IT Career Paths
Information Technology (IT) continues to change the way we live, play and do business, so it should come as no surprise that IT is among the fastest growing sectors of the American workforce, and will continue to be for years to come.
The dominance of the info-tech job market is due to numerous factors, including the rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce, increased demand for information security specialists spurred by escalating cyber attacks, the advent of smarter applications enabling companies to analyze business data for unprecedented intelligence, cloud computing revolutionizing the way IT departments operate, and the proliferation of mobile devices.
For established information technology professionals or those beginning an IT career path, this is great news. However, despite rapid growth and increased opportunity, simply showing up will not guarantee success. The IT job market will continue to get more competitive as people follow the money and jobs. This is why it's important to clearly identify your tech career objectives and develop a learning plan with the necessary skills, computer training, and IT certifications to build a competitive edge and achieve your goals.
Understanding the current IT career landscape is your first step. Profiled on this page are some of the most sought-after IT and computing roles based on earning power, growth potential, job outlook, and excitement. Click the buttons below the summaries for a deep-dive into each career path.
In-Demand IT Careers
IT Security Specialist
Overview: Also known as cybersecurity or information security analysts, these professionals are tasked with defending an organization’s data and computer systems. In light of continued devastating cyber attacks and the sheer amount of vulnerabilities in modern information systems, the career prospects for IT security specialists are astronomical.
Requirements: Most entry-level jobs in IT security require at least a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, information assurance, computer science, or a related field of study. Cybersecurity certifications like those from ISC2, ISACA, and EC-Council are also helpful.
Average Salary: $104,000
Overview: Data scientists, a.k.a. data analysts, scrutinize business data for actionable intelligence. These professionals mine and analyze data from a range of sources, such as customer transactions, global satellite plots, click streams and more in an effort to find predictive insights that will influence business decisions and spark a competitive advantage.
Requirements: Most data scientist jobs require advanced degrees like an MBA, Master’s or even a PhD. Some entry-level roles can be achieved with a specialized bachelors in areas like business intelligence, computer science, and data analytics.
Average Salary: $121,000
User Interface Developer
Overview: User interface (UI) developers are a unique subset of software creators tasked with shaping how we interact with applications. Their key responsibility is to create an interface that behaves as a user would expect it to, thus fostering an intuitive experience. UI developers ply their trade on websites, software systems, mobile applications, and other connected devices.
Requirements: Most user interface developer jobs require a bachelors in computer science, software engineering, human-computer interaction, or a similar field. As with similar IT-meets-creative career paths, a strong portfolio of work will go a long way.
Average Salary: $91,000
Help Desk Technician
Overview: Help desk technicians, a.k.a. IT support specialists, provide technical support for technology end-users. This typically involves diagnosing and fixing hardware, software and network issues, installing and configuring new technologies, and repairing broken devices. IT help desk pros can work either remotely or on-site.
Requirements: No college degree is required for most entry-level help desk careers. Relevant IT certifications or associate degrees will help boost job opportunities and pay.
Average Salary: $48,000
Mobile Application Developer
Overview: Mobile application developers create software, a.k.a. apps, for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Notable tools of the trade include programming languages like Java and Kotlin for developing Android apps, as well as Objective-C and Swift for developing iOS applications.
Requirements: Most roles require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, mobile development, or a related subject.
Average Salary: $107,000
Overview: Web developers build websites and web-based applications. There are 3 main types of web developers: front-end web devs write code that controls the client-facing parts of the website (look, feel & functionality), back-end web devs write the code that makes things work behind-the-scenes (such as how the site communicates with the database), and full-stack developers who work across both of these domains.
Requirements: Prerequisites in this IT career path vary widely. Some roles demand a bachelor’s degree in web development, computer science, or a related field, while others accept applicants with an associate degree or specialized certificate. Some web developers are 100% self-taught.
