Information technology (IT) is thriving. Computing powers nearly every element of our lives in the 21st century. The investors and workers who have turbo-driven the IT industry over the past two decades have created a huge and flourishing ecosystem of software, devices, and processes. And forecasts show that the tech sector is likely to be the biggest growing sector over the next ten years too.
But IT isn’t just getting bigger. What makes it such an exciting and high potential sector is that it is always in a process of transformation. Students with a passion for IT can capitalize on the tech boom by working towards new and different job opportunities in pursuit of the challenges and satisfaction of working in a cutting-edge industry.
The fast evolution of the industry is, however, a double-edged sword. Successful IT professionals may have the chance to be pioneers in their field, but they also need to make sure their skills are up-to-date -- indeed, in a state of ongoing development. That means ‘soft skills’ such as adaptability and ethics require just as much attention as the latest tech skills in areas such as virtual reality, cloud computing, or machine learning.
IT students can benefit from a specialist degree that equips them with the fundaments of their chosen niche. A quality, diverse academic setting will challenge their skills and assumptions. As graduates, they can then follow industry developments and take additional IT courses to supplement their formal education as their career progresses.
These skill-boosting programs include online and open-access courses in all sorts of emerging fields such as transmedia storytelling and the Internet of Things. Such a course may result in credits towards another degree and can be a great way to connect with international networks.
So just what are those emerging IT fields in 2019?
Big Data refers to the collection, organization, and analysis of the digital trail that individuals leave online and in the wider world. Used effectively and virtuously, big data reveals patterns, infers predictions, and is used to streamline processes that occur on a massive scale, from marketing campaigns to a city’s vehicular traffic flow. It’s no wonder experts refer to big data as the ‘new oil’: it is highly valuable, but not much use until it has been refined.
However, the political and economic potential of big data make it an ethical minefield. As we put more connections in our work tools, our homes, and even our clothes, as individuals we will provide more data and more value. Where such value exists, there will always be unscrupulous agents looking to exploit it. The new generation of big data scientists will have the responsibility for nurturing a data culture that informs and protects the people and companies being ‘mined.’
Cloud-computing is the off-shoring of computing services: people and companies can pay a subscription to use a remote service ‘in the cloud’ instead of owning software, storage, and processing power on local devices. Cloud-computing packages include Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).
The cloud itself refers to online software and massive banks of hardware owned and maintained by businesses such as Amazon, Google, and smaller specialist companies. Cloud computing processes tend to create high carbon emissions. Up-and-coming cloud computing developers are finding ways to reduce these companies’ carbon footprint and to innovate more thoughtful and environmentally-friendly ways to improve their service.
Cryptography is the use of codes to protect data and communications from prying eyes. Only somebody with the right cryptographic key can unlock something that has been encoded in this way. Cryptography and information technology have long gone hand-in-hand. Alan Turing, the inventor of the computer, is equally famous for deciphering the code of the Nazi Enigma machine during World War II.
As the Turing connection suggests, cryptography has a lot to do with mathematics and algorithms. But the profession also involves a significant element of human understanding. Working in cryptography requires an IT graduate to predict and counteract human error, and to stay ahead of developments in hacking and espionage. Clearly, it is an area where high levels of personal responsibility are required.
Not unrelated to cryptography, cybersecurity is the protection of software, hardware, and stored data. While cryptography is concerned with the end data, cybersecurity primarily guards ‘the way in’ and counters active threats inside a system.
Potential threats include viruses, worms, and spyware, collectively known as malware. Hackers may also use psychological/behavioral tricks such as social engineering (tricking users into compromising security) or phishing (sending a fake email that purports to be from a reputable source.)
Cybersecurity is a very important issue for national and corporate entities as well as individuals. And every time a new use for technology arises – such as self-driving vehicles – new threats will follow.
By definition, theft and spying have been around for slightly longer than security systems and counter-espionage. Cybersecurity is the latest development of an ancient relationship. The techniques of fraudsters and spies have evolved into the digital realm, and it is up to cybersecurity professionals to stay one step ahead.
Digitalization is the transfer of real-world processes and structures onto computers. (It differs from digitization, which is the encoding of analog information into binary digital code). Digitalizing is a huge concept concerned with the direction our society is headed -- and the interests of those who are driving it. Thinking about the digitalization of general concepts such as ‘communication’ or ‘social life’ involves a whole different level of complexity to the practicalities of digitalizing concrete processes, such as voting, account-keeping, or factory work.
Digitalization is the place where the social, the physical, and the digital meet. As such, there is a range of needs and opportunities within this area of information technology. The sector is looking for people who understand people and ‘real world' processes as much as they understand IT.
Depending on your job role, you may find yourself conceptualizing, strategizing, designing, coding, or even ‘evangelizing’ – because digitalized processes work a lot better when the people involved understand and approve of the changes being made.
Networks are the framework of our digital world. Network Administrators, Systems Engineers, Analysts, and Technicians are responsible for the upkeep and streamlining of the programs and machines that keep us connected in the age of information tech.
Networks are everywhere, and networking standards are global. A background in networking can take you to the kind of company and destination where you want to be. Government or refugee camp, earthquake zone or Silicon Valley – they all need trained experts with a flair for logic and making connections. In fact, despite the technical-sounding name, math is not the primary skill required in networking.
Passionate about information technology?
The ‘technology’ in information technology is evolving and diversifying at a terrific rate, creating plentiful opportunities for STEM and other students. At the same time, new challenges arise as tech becomes more powerful, both ‘inside the box’ and through how it affects society.
It’s the perfect moment for the IT workforce to diversify and evolve, too, by encouraging underrepresented groups (including women, Black, and Latinx people) to join the industry. Industry leaders, schools, and IT professionals share the responsibility of making tech a more welcome and open sector for those whose voices and skills have been shut out.
Jobs in information technology are many and varied and there has never been a more fascinating time than this to study and work in this exciting field...