California IT Professional Licensing Guide
Information technology (IT) is a unique subject in the Licensed Professions Guides. Unlike most of the other professions presented here, IT is not regulated in California. While credentials can be very important in the field, they do not lead to any licensing or registration process involving state government today.
IT can be broken down into two largely distinct divisions:
- Software development
This industry is constantly changing. Your proven technical know-how, ability to adapt to new technologies, soft skills, and other experience can be more important factors in hiring and advancement than a college degree. However, with job losses in the economy and offshoring, there is more competition for IT jobs, and you will have an advantage if you have at least a B.S. or B.A. degree.
The goals of the California Guide for IT Professionals are to:
- Present a simple overview of the current situation for both IT infrastructure and software development
- Look at a few positions to discuss in-demand skills, salary ranges, and tips for entry
- Share practical advice for foreign-educated IT professionals about the IT job search and integration into the U.S. workplace
- Provide access to career resources you can access from California - either onsite, or online
For a much more detailed look at jobs in information technology, please refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, which has several references in the field. Credentials in IT are characterized by their diversity: in type, in provider, and in cost. You will need to research these options on your own.
These common roles in IT infrastructure are organized by hierarchy, top to bottom. The description may include how common these positions are and if any particular trends are affecting the role.
- Architect: high-level systems analyst who works with chief information officers (CIOs) and other decision-makers to assess needs, design all networks, and choose vendors. Often project-based work, unless the system being created and maintained is very large in scale. In addition to technical, analytical, and project management skills, this role demands constant client contact and excellent communication skills.
- Engineers: implement architects' projects and have a more permanent role in maintaining systems.
- Server engineer: works exclusively on the server network by designing and supporting the equipment that provides the operational capacity for an IT system.
- Network systems engineer: works on both Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity using equipment (e.g. switches, routers, cabling), protocols and software to connect all networked devices. There has been significant growth in WANs as companies of all sizes connect global offices and support mobile and remote users.
- Network administrator: manages users on the network and provides some server support. This role is in decline: these responsibilities are usually managed by services such as tech support.
- Tech support:
- Desktop support: trouble-shoots end-user problems with hardware and software and often provides basic server support. This position is the most common within tech support and is an on-site role which involves face-to-face interactions.
- Help desk: works entirely over the phone/network to help end users. While this work is often done from other countries, there is a growing concern about the quality of remote support and, as a result, companies are offering these jobs in the U.S.. Strong verbal communication skills are essential.
- PC tech: traditionally handles Install, Moves, Adds, and Changes or IMAC activities, setting up or modifying people's workstations (hardware and software) in an organization. In a difficult economy, companies may try to eliminate this role or use outsourcing on an as-needed basis.
Focus on: Network systems engineer or analyst
As mentioned above, network engineering activities increase as more organizations expand their remote networks. Network engineers need to master remote access systems, network infrastructure and architecture, as well as Internet connectivity and security. Network security engineers are, particularly, in demand.
Education needed: Usually a B.S. (4 year degree) although you will find people who have advanced to this level over time without a B.S.
Soft skills: be able to work independently, but also communicate well to train and advise other staff
Useful credentials: Cisco, CheckPoint or Juniper networking, VOIP and security certifications. Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) A+, Network+, Exam 70-270, MCP, MCSA Certifications
According to Robert Half International's 2012 salary guide, a network administrator could expect to earn $55,750 to $82,750, and a network manager from $79,250 to $109,500
Focus on: Desktop support
A desktop support specialist or technician is a very common position, often ranked I, II, or III according to responsibilities and years of experience. Over time, this role has grown into a broad range of responsibilities including troubleshooting both hardware and software, mostly for PCs (Macs only represent about 20% of business computers).
Desktop support roles may be of interest to you as a first job in your field in the U.S. if your professional experience is limited or you want a job that combines technical know-how with opportunities for interaction and communication with others.
Education needed for entry-level positions: an Associate's degree (2 years after high school).
Skills needed: communication skills are key; problem-solving; patience
Useful credentials: Certifications for operating systems and routine business software, especially Microsoft Office, Vista, Server
According to Robert Half Technology, in 2012 starting salaries (entry level) for help-desk workers ranged from $29,250 to $39,250.
This area of IT touches all aspects of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). It centers on creating, testing, maintaining and improving web or desktop software applications or 'Apps' (programs) as well as integrating them with an organization's other software and infrastructural systems. Maintenance is the ongoing support of applications once they are installed.
