Information technology (IT) is a unique subject in the Guides for Licensed Professions Guides. Unlike most of the other professions presented here, IT is not regulated in Illinois. 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 Illinois 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 Illinois – either on site, 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.
2. IT INFRASTRUCTURE
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.
- 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 $71,500, 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.
3. IT SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
4. IN-DEMAND IT CERTIFICATIONS/SKILLS
The following lists are the most popular IT certifications and skills employers are looking for. These certifications and skills do not represent all certifications and skills available and are not required, but rather reflect the types of certifications and skills employers desire.
A. Cross Industry Certifications In-Demand
Network certifications cover automated business processes and the most popular network certifications are from Cisco Systems and Microsoft. Cisco Systems and Microsoft certifications are important for systems and network engineers only, as these jobs typically require these certifications.
Cisco Systems Career Certifications: Cisco Systems offers five levels of network certification for its network. The certification levels range from Entry, Associate, Professional, Expert, to Architect.
- The Entry-level CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) certificate covers basic networking knowledge appropriate for an entry-level network support position.
- The Associate-level CCNA (Certified Cisco Network Associate) certificate covers skills necessary to administer devices on small or medium-sized networks, a prerequisite for more advanced certifications.
- The Professional-level CCNP (Certified Cisco Network Professional) certificate covers the ability to plan, implement, verify and troubleshoot local and wide-area enterprise networks (LAN and WAN) and work collaboratively with specialists on advanced security, voice, and video solutions.
- The Expert-level CCIE (Certified Cisco Internetwork Professional) certificate is Cisco’s highest certification level and includes six areas of expertise. The CCIE certificate is accepted worldwide as the most prestigious and highest salaried networking certification in the entire IT industry.
Microsoft Career Certificates: Microsoft offers three levels of network certifications for its network. The certification levels range from Associate, Expert, to Master.
- The Associate-level MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate) certificate covers core technical skills required to build a sustainable career across the IT industry and is the foundation for higher certifications.
- The Expert-level MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert) certificate covers the ability to build innovative solutions across multiple technologies, including on-site and in the cloud.
- The Master-level MCSM (Microsoft Certified Solutions Master) certificate is Microsoft’s highest certification level, and it covers the ability to successfully design and implement technical solutions in a complex business environment.
While the following skills and technologies are helpful for jobseekers to have, these skills are not required and the technologies are most useful for jobseekers to learn via internships or other hands-on experience. While helpful, theoretical knowledge alone is not enough, because an individual will be competing with others who have hands-on experience.
A. Cross Industry Skills In-Demand
Software and Web Development: Software and web development are the most desired skills in demand. While there are no universal recommended certifications in the development field, there are many skills and programs an individual can acquire on their own, including coding and mobile application development.
Cloud Computing: Cloud computing, the ability to provide applications and services over the internet from all over the world, is another skill in demand. VMware certification is recommended to help an individual build and recognize skills needed to effectively design, operate, and evolve in the cloud environment. VMware offers multiple certifications, including a VCP-Cloud (VMware Certified Professional) certification and other VCAP-Cloud Infrastructure (VMware Certified Advanced Professional) certifications.
Big Data: Big data architecture and database management are other skills in demand. There are no universally recommended certifications, but it is recommended individuals are familiar with the big data process through programs including Oracle Visual Basic, .Net, SQL, and MySQL.
Business Management: Knowledge of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) skills are in high demand across the IT system. CRM systems manage a company’s interactions with current and future customers while ERP systems integrate internal and external management of information across an entire organization. Popular CRM and ERP programs include Saleforce, SAP, and Oracle, and Microsoft SharePoint.
B. Industry Specific Skills In-Demand
Healthcare: The most desirable healthcare IT certification is an Epic Systems certification. Demand for an Epic Systems certification increased as a result of the 2009 HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act), as the government started offering financial incentives to healthcare providers for converting and demonstrating meaningful use of electronic health records. The healthcare software company now keeps information for over 40% of the U.S. population stored on its Epic digital record software. While Epic Systems offers 35 different certifications, an individual wanting Epic Systems certification must be employed by a healthcare employer that is already using or about to implement Epic Systems applications. This is because Epic Systems provides certification only to clients to train certified end user and on-site experts.
Engineering/Manufacturing: The most desirable engineering/manufacturing IT certification is a PMP Certification (Project Management Certification). PMP Certification increases an individual’s marketability and salary by demonstrating the experience, education, and competency to lead and direct projects. To apply for PMP certification, you must have prior degree and work experience.
C. IT Functional Specialties & Most In-Demand Tools/Certifications
Systems Administrator/Engineer: Systems administrators/engineers are responsible for installing, supporting, and maintaining servers or other computer systems and planning or responding to infrastructure problems. In-demand tools and certifications include Microsoft certifications, Linux/Unix, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, SMTP, and Visual Basic.
Network Engineer: Network engineers are responsible for designing and implementing computer networks hat organizations rely on to access, share, and store information. In-demand tools and certifications include Cisco certifications, as well as TCP/IP, DHCP, DNS, SMTP, POP3, VPN, VLAN, and SSL.
Database Administrator (DBA): Database administrators are responsible for the installation, configuration, upgrade, administration, monitoring, and maintenance of databases in an organization. In-demand tools and certifications include Oracle, Visual Basic, .Net, SQL, and MySQL.
Project Manager: Project managers are responsible for the planning, execution, and closing of a project. In addition to a general Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, other in-demand IT-specific project management methodologies are: Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, and Spiral. An Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certification is also helpful.
General Tech Support: Tech supporters provide assistance to users of an organization’s technology products to solve clients problems. In-demand tools and certifications include CompTIA and CompTIA+, as well as Microsoft and Cisco certifications.
5. IMPORTANT LINKS
GENERAL OCCUPATION INFORMATION:
- Several articles on IT are available from the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics under Professional Occupations
IN-DEMAND IT CERTIFICATIONS/SKILLS:
This is only a partial list of certifications and skills available for the most popular providers. Certification and skills training for more specific skills may vary.
- For more information on Cisco Systems certification types and exam details, check the Cisco website.
- For more information on Microsoft Systems certification types and exam details, check the Microsoft website.
- For more information on VMware certification, check the VMWare website.
- For more information on Epic Systems and certification, visit the Epic website.
- For more information on Project Management Certification (PMP Certification) eligibility and exam, check the PMP Handbook.
- Oracle University offers courses on Java and its operating system Solaris, MySQL, and more
- ExitCertified provides IT training, exams, and certification courses for Oracle, Cisco, VMWare, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe,
- Salesforce, and IBM systems among others. Check the ExitCertified website for more information.
FACE-TO-FACE USER COMMUNITIES:
- Hundreds of IT-related groups currently hold regular meetings in the Chicago area via Meet Up
CHICAGO-AREA AND ONLINE TRAINING PROVIDERS:
- The Illinois Institute of Technology Professional Learning Center offers 36 semester-long certifications across IT areas
- Computer Systems Institute has four centers in Illinois
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):
6. TIPS FOR IT PROFESSIONALS
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 Chicago area.
SIGN UP FOR A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION IN YOUR FIELD