What is an IT specialist?
An information technology (IT) specialist is a technical professional whose primary role is to ensure the optimal functioning of an organization’s IT systems. With the increasing reliance on technology in modern businesses, the importance of this role has grown exponentially. They enable organizations to meet their operational goals by ensuring reliable, secure, and efficient technology frameworks.
They are the cornerstone upon which various facets of an organization—be it data management, communications, or digital marketing—rely to execute their functions seamlessly. Their work often goes unnoticed when systems are running smoothly, yet it becomes critical when technical issues arise. The value they bring extends beyond mere troubleshooting; they contribute to the organization’s strategic direction by identifying and implementing technologies that can improve performance and competitiveness.
Duties and responsibilities
The responsibilities of an IT specialist can vary widely depending on the specific focus within the IT department. Generally, they are tasked with installing, maintaining, and troubleshooting hardware and software systems. They may be involved in system monitoring, data backups, and network configuration.
Cybersecurity is another key aspect of the role; these professionals often install firewalls, conduct security audits, and implement protocols to protect sensitive information. They also provide technical support to employees, either directly or as part of a support team, helping resolve issues affecting productivity. They may be involved in technology procurement decisions, helping to identify solutions that meet organizational needs and budget constraints.
An IT specialist’s work environment is predominantly office-based, though the specifics can vary widely depending on the organization’s size and industry. They frequently work in server rooms or data centers and occasionally might need to visit different parts of a business facility to handle on-site issues.
The work requires a high level of technical expertise, problem-solving ability, and attention to detail. Given the interdepartmental nature of technology support, strong communication skills are crucial for effective liaisons with non-technical staff. Although generally team-oriented, the role often requires periods of focused individual work, especially when dealing with intricate technical issues.
Typical work hours
The typical work hours for an IT specialist largely align with standard office hours—around 40 hours per week. However, given that technical issues can arise unexpectedly and may be time-sensitive, flexibility is often required. Many organizations have critical systems that operate around the clock, necessitating on-call duties, rotational shifts, or overtime to ensure uninterrupted service. This is particularly true for businesses that rely heavily on real-time data or operate internationally, requiring 24/7 system availability. In such cases, they may need to work outside conventional office hours or be available on short notice to address critical issues.
How to become an IT specialist
In order to become an IT specialist, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:
Step 1: Get an education
Once you’ve completed your high school education, you should enroll in an accredited college or university and get your bachelor’s degree in computer science, systems engineering, or information technology. While some companies hire people without a bachelor’s degree, it will give you the proper education to jump right into an IT specialist position. Some companies may require a master’s degree as well, especially for handling more advanced issues.
Step 2: Take courses for IT professionals
Take advantage of some of the incredible courses that are available online to prepare you for this role. Here are a few recommendations:
- The Introduction to Technical Support course from Coursera is part of the IBM IT support professional program. You’ll learn to define technical support, customer support mindset, and the escalation matrix. This is a great introduction to ticketing systems and their features and benefits.
- Technical Support Fundamentals will prepare you for entry-level support specialist positions. Learn about the binary system, how to assemble a computer from scratch, and deep dive into how applications are created.
- Sign up for the Complete IT Support Specialist Course: IT Foundations. This IT course will teach you the skills to qualify for an entry-level job. Learn about the hardware, software, security, layers of computing, and character encoding.
- The IT Support Technical Skills Bootcamp is great for gaining skills for entry-level IT jobs. You’ll get comfortable managing Windows 10, Active Directory, Office 365, and other programs and systems. Get hands-on experience on projects and build up your own portfolio.
Step 3: Apply for entry-level work in IT
Experience is everything for people working in IT. Each issue you can work through makes you more valuable to future employers. Apply for an entry-level job to start gaining experience and hands-on training. Many people start these positions while finishing school if time allows. Look for entry-level help desk positions where you can start assisting users and learning systems in real-life situations.
Step 4: Obtain professional certifications
Certifications are helpful in the IT career path. Specific vendors offer training and certifications that you can dive into once you know what your company uses. Continuing education is critical in technology because things are constantly changing, and it’s good to have the most current and updated information. Here are a few that we recommend:
- Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect – This designation shows your thorough understanding of cloud architecture and Google Cloud. Certification demonstrates your ability to design and plan cloud solution architectures, manage and provision cloud solution infrastructures, design infrastructures for security and compliance, analyze and optimize technical and business processes, manage implementations of cloud architecture, and ensure solution and operations reliability. The certification exam can be taken online or at a testing center. There are no prerequisites, but Google recommends 3+ years of industry experience, including 1+ years designing and managing solutions using Google Cloud.