- Architect: high-level systems analyst or software engineer who works with clients within an organization to do a full survey of needs, consider available resources and business objectives, and make choices about the major requirements for the application. Among others, this will include a choice of programming language (e.g. Java, C#), platform, components of the user interface, and back-end needs that users won't see, such as the database. There are fewer opportunities in this career because it is a senior position.
- Business analyst: another systems analyst who serves as an intermediary between the main software architect and the developers. However, many companies currently cutting costs will expect the architect and developers to cover this role, which makes this position scarce.
- Front-end or user development: all the work that will affect the user interface (UI); anything on display
- Middle development: this is the bulk of development work with a focus on coding/programming
- Back-end: setting up site data storage and retrieval mechanisms through tools such as a SQL server
- Database administrator: usually involved in occasional high-level database maintenance or troubleshooting. Responsible for reviewing and testing the database before an application is complete; has a higher level of access than developers. This can be a more limited job category since this role is not needed continuously.
- Quality analyst: thoroughly tests the application for problems and marks these for debugging by developers. This position is declining since the bulk of changes in an application occur before it has been launched. Developers are increasingly being required to manage quality assurance.
- Developer: builds the application in every detail after the architect creates the blueprint. This position is in very high demand. Development work can be looked at in terms of three aspects of a software application:
Focus on: Software Developer
Software development remains in high demand despite increased offshore expansion. In practice, the divisions of front, middle, and back end work are not very rigid. User-friendly database technologies are helping reduce the back-end development function. Depending on the workplace, a software developer's responsibilities and area of expertise can be very specialized or general. Web development is often considered a subset of software development.
Education needed: usually a Bachelor's degree or higher
The most important evaluating factor, though, is for an employer to actually see your earlier work. The quality of an application is immediately clear to a skilled recruiter. You should arrange to have a strong reference from an IT manager in your former workplace and gain his or her permission to discuss or share applications you built. This will be a great job search advantage.
Skills needed: cross-group collaboration, detail orientation, updated programming skills (continuing education and experimentation)
Useful credentials: programming language credentials like Java, C, C++, C#
Software development positions can range from entry level to senior level, so salaries vary widely. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, software developers earned the following average salaries: software publishers, $90,330; computer systems design and related services $83,280; management of companies and enterprises $71,650; insurance carriers $62,660. According to Robert Half International, in 2012 web developers could expect to be paid from $58,000 to $94,250.
Common Words used in this article
General Occupation Information:
- Several articles on computer and IT occupations are available from the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Face-to-Face User Communities:
- Hundreds of IT-related groups currently hold regular meetings in the California area via Meet Up
California-area and online training providers:
- The California Institute of Technology offers certifications across IT areas
- Computer Systems Institute has centers in California
- Microsoft Learning Pages
- Course descriptions and prices are available from Exit Certified, which conducts online training for Sun Microsystems and its Java and Solaris operating systems
Job search tools:
- Salary research tool
- Job board gathering posts from multiple job sites, including tech sites: Dice and ComputerJobs.com
- (Set up filters and email alerts to minimize your time online)
Recruiters (for temporary or permanent work):
- Robert Half IT and its Salary Center, which contains its 2012 Salary Guide that has information on job descriptions, skills in demand, IT certification and hiring tips, and salary information for IT jobs
Know market rates and opportunities
Research job titles and salaries for your field.
Accept contract and temporary work
This will give you an opportunity to see and be seen in a variety of workplaces, which can often lead to permanent job offers.
Keep up with technology
Be able to describe every current technology you've used: how, where, and when.
Provide Technical References
- Use an IT manager, rather than a Human Resources manager, as a reference from an earlier job: the IT Manager will be able to communicate more specific technical details about your work.
- Get a 'portfolio' together - ask earlier employers for permission to show applications you developed for them.
Technical skills are easy to verify. In interviews, therefore, concentrate on your professional appearance and behavior, your ability to communicate, and your organization and preparedness.
Minimize time online
Internet job boards can waste time and are not as important as making face-to-face connections through networking or temporary and contract work. If you do use job boards, look for specialty sites (an IT-specific job board). Make sure you target your resume carefully and take the time to respond only to close matches. You can also use a site like www.indeed.com to search job postings across many job sites. Another method is to set up email alerts for key words and filters (e.g., salary, distance) to target your job search.
Look for area meetings of different user groups: C#, Sharepoint, Content Management Systems. The site www.meetup.com has many active groups, most at no cost, that bring together not just IT but business owners; you can also organize your own group.
You can gain or update certifications with classes (e.g. Microsoft, Cisco, CheckPoint, Juniper) in the San Francisco area.