not going to build your IT-specific skills, but they can be a great way to develop broader abilities, like critical thinking and communications, that are assets when it comes to a job in any field.
So far, we’ve been talking about bachelor’s degrees. It is worth keeping in mind that there are also associate’s degree programs in IT. In contrast to a bachelor’s, which typically takes four years, an associate’s can be completed in two. You won’t gain as much knowledge or experience, but you’ll get done in half the time and at a much lower cost.
What about Certifications?
One of the interesting developments in the tech industry is the growing significance of certifications. A certification is a credential you receive after passing an exam in a particular, specialized domain. For instance, you might pursue an AWS certification to demonstrate your expertise in cloud computing.
People sometimes ask if it would be helpful to gain a certification before beginning work on an IT degree. It certainly wouldn’t hurt; any knowledge or skills in IT that you have before entering the program will give you a leg up when it comes to your studies.
However, many university programs now include preparing for and taking certification exams as part of the course of study. Even if they don’t, the education you’ll receive during four years of study is a great way to prepare for taking a certification exam.
One option you might consider, however, is getting a certification as a way to get your foot in the door with an entry-level IT job before you pursue a college degree. There are several potential benefits:
You’ll start working — and earning — much sooner.
You can explore IT and decide whether it’s right for you (and if so, which area interests you most) before investing four years in a degree.
If you decide to pursue a degree, your employer might just help you pay for it, decreasing your chances of graduating with a lot of debt.
CompTIA Tech Career Academy offers the IT-Ready Technical Support program that will help you prepare for and pass the exam for the CompTIA A+, one of the IT industry’s most-trusted certifications for entry-level positions. You’ll also receive support in landing your first job. You could be earning a paycheck in IT in as little as four months.
Find Out More about Degree Programs
Whether you decide to launch your career in tech with a certification or pursue a degree, you’ve selected an exciting field with plenty of opportunities.