- Information Technology Infrastructure Library Foundation (ITIL) Certifications – This is one of the top certifications in the field and shows that you can help your organization manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale, and change.
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) – The CRISC recognizes you as an IT professional who understands IT risk and how it relates to the organization. It equips you with the knowledge and skills to identify, evaluate, and manage IT risk and develop and implement control measures and frameworks. To earn this, you must pass the CRISC exam, which consists of IT risk identification, risk assessment, risk response and mitigation, risk control, monitoring, and reporting.
Step 5: Apply for IT specialist roles
Once your resume is ready, start applying to companies you’re interested in. Check the job boards and online search engines for openings in the specialties that you want to be in.
How much do IT specialists make?
The earning potential for IT specialists is subject to various influences. A key factor is experience; specialists with more years in the field usually command higher salaries. The specific technical skills they possess, such as cloud computing or network security expertise, can also impact earnings.
Industry is another significant factor; for instance, specialists in finance or healthcare may earn more than those in education or retail sectors. Geographical location is also an important consideration, as salaries can differ significantly between states and cities. Finally, the size and reputation of the employing organization can affect salary levels, as can educational background and additional certifications.
Highest paying industries
- Software Publishers: $110,840
- Management of Companies and Enterprises: $107,920
- Securities and Commodity Contracts: $106,310
- Data Processing and Hosting: $105,750
- Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing: $104,980
Highest paying states
- California: $124,520
- District of Columbia: $122,840
- New York: $121,260
- New Jersey: $119,130
- Virginia: $117,900
Types of IT specialists
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for IT specialists.
Information systems management
This specialty in IT is the most common in businesses. Professionals in this specialty handle a company’s technology needs and information systems. This role helps manage issues with the hardware and order new pieces of equipment. Every company has a budget for its technology needs, and this position is often in charge of managing that budget.
Companies use different types of networks to connect with other offices and get the work done. A network administrator is an IT specialist who keeps the internet and intranet network systems working. This role can include some training of other employees and resolving any issues that pop up.
As technology advances, more and more threats are also developing that companies need to be aware of to protect their data and infrastructure. IT specialists who are trained in cybersecurity are incredibly beneficial to organizations. There are digital security processes to oversee and manage.
Large companies and organizations may have specific help desk technicians who deal with user issues and questions as they come up. The users could be employees or customers using the company’s products. Sometimes, there are different levels of help desk technicians who handle different levels of severity. As technicians become more experienced, they can move up to the next levels.
Top skills for IT specialists
Succeeding as an IT specialist requires a well-rounded set of skills that go beyond technical expertise. Mastery of specific technical skills is a given, but soft skills like problem-solving, adaptability, and effective communication are equally crucial for delivering comprehensive IT solutions.
Whether it’s operating systems, networking, database management, or cybersecurity, an in-depth understanding of the relevant technologies is essential. This proficiency allows specialists to tackle a wide range of challenges, from setting up intricate network configurations to implementing robust security measures.
Strong problem-solving skills enable these professionals to diagnose errors, identify viable solutions, and implement fixes in a timely manner. The ability to think critically and approach problems from multiple angles is vital for maintaining operational continuity and minimizing downtime.
Whether it’s staying current with new software updates or adapting to changes in organizational infrastructure, flexibility ensures that they can meet the needs of a dynamic environment. This includes not just learning new technologies but also adapting to changing organizational goals and user needs.
Clear and effective communication is key when providing end-user support, collaborating with other departments, or presenting proposals to management. Good communication ensures that everyone involved is aware of challenges, solutions, and progress.
Specialists often oversee specific projects or parts of larger initiatives, like network upgrades or software rollouts. Project management skills help them define objectives, allocate resources, set timelines, and monitor progress, making sure that projects are completed on time and within budget.
IT specialist career path
Starting a career as an IT specialist opens up many opportunities in information technology, a field known for its rapid growth and evolving challenges. Often, entry-level positions like help desk technician or IT support analyst serve as stepping stones. You’ll handle basic troubleshooting, system maintenance, and user support tasks in these roles. Certifications such as CompTIA A+ or Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals can be beneficial at this stage for both skill development and career progression.
