How to become an IT specialist: The degrees and skills needed

November 15, 2022 · 6 min read · By ASU Online

Interested in how to become an IT specialist? Learn more about key topics including support specialist career paths and educational requirements.


What does an IT specialist do?

Information technology (IT) specialists oversee the maintenance and improvement of an organization’s technical ecosystem. This sector of computer and security specialists are responsible for ensuring critical files and company data stored in digital repositories remain safe and intact.

IT specialists troubleshoot technology concerns, perform network diagnoses, provide computer support and conduct IT audits to ensure all staff members have the digital tools they need to properly perform their jobs. In addition to solving technical issues, an IT support specialist may collaborate with software developers, database administrators, computer network analysts and computer security technicians to design, refine or amend digital solutions. Specific functions within the IT specialist job description may include:

  • Implementing or modifying security measures to keep digital files safe.
  • Installing or updating new versions of software across company hardware.
  • Performing diagnostics to enhance the efficiency of a company’s technology system.
  • Providing direct support to company personnel to resolve technical concerns.

Read on to learn more about how to become an IT specialist, the career outlook for the information technology sector and the core competencies needed to excel in this profession.


Career outlook for IT specialists

The growing demand for IT specialists is largely due to the rise in digital transformations organizations are undergoing. As more businesses prioritize big data analytics, information security and innovative digital tools, the demand for IT specialists continues to present an increase in job opportunities for graduates.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected the computer and information technology field to increase by 15% between 2021 and 2031. This pace is faster than the national average rate for all occupations. The BLS also reported the IT sector should result in an additional 682,800 new employment opportunities by 2031.


Salary expectations for the information technology sector

In addition to the increase in demand for IT specialists, this career path offers rewarding salary expectations for graduates. BLS data from May 2021 for the computer and information technology occupations showed a median national salary of $97,430, more than $50,000 higher than $45,760, the national median salary across all occupations.

Your salary for the computer and IT field may increase based on your specific job requirements and title, education level, work experience and the industry in which the organization operates. For example, businesses operating within the tech or financial sector may offer higher compensation for IT specialists compared to publicly funded educational institutions. 

As for specific occupations within the IT field, the BLS reported these median salaries:

  • $102,600 for information security analysts
  • $99,270 for computer research analysts
  • $80,600 for network and computer systems administrators

According to BLS data, computer and information research scientists — positions typically requiring candidates to hold a master’s degree — maintained a median salary of $131,490 in 2021.

An IT specialist works at their laptop while three coworkers have a conversation nearby.

Education: The foundation of an IT specialist career

The IT field requires a strong foundation in education, and students must develop the necessary core competencies to attain positions as information technology specialists. There are specific undergraduate and graduate degree options that build a foundation of technical knowledge and skills for aspiring professionals.

Undergraduate degrees

A Bachelor of Science in information technology provides you with the opportunity to develop foundational proficiencies in information systems. These include cybersecurity, cloud-based software, computer programming language — specifically Java, the most dominant programming language across the globe — and operating systems applicable to the daily duties of IT professionals.

In addition to covering technical competencies, this undergraduate degree concentrates on subject matter that may apply to various positions within the computer and technology sector, such as:

  • Enhancing computer system security features to keep consumer and employee data safe.
  • Harnessing the power of big data to improve operational efficiency.
  • Identifying and preventing cybersecurity threats.
  • Leveraging platform integration tools to empower more connected, cohesive enterprises.

Finally, the information technology undergraduate program enables you to develop competencies needed when performing various job functions. Examples include problem-solving, critical thinking and leadership abilities, all of which play a foundational role in success within the IT industry.

Graduate programs

A Master of Science in information technology can lead to career growth and leadership positions within the IT industry. Associate- and senior-level roles often require candidates to hold graduate degrees in information technology or a related field. Graduating from a master’s program can assist you in becoming a more competitive and desirable candidate with increased earning potential.

This graduate program curriculum builds on principles explored in IT undergraduate studies to expand your abilities and technical expertise. You can expect courses to cover advanced information systems security, information analysis, modeling and representation and software development specific for IT professionals. You’ll also use IT tools and digital platforms to build a robust portfolio of projects demonstrating your proficiency in programming architecture, system operating networks and digital security.

Prior to graduation, you’ll have the opportunity to apply your knowledge and proficiencies in capstone courses, enabling you to become a subject matter expert in your specific focus area.

Upon earning an online master's in IT, you may seek a variety of positions within the IT sector, including:

  • Information security manager: In this position, you may create and execute data security strategies and procedures across an organization to protect its digital infrastructure. Specific job requirements can include actively identifying risks and vulnerabilities within operations systems as well as ensuring data reporting methods meet compliance and regulatory requirements.
  • Chief information security officer (CISO): You can expect to oversee all IT and data security elements for an organization when fulfilling this role. Additional job duties include leading the strategic vision, scoping, designing and developing and implementing all IT-related endeavors.
  • IT director: As an IT director, you'd oversee technology operations to ensure they align with an organization’s target objectives while establishing sound IT policies to support the implementation of new procedures set forth by leadership teams.


Valuable skills for IT specialists

When determining how to become an IT specialist, it’s important to possess the various competencies needed to excel in the information technology sector and provide technical support to those who need it. These skills may range from technical aptitudes to critical thinking and communication proficiencies.

From a technical perspective, a career in IT requires you to harness many skills, such as:

  • Coding
  • Computer science
  • Database management
  • Hardware and software deployment
  • Network configuration
  • Operating system 

In addition to these technical components, you may need to leverage soft skills such as communication, organizational, analytical and problem-solving skills. These aptitudes can support you through colleague collaborations, troubleshooting technical errors and leading presentations on IT procedures or developments to business leadership teams or department managers.

Above all, information technology specialists must be resourceful and committed to leveraging technology to create a more efficient, sustainable and profitable organization. Maintaining an interest in helping others is also a substantial part of a job within the IT field, as you’ll be training computer users on how to use new technology and resolving issues they may face when operating various programs.


Earn your online information technology degree with Arizona State University

When it comes to learning how to become an IT specialist, education is the foundation of this high-demand career. By earning an undergraduate or graduate degree in information technology, you’ll develop the core competencies needed to secure a rewarding position within the IT field and evolve your career.

ASU Online offers two programs that can help you start or expand your career as IT specialist:

Learn more about all of ASU Online's IT and data analytics degree options.

Everything you need to know about ASU Online classes and degree programs

We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.


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