7 IT Career Paths and How to Get Started

Working in IT can mean a variety of different things. You can work in computer support, cybersecurity, data, cloud computing, and other areas.
Woman starts a job in an IT role at a new company

It might be easy to assume that working in information technology (IT) means working in a tech office in a big city. But that’s not the whole truth. Burning Glass Technologies found that over 90 percent of IT skills and jobs are housed outside of the tech sector in the US. Non-tech IT jobs are also growing faster than tech-sector IT jobs by over 50 percent—meaning that that gap is on trend to widen [1]. Plus, IT skills are needed in places like hospitals, local governments, banks, and universities in smaller cities across the country.

That said, the world of IT offers a variety of career paths in diverse industries. An IT professional can specialize in cybersecurity to keep computers safe, cloud computing to make information easier to access, or in help desk roles to assist in the everyday functions of an organization.

IT career paths

Understanding what paths are available to you can help you navigate your first steps as you begin your career in IT.

Not sure where to start? Many IT professionals begin in generalist roles that cover a range of issues, like help desk technician or IT associate. You may get an entry-level IT certification to help you land one of these roles, though it's often not required. Once you’ve gained some experience and have a better grasp of what you like doing, you might think about focusing your career on a more specific area. You can explore entry-level IT jobs to see what other routes you can take if you’re just starting out.

Salary and job outlook information comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and applies to the period 2019 to 2029, unless stated otherwise.

1. Computer support

Many in the beginning phases of their IT career work in computer support roles that support many different aspects of computer operations. From there, it’s possible to specialize in a narrower field like cybersecurity or networks, or continue in computer support to become a senior or manager.

Salary: Computer support specialists made a median salary of $55,510 in 2020 [2].

Projected job growth: 8%

Early career jobs: IT support technician, desktop support technician, help desk technician, IT associate

Mid-career or senior jobs: Senior help desk support technician, service desk supervisor, support desk manager

Getting started: If you’re just starting out, getting an entry-level IT certification can bring you the skills you need.

Read more: How to Get a Job as a Computer Technician: 10 Tips

2. Cybersecurity

Working in cybersecurity means protecting computer systems, devices, and sensitive information from malware, unauthorized access, damage, and data breaches. Cybersecurity is one of two fields in IT expected to see the most demand, according to Global Knowledge, an IT professional development company (the other being cloud computing).

Salary: Information security analysts earned a median salary of $103,590 in 2020 [3].

Projected job growth: 31%

Early career jobs: Information security analyst, cybersecurity analyst, cybersecurity engineer

Mid-career or senior jobs: Senior cyber engineer, information security manager, ethical hacker

Getting started: Getting a grasp of basic cybersecurity principles can help launch a career in this space. Consider building experience by earning an entry-level certification, like the CompTIA Security+ or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) certifications.

Read more: 10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications

3. Networks and systems

Network IT professionals work with network-related tasks or hardware, and systems professionals work among servers and computer systems. They may have overlapping roles, particularly at smaller companies where you’re more likely to have to wear many hats. You might start as an analyst or administrator, and then work your way up to being a network or systems engineer or architect.

Salary: Network and systems administrators earned a median salary of $84,810 in 2020 [4].

Projected job growth: 4%

Early career jobs: Network administrator, systems administrator, network implementation technician, systems analyst

Mid-career or senior jobs: Network engineer, systems engineer, network security engineer, cloud network engineer, senior systems administrator, computer network architects

Getting started: Several certification options exist for networks and systems, like the CompTIA Server+ or the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Otherwise, you can start as a generalist on the IT help desk and work your way into one of these specialities.

Read more: 6 Network Certifications for Your IT Career in 2021

4. Software development

Software developers create computer programs that are used to accomplish any number of tasks—your internet browser, music streaming service, and online video conference app are all examples of software. Software development can open paths into a variety of different industries, including finance, video game development, and tech.

Salary: Software developers earned a median salary of $110,140 in 2020 [5].

Projected job growth: 22%

Jobs: Software engineer, software developer, senior software engineer

Getting started: Learning the coding languages used in software development will be key to landing a job in the field. Try starting with commonly requested ones like Python, Java, or Ruby.

5. Web development

Working in web development means you’ll be responsible for creating and maintaining web sites and phone applications. Web developers can be front end or back end developers—that is, the front-facing interfaces or behind-the-scenes mechanics of a website, respectively—or both. 

Salary: Web developers and digital designers earned a median of $77,200 in 2020 [6].

Projected job growth: 8%

Jobs: Web developer, web designer, front end developer, back end developer, full stack developer, front end engineer, back end engineer, full stack engineer

Getting started: Whether you’re self-taught or have a degree in computer programming, web development jobs often prioritize relevant experience over credentials. Taking a course in a web programming language—like Python, JavaScript, CSS, or HTML —can get you oriented with the basics. From there, you can try building your own website or application before applying to entry-level jobs.

6. Data

With the ubiquity of internet-connected devices, companies have access to unprecedented amounts of data on their customers, services, and other business factors. And though data isn’t a traditional IT specialization, the increase in demand for data skills makes it a solid career option for those looking for IT-related work. Working with data can entail keeping up hardware and security as a data technician, or sifting through data to find patterns and insights as a data analyst or scientist.

Salary: Database administrators earned a median salary of $98,860 in 2020 [7].

Projected job growth: 10%

Early career jobs: Data center technician, database administrator, data analyst

Mid-career or senior jobs: Data scientist, data engineer, data architect

Getting started: If you’re interested in becoming a data technician, some background knowledge of IT support might help. If the idea of working directly with data is more enticing to you, consider getting a certification in data analytics—like the IBM Data Analyst Professional Certificate or the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate.

7. Cloud computing

Along with cybersecurity, cloud computing was found to be the top technical area in IT seeing the most demand by Global Knowledge [8]. A career in cloud technology generally includes some programming on cloud software platforms like Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud. 

Salary: Cloud engineers had a base salary of $100,000 as of 2021, according to Glassdoor [9].

Projected job growth: 27% (LinkedIn 2020 Emerging Jobs Report) [10]

Early career jobs: Cloud engineer, cloud computing programmer

Mid-career or senior jobs: Cloud architect, cloud consultant

Getting started: If you want to break into cloud computing, you’ll likely want to have cloud-specific knowledge. You can earn cloud certifications or find coursework to complete.

Read more: 5 Cloud Certifications for Your IT Career in 2021

Getting started

If you’re unsure where to start, the basics can be a good place to turn to. Take a look at the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, which requires no previous related experience. 

Related articles

Article sources

1. Burning Glass Technologies. "Beyond Tech: The Rising Demand for IT Skills in Non-Tech Industries, https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/BGT_Oracle_BeyondTech_v7.pdf." Accessed May 5, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer Support Specialists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Information Security Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Network and Computer Systems Administrators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Software Developers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Web Developers and Digital Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

7. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Database Administrators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/database-administrators.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

8. Global Knowledge. "15 Top-Paying IT Certifications for 2020, https://www.globalknowledge.com/us-en/resources/resource-library/articles/top-paying-certifications/#gref." Accessed May 5, 2021.

9. Glassdoor. "Cloud Engineer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/cloud-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,14.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

10. LinkedIn. "2020 Emerging Jobs Report, https://business.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/talent-solutions/emerging-jobs-report/Emerging_Jobs_Report_U.S._FINAL.pdf." Accessed May 5, 2021.

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