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What degree do I need to be an Information Technology Specialist?

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An information technology (IT) specialist is a computer support and security administrator who assists companies and organizations with managing hardware, software, networking and solving problems.  He/she applies  technical expertise to the implementation, monitoring, or maintenance of IT systems. Specialists typically focus on a specific computer network, database, or systems administration function. Specialty areas include network analysis, system administration, security and information assurance, IT audit, database administration, web administration, and more. They can find work in a wide variety of industries, such as business, government and manufacturing. In fact, the U.S. government is a desirable place to consider for employment in this profession.

Schools, such as Hallmark University, offer online Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Information Technology. Their campus or online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems program may be completed in as few as 28 months; the Associate of Applied Science may be done on campus or online and completed in 14 months. Additionally, Hallmark students may earn vital certifications in the IT field. Examples are: Network+, Security+, Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure, and Cisco Certified Networking Technician (CCENT).

Almost every government agency hires Information Technology Specialists. Here are examples of 2016 postings from USAJOBS, the official website of the United States Government. These listings will shed light on the preferred degrees within the respective departments:

  • Department of the Air Force: Undergraduate or Graduate education: Degree in computer science, engineering, information science, information systems management, mathematics, operations research, statistics, or technology management
  • Department of Education: Individuals must have IT-related experience; Professional Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or Certified Information System Auditor (CISA)
  • Department of the Navy: a master’s degree or equivalent graduate degree or 2 full years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a master’s degree or equivalent graduate degree graduate education in computer science, engineering, information science, information systems management
  • Department of Commerce: 1 full year of graduate level education or superior academic achievement; or Master’s degree or equivalent graduate degree or 2 full years of progressively higher level graduate education
  • Department of Homeland Security: a master’s degree or equivalent graduate degree, or two full years (36 semester hours or equivalent) of progressively higher level graduate education leading to such a degree in computer science, engineering, information science, information systems management, mathematics, operations research, statistics, or technology management

Judging from this sampling of jobs, a computer science degree seems to be the more prevalent. Some positions do not specify the degree, but emphasize experience over a particular preferred degree. IT certifications are useful for building specialist expertise and staying up to date on the latest advances in a specific area of information technology. The mean annual salaries for information technology specialists in the aforementioned agencies/departments are in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. Many exceed $100k- with experience. The compensation data site, PayScale, lists the median salary at $52,391 for this position. Encouraging news is that many of the Computer and Information Technology occupations are growing at a rate of 9% to 18% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Once the degree selection is made, you may be contemplating the question: should I work in the private or public (government sector)? Here are a few facts to consider:

  • More than 60 percent of state and local government retirees receive either automatic or “ad hoc” pension benefit increases. Approximately five percent of private sector retirees receive pension increases.
  • Public employees have superior job security. Private employees have a far greater chance of being involuntarily terminated (laid off or discharged).
  • The more generous public employee fringe benefits are provided free from federal (and state) income taxes, expanding the gap between public and private fringe benefit values.

 

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