Information Technology (IT) Terms: A to Z Glossary

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Common IT terms to know for certification prep, interviewing, and resume writing.

[Featured image] Three colleagues stand together in a server room and troubleshoot an issue on a computer monitor.

Information technology is the study and use of computer systems to store, access, process, and share information. IT professionals design, build, install, and maintain organizations’ hardware and software systems. Whether you’re preparing to earn an IT certification or interview for a new role, studying these technology terms and definitions can help you feel more confident and ready.  

IT terms

You can use the terms in this glossary to familiarize yourself with information technology terminology.

Application programming interface (API)

API stands for application programming interface. An API is a set of protocols and instructions written in programming languages such as C++ or JavaScript that determine how two software components will communicate with each other. APIs work behind the scenes to allow users to locate and retrieve the requested information.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI stands for artificial intelligence, which is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines like computer systems. AI works via algorithms in a computerized system, which are clear sets of instructions that a computer can follow to solve a problem or complete a task.

Binary code

Binary code is a two-symbol numbering scheme that computers use to understand programming instructions. It uses the digits 0 and 1 to form patterns that the computer can interpret as letters, numbers, or characters. Binary code is easy for computers to understand but difficult for programmers to understand. As a result, programmers use high-level programming languages like Python or C++ that are eventually translated into binary code during compilation or program execution. 

Business continuity plan (BCP) or business continuity

Business continuity refers to an organization’s ability to continue with essential functions during a disruption (like a cyberattack or natural disaster.) A business continuity plan or BCP is the protocol and processes an organization follows to ensure that operations continue with as little disruption as possible. 

Business intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence or BI refers to the technology, software, and strategies that businesses use to collect, analyze, and present data. Data-driven decision-making is a core concept of business intelligence. 


Caches are software or hardware components that temporarily store data so future requests can be executed more quickly and efficiently. 

Central processing unit (CPU)

A central processing unit or CPU is the primary hardware component in a computer system. It is responsible for processing and executing instructions and programs. CPUs are located within your computer’s circuit board.  

Cloud computing

Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing and IT resources through the internet. Examples of these resources include data storage, servers, and development tools. Users and organizations typically pay a monthly fee to access these resources based on their specific cloud computing service needs and how frequently they will be used.

Customer relationship management (CRM)

Customer relationship management, or CRM, refers to the software and processes used to communicate with customers and manage customer data. Common examples of CRM software include Hubspot, Oracle, and Salesforce. 


Cybersecurity is a branch of technology that focuses on protecting information and devices from malicious characters. Cybersecurity professionals use their technological skills to assess systems, patch weaknesses, and build systems that are secure against harm and theft. 

Read more: Cybersecurity Terms: A to Z Glossary


A database is an organized collection of information that can be searched, sorted, and updated. This data is often stored electronically in a computer system called a database management system (DBMS).

Read more: Data Science Terms: A to Z Glossary


Debugging is the identification and resolution of existing and potential issues in software or hardware. Examples of these issues include faulty code (such as source code with logic errors) and manufacturing defects.


Decryption is the process of converting coded or encrypted data to its original form. Decryption allows information to be understood without an encryption key. 


A domain is a group of connected computers. They typically share account information and security policies. A domain controller handles relevant administrative tasks. 


Encryption is the process of converting information into a code to prevent unauthorized access. This practice helps hide sensitive information from those it is not intended for. 

Embedded system

Embedded systems are computer systems that have a dedicated function. They are “embedded” because they exist within a larger mechanical or electronic system.


In cybersecurity terms, an endpoint is a physical device connected to a computer network. Examples of endpoint devices include mobile devices, desktop computers, and embedded systems. 

End user

An end user is someone who a piece of software or hardware is designed to serve. End users are the intended users. 


A firewall is a network security device. It creates a barrier between a trusted network and an untrustworthy network. For example, a firewall can restrict internet traffic from accessing your private network. It acts like a gatekeeper, controlling incoming and outgoing traffic according to a predetermined set of security rules.


A gateway is an intersection where networks with different transmission protocols meet. Gateways serve as the entry and exit points for all data, converting information from one format to another. For example, A Wi-Fi router is a gateway between your computer and your internet service provider’s network. 

Graphical user interface (GUI)

A GUI, or graphical user interface, displays information and user controls like menus, dialog boxes, and icons. This type of graphics-based user interface (UI) manages interaction between the user and the system. 

Read more: User Experience (UX) Terms: A to Z Glossary

Help desk

The primary goal of a help desk is to help customers troubleshoot issues and teach them how to navigate technology properly. Help desk technicians are IT professionals and specialized types of customer service representatives.

Internet of things (IoT)

The internet of things, or IoT, is a network of physical devices. These devices can transfer data to one another without human intervention. IoT devices are not limited to computers or machinery. The internet of things can include anything with a sensor assigned a unique identifier (UID).

IP address

An internet protocol address, or IP address, is a string of numbers associated with a computer. IP addresses are used to identify each computer using the internet through a network. 

IT governance

IT governance is a subcategory of corporate governance. IT governance frameworks provide structure for aligning business operations and information technology systems. The primary goal is the efficient use of company resources through IT management. 

IT infrastructure

IT infrastructure (or information technology infrastructure) refers to the systems put in place to operate and manage IT services and environments. There are two types of IT infrastructure: traditional infrastructure and cloud infrastructure. Both traditional and cloud infrastructure typically consist of hardware and software resources. However, cloud infrastructure is accessed via the internet rather than with physical, on-premises software solutions. 

Local area network (LAN)

A local area network, or LAN, is a type of network made up of interconnected devices in a centralized physical location. Examples of LANs include the network of computers within office buildings and schools. 

Machine learning (ML)

Machine learning is a specialized technology and branch of artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning uses data and algorithms to improve the performance of AI by teaching it how to imitate intelligent human behavior more closely. 


Malware is short for malicious software. Malware attacks are the most common form of cyberattack among businesses and organizations. It is designed to disrupt computer systems like mobile devices.

Network administration

The management, monitoring, and securing of a network is known as network administration. A network administrator is an IT professional who ensures that an organization’s computer networks are efficiently meeting the needs of an organization.

Operating system

An operating system (OS) is system software that manages a computer’s resources and processes. They are also responsible for your computer’s ability to run and execute programs. Operating systems enable you to communicate with your computer without needing to speak your computer’s language. 


Programming refers to a technological process for telling a computer which tasks to perform in order to solve problems. You can think of programming as a collaboration between humans and computers, in which humans create instructions for a computer to follow (code) in a language computers can understand.


In the context of IT, troubleshooting refers to technical support that focuses on the identification and resolution of problems. For example, suppose your computer keeps prompting you to install a new software update, but when you initiate the installation, it doesn’t start. In that case, you may troubleshoot the issue by restarting your computer or making sure all tabs are closed before initiating the installation again. 


Virtualization is the creation of a virtual version of something, like a storage device or network resources. A simple way to conceptualize virtualization is to think of it as software pretending to be hardware. Virtualization uses specialized software that can mimic hardware functionalities.

Virtual machine

A virtual machine (VM) is not a physical machine but a file that replicates the computing environment of a physical machine. It’s similar to how virtual reality (VR) environments replicate the real world, but virtual machine software emulates computer system functions instead. With VM software, you can run programs and store data without using hardware.

Virtual private network (VPN)

A virtual private network, or VPN, is an encrypted internet connection. VPN services aim to provide a secure, private network connection for safe data transmission from network devices.

Wide area network (WAN)

A wide area network, or WAN, is a type of network that covers a large geographical area. For example, the internet is a WAN. 

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