Information Technology Careers: Helping Students Succeed

Throughout 2017, Career College Central will focus on a specific career area in each edition, delving into information technology (IT) in the third quarter. In the Careers: Helping Students Succeed series, we will look at the personality traits that predict success in each field, address the various learning styles common to students who choose these programs, and explore employment predictions for various industry career paths.

Who chooses an information technology career path?

There’s almost nothing in our daily lives that remains untouched by technology. More business communication takes place virtually than face-to-face: It’s almost unnecessary to ever visit a bank, local farmers markets offer customers the option of paying through an iPad app, and the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against screen time for children younger than 2 … unless, of course, that screen time involves video chatting with Grandma and Grandpa.

While today’s young adults haven’t quite been using touch screens since toddlerhood, they’re among the first to have grown up alongside technology. Sure, one side of the millennial spectrum had Oregon Trail in the computer lab after lunch, and the other had a smartphone in elementary school. Regardless, this quick adoption of computers in everything from our classrooms to our cars has made it easier for people to determine whether a career in the industry would be a good fit for them.

Because society expects (or in many cases, demands) our familiarity with hardware like self-checkout lanes at the grocery store and software like mobile airline ticketing, people can decide organically whether they’d excel at an IT career. Considering most of us use technology from the minute we wake up until the minute we put our heads back down on our pillow, we’re aware of whether its infiltration frustrates us or excites us. Still, 2016 research by Robert Half Technology reports 68 percent of companies struggle to find qualified IT candidates.

Computer, coding and development education isn’t hard to come by. Most colleges and universities offer full degree programs that focus on information technology skills, and even more institutions offer shorter certification programs that IT professionals can use to gain new experience or keep their skills current. Despite the proliferation of these training opportunities, job opportunities remain even greater.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations,” adding approximately 488,500 new jobs between 2014 and 2024, from about 3.9 million jobs to about 4.4 million. Even an information technology career that is only growing as fast as average, network and computer systems administrators, is expected to add about 30,200 new positions before 2024. So who does best in this fast-growing field?

Personality traits of successful IT professionals

For counselors or parents helping students decide on a career path, written personality tests alone can only help so much. While they may provide a handful of career options the student had never considered before (or confirm options they’d already been considering), the questions are often either too specific or too vague to be truly helpful. Plus, it’s common for test takers to answer based on what they wish were true of their personality and predilections, rather than what is actually true — whether consciously or not. Admissions professionals can work with students to discuss aspects of their personalities, work habits and life goals to determine which fields would be right for them, and which specific professions within those fields. For the students themselves, it’s tempting to romanticize a career field as glamorous or high-earning without considering the day-to-day minutiae or how stressful or demanding the job might be once you’re there doing it every day.

For students looking to begin a career in information technology, the following personality traits can help predict satisfaction and success in the field:

Analytical: Problem-solving is a major part of most careers in the IT industry. People who can look at a situation from all angles, identify the problems and areas for improvement, and analyze the best way to approach them to make the solution better will be assets in these roles.

Comfortable with people: There’s an unfortunate stereotype of information technology professionals that paints them all as solitary, unsociable people who demand to work alone. In reality, technology has infiltrated so many aspects of so many businesses that IT workers need to be comfortable listening to, talking with, and explaining to people in a variety of departments and roles. Without people skills, IT professionals won’t be able to create a user experience that works.

Focused: Many IT careers involve spending hours at a time behind a desk, looking at a computer screen, combing through thousands of lines of code. People who can put on a pair of headphones and concentrate on their task at hand without getting distracted or losing their place will be much more efficient than people who are unable to do so.

Mathematically minded: Math is the world’s universal language, and nowhere is that more obvious than in technology. Most of the building blocks of a technology career are based on math skills, so people looking to break into this career field should be comfortable with numbers and equations.

Multitasking: Sure, “multitasking” seems at odds with “focused,” the trait we called out just above. But both are important. In many IT roles, workers will be called on to fix, troubleshoot or otherwise address a variety of issues from clients and colleagues. Even if they’re working mainly on one large project, it’s common for other requests — ranging from tiny to huge, easy to answer to near impossible to solve — to intrude into an IT worker’s day.

Proactive: "Technology is a double-edged sword in most organizations — it can be an enormous time-saver, but it can also be a drain if things aren't working well or people don't know how to use the tools provided to them," said John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology. "A proactive and highly proficient help desk can be a huge productivity asset to companies and their employees."

Enjoying the journey:

Teaching information technology students School doesn’t have to be stressful! Today’s students don’t want to feel like they’re slogging through months of rote memorization and frustration just to get the credentials they need to start a career. They want to feel fulfilled by their education, gain real knowledge and build connections with people along the way. One of the best ways to help them do so is through an understanding of various students’ learning styles.

As technology has evolved alongside our understanding of how students learn, it has gotten easier for instructors to develop multimedia curricula that touches on all seven of Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences, incorporating exercises and modules that work best for each type of learner.

Among students who choose programs leading to careers in information technology, two learning styles are most common: logical and solitary.

Logical/mathematical learners: Logical/mathematical learners learn best by working with relationships and patterns, classifying, categorizing, and working with the abstract. These learners need things to think about and explore, the freedom to try different ways of solving a problem (likely making mistakes along the way), and data to manipulate. Often, students in information technology programs like to learn by doing — have them find and fix the coding mistake in a computer program or build their own app.

Solitary/intrapersonal learners: Solitary/intrapersonal learners learn best alone, with the time and space to self-direct their projects and reflect on their successes and opportunities for improvement. These students are generally very good at recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses, so don’t be afraid to ask them (or trust their answers). If left to set their own goals, teachers may find them to be much loftier than those that would have been set for them. At most colleges and universities, it makes sense to incorporate logical and solitary learning into information technology classrooms by way of self-directed, hands-on projects and learning by doing. As an added benefit, students can use their completed work as examples of experience for entry-level jobs.

Living to work:

Information technology career options
Whatever success means to someone, there is a way they can achieve it in the information technology field. Career colleges and technical schools offer many degree programs that help meet the demand for qualified programmers, analysts and developers while helping students begin on the path to fulfilling IT careers where they can work days, nights, weekends, full time or part time, in any number of environments. Here is just a sampling of the career options available:

Computer and Information Research Scientists Entry-level education: Doctoral or professional degree Median pay (2016): $111,840 annually Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing faster than average (11 percent projected growth) On-the-job training: No Working environment: The majority of people working in this position are employed by the federal government. Most work full time, and just one in 10 works more than 40 hours per week.

Computer Network Architects Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree Median pay (2016): $101,210 annually Job outlook, 2014-24: Growing faster than average (9 percent projected growth) On-the-job training: No Working environment: Working primarily in computer systems design and finance/insurance, about 25 percent of computer network architects put in more than 40 hours weekly.

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