After gaining practical experience, many individuals move on to roles like systems administrator or network administrator, with broader responsibilities. You’ll manage servers, implement security protocols, and ensure network efficiency. Specializations like cybersecurity or cloud computing can add more layers to your career and make you more marketable.
Advancing further might lead to a senior IT specialist or IT manager position. These roles often require overseeing teams, managing projects, and collaborating with other departments to align technology solutions with business goals. For many professionals, pursuing an advanced degree such as a master’s in information technology or an MBA focusing on IT management becomes beneficial here.
Further career growth can involve roles like IT director or chief information officer (CIO), where you’ll focus on strategic planning, budgeting, and overall technology vision for the organization. These executive roles demand a blend of technical acumen and strong leadership skills.
Consulting roles are another lucrative avenue for experienced professionals, offering advisory services to organizations on technology adoption, security protocols, and IT optimization strategies.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for IT specialists
IT specialists with a background and skills in cybersecurity will be in high demand in the coming years. Digital technology has shown that it is prone to cyber threats and breaches, and cybersecurity must continually improve to fend off attacks. Because cyberattacks can come at any time and in various forms, being prepared is essential. It’s not so much a matter of if the attack will come but when.
As cloud computing becomes more popular, traditional on-premises databases are being transitioned to the cloud, and new databases are being deployed there. These professionals will need to have a good working knowledge of cloud computing. The risk of cloud computing is security. They must ensure that cybersecurity measures are robust enough to prevent breaches.
IT specialist career tips
Soft skills and traits
IT specialists must have good attention to detail and excellent troubleshooting skills. Creative problem-solving will help when looking for solutions to problems. You must be able to listen to problems and ask the right questions to get to the bottom of the issue. Persistence and resourcefulness are also incredibly helpful skills in this role.
Commonly required skills and qualifications
- Professional certifications in programs and systems like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, Adobe, and other common programs
- Strong verbal and written communication skills and ability to train
- Extensive knowledge of various operating systems, hardware, software, and programming languages
- Ability to report on issues and the current status of systems and operations to leadership
- Knowledge of budgeting methods
- Professional demeanor
Develop a professional network
Join online or in-person communities with others in the technology space. This will help you continue learning and network with others who do similar work. Here are some to check out:
- The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network
- Opportunity Hub
- Association of Information Technology Professionals
- Society for Technical Communication
- Women in Technology
- LinkedIn Groups
Where the IT specialist jobs are
- New York
Top job sites
What should I include on my resume to get a job as an IT specialist?
Resumes for roles in IT should include professional certifications, experience, and knowledge about specific programs and operating systems. If you have previous experience in an IT role, make sure to detail that.
Do you need a college degree to become an IT specialist?
The best college degree options for IT specialists are computer sciences, information technology, systems engineering, or something related. Studying in these fields will give you a strong knowledge base in technology.
What’s the best entry-level job to get into IT?
The help desk is a great place to start a career in IT. You’ll receive important experience in problem-solving and troubleshooting with users and customers. There are typically different levels of help desk, so there’s room to grow as well.
Is it stressful to be an IT specialist?
The IT specialist role can be stressful during the workday if there are a lot of issues or something more widespread, but you should be able to turn off the workday’s stress when you leave the office. You’ll have the training to handle the situations that come up.
What are the daily responsibilities of an IT specialist?
The daily tasks of an IT specialist include setting up new users, troubleshooting any issues, and keeping an eye on security. You’ll also maintain the networks and all the software and hardware for the organization.
Do you need to know programming to work in IT?
For many IT specialist jobs, knowing programming will not be required. But it’s important to understand how to run a computer, and having some basic programming knowledge will help you learn more. Learning the basics can boost your resume.
Can I get an IT specialist job without certifications?
There are plenty of job openings for IT specialists that do not require professional certifications. Still, your resume will look much better if you show specific product knowledge of programs and operating systems. Certifications are great tools for continuing education.
What is the best IT specialty to get into?
System administration is a critical job for many companies. Someone must be on staff to manage networks and help the other employees and customers troubleshoot the issues. Starting with this specialty will provide you with great experience in many different parts of the system and help you advance your career.
How can I get promoted within the IT department?
To earn a promotion within the IT department, consider continuing education with courses and certifications to expand your product and program knowledge. Showing your skills and ability to serve the users and problem-solve will also help boost your career prospects.