Average Salary: $77,000
Overview: Network administrators set up and manage the computer networks and telecommunications systems that keep information flowing. These IT pros configure and maintain network hardware and software, and ensure that vital networks remain quick, secure, and available.
Requirements: Most network administration positions require a bachelors in IT, network management, or a related field of study. Some entry-level roles can be achieved with relevant certifications or an associate degree.
Average Salary: $69,000
Video Game Designer
Overview: Game designers merge creativity, technical expertise, and a passion for gaming to build the next generation of video games and simulations. Professionals in this space usually fall into one of three categories: game designer, game artist, or game developer.
Requirements: Most game design careers require a bachelors in computer science, game design, software engineering, or graphic design. A diverse portfolio of work is also helpful for landing a game design job.
Average Salary: $80,000
Overview: Graphic designers fuse artistic talent with skills in the leading design apps like Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator to create visually engaging graphics that convey a message. As opposed to most IT career paths, graphic designers with an entrepreneurial spirit can go into business for themselves with relative ease.
Requirements: Most graphic designers have a bachelors in fine arts, graphic design, multimedia production, or a related field. A strong portfolio of work is also required in this role.
Average Salary: $57,000
Health Information Technician
Overview: Health information technicians manage patients’ electronic medical records and other health data. Marketable career specializations for health IT professionals include medical billing, medical coding, and cancer registry.
Requirements: Entry-level health IT jobs typically require an associate degree in health information management or a similar field. Industry certifications like those from AHIMA are also helpful.
Average Salary: $46,000
Overview: Database administrators, a.k.a. DBAs, sort and manage an organization’s data. Notable skills include designing, maintaining, and securing databases in popular database management systems like Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.
Requirements: Most DBA jobs demand a bachelor’s in IT, database management, or information systems. Senior database roles may require a master’s degree in analytics, management information systems, or a related field.
Average Salary: $99,000
Overview: Professional drafters create technical schematics for products, structures, and complex systems. Autodesk’s AutoCAD program is the industry’s leading CADD (computer aided drafting and design) software. Drafters usually specialize in areas such as civil, architectural, electrical, or mechanical drafting.
Requirements: Many entry-level drafting positions can be achieved with a high school diploma plus a targeted drafting certificate from a community college or technical institution. Relevant associate and bachelor’s degrees will improve job prospects.
Average Salary: $58,000
Overview: Software engineers, a.k.a. software developers, build computer systems and applications. Wielding computer science and programming skills, these sought-after professionals design, develop, and improve upon the programs we rely on every day, such as business and productivity apps, operating systems, and social networks.
Requirements: Software engineers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, software development, or a similar field of study.
Average Salary: $105,000
Overview: IT managers plan, orchestrate, and support information technology projects. Depending on the size of the organization, technology managers work closely with executives and department leads to identify, direct, and manage computing solutions that drive business goals.
Requirements: Most IT manager roles call for a bachelor’s degree in an area like IT or computer information systems (CIS). Some positions require a masters in management information systems (MIS) or a related field. 5-10 years of related work experience is often indicated too.
Average Salary: $152,000
Computer Systems Analyst
Overview: Systems analysts are tasked with understanding an organization's entire computer systems, identifying opportunities to upgrade these systems for increased efficiency, and manage the design and implementation of these improvements. With the power and importance of computer systems constantly rising - along with technology budgets - systems analysts are and will continue to be a vital part of the IT workforce.
Requirements: Most systems analyst positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, systems analysis, business intelligence, or a related major. Some companies prefer candidates with graduate degrees like an MBA or Masters in MIS.
Average Salary: $94,000
IT Project Manager
Overview: IT project managers oversee large-scale technology initiatives, ensuring that projects are carried out on schedule, under budget, and according to specifications. These business-minded IT professionals plan and coordinate internal staffers, external contractors and consultants, and the leadership team to successfully deliver technology projects.
Requirements: IT project managers need at least a bachelor’s degree in project management, business administration, or a related field. Some roles require master’s degrees such as an MBA. Marketable PM certifications like the PMP will boost prospects.
Average Salary: $129,000
Requirements: Some programmers earn a CS bachelor’s degree while others can get hired with an associate degree or specialized certificate from a programming bootcamp. An increasing number of coders are also self-taught.
Average Salary: $73,000
Chief Information Officer
Overview: CIO is the granddaddy of all IT career paths. This executive sets forth the top-level technology goals of the organization, then oversees budgeting, personnel, purchasing, and other projects to achieve those goals. The buck stops with the CIO for all things tech-related -- especially internal IT, i.e., everything pertaining to in-house computer systems and personnel (external IT, i.e., customer-facing technology products, is usually handled by the chief technology officer or CTO).
Requirements: Some CIO positions require a bachelor’s degree along with 10+ years of relevant experience, though many more also require a graduate degree such as an MBA or Masters in MIS.
Average Salary: $238,000
Computer Hardware Engineer
Overview: Hardware engineers merge expertise in technology, electronics, and engineering to design and build computer systems. These IT professionals also develop individual computing components such as microchips, processors and circuit boards, as well as peripherals like mice, printers, and keyboards.
Requirements: Hardware engineering roles typically require a bachelor’s degree with a major like computer engineering, computer science, or electrical engineering.
Average Salary: $99,000
Overview: Computer scientists have the challenging and exciting responsibility of researching and developing new technologies. Also called information research scientists, these professionals work in numerous industries including hardware and software design, research and academia, and the federal government (in areas like NASA and the defense sector).
Requirements: Computer scientist positions typically require an advanced degree like a masters or PhD in computer science, computer engineering, information systems, electrical engineering or a similar field.
Average Salary: $102,000
Overview: Computer animators design 3D graphics and visual effects for a variety of mediums, including television, movies, video games, and the Web. These creative pros use computers to ply their trade (versus the hand-drawings of traditional animators). Recent advances in animation technology plus the increased popularity and scope of devices used to access entertainment have made computer animation one of the most rewarding careers for technically-inclined artists.
Requirements: Computer animation jobs typically require a bachelor’s in computer animation, multimedia design, fine arts or a related field of study.
Average Salary: $70,000
Overview: Network architects plan and design enterprise computer networks. These IT professionals merge hands-on skills in computer hardware and software with a deep understanding of the organization’s goals in order to design an efficient, secure, and scalable network that can meet strategic objectives.
Requirements: Most network architect jobs require a bachelor’s degree in network management, information technology, or computer information systems. 5+ years of relevant experience is usually required too.
Average Salary: $112,000
Overview: These highly specialized engineers design and create robots and robotic systems. Robotics engineers typically fall into one of three categories: CADD (computer-aided drafting and design) professionals who design the blueprints for robotic systems, Builders who work in the hands-on creation of robots, and Research & Development.
Requirements: Robotic engineering jobs typically require at least a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, computer science, or related discipline.
Average Salary: $100,000
Overview: Cloud engineers plan, develop, and support an organization’s cloud-based solutions. Professionals in this rapidly growing space usually fall into one of three skills areas: Cloud architects who plan and design the distributed application infrastructure, Cloud developers who write the code that brings the architect’s plans to life, and Cloud support specialists who troubleshoot and support cloud computing solutions.
Requirements: This varies based on which of the above skills areas you fall into, but overall, most cloud engineering roles demand at least a bachelors in computer science, information systems, software engineering or a related field. Be sure to load up on cloud computing electives.
Average Salary: $119,000
Overview: DevOps engineers merge expertise in programming, testing, integration, systems architecture, and project management to deliver successful software solutions. This sought-after IT career path evolved from the agile development methodology, which takes a collaborative and iterative approach to software creation. DevOps spurs the continuous evolution of software projects while promoting the partnership between development and operations.
Requirements: Most DevOps jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software development, IT project management, or a related field, along with relevant hands-on experience.
Average Salary: $127,000