If you ask the average person what the term information technology (IT) means, they would probably respond that it has “something” to do with computers. While that response is true in a very basic sense, that level of understanding barely scratches the surface. IT touches almost every aspect of our modern lives and employs millions of people across the United States and around the globe. So what does information technology actually mean and how do you launch a career in this far-reaching field?
Kwabena Konadu is a professor of cybersecurity and information technology at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) — and he’s also had a lifelong passion for all things IT. As a result, he’s ideally positioned to offer a fuller explanation of what exactly information technology entails.
“Information technology is the use of computing,” says Konadu. “This includes hardware, the physical devices that we can touch; software, the intangible applications that run on the systems; telecommunications, and generally anything that involves the transmission of information. Information technology also includes the management of data, whether it is in the form of text, voice, image, audio, or video.”
The internet is, of course, a vital component of the IT ecosystem and is, in itself, also so much more encompassing than most people’s everyday experience of the web.
“When we talk about the internet, we are talking about inter-connected devices,” says Konadu. “People are deploying internet technologies in things like smart cars, drones, household appliances, and wearable devices like smartwatches and health trackers. All those things are communicating with information technology components across the internet, so it really is a big deal.”
Konadu likes to use a joke to explain to his students just how important the internet is to him personally.
“There are three things I cannot give up,” says Konadu. “I cannot give up my internet, I cannot give up my coffee, and I cannot give up my wife. It’s a joke — but the internet means everything to me. It’s something a lot of us cannot live without but more than that, a lot of nations couldn’t function without it."
Konadu certainly isn’t joking when he explains that information technology solves real-world problems every minute of every day.
“By managing and analyzing the ‘big data’ stored across IT systems and networks, a process called informatics, we can use machines to do what humans do but in a more intelligent way,” says Konadu. “This helps drive innovation in fields like science, engineering, and health care.”
What Skills Do You Need to Succeed in Information Technology?
According to Konadu, students need to master three technical competencies to succeed in an information technology degree program.
The first is knowledge of operating systems.
“Students need to understand how operating systems run on a computer,” says Konadu. “The operating system is the software that controls the hardware. There are different operating systems. Most of us use Windows or iOS but we also talk about Linux which is mostly used by ‘techie people’ and large organizations that are running big networks.”
The next competency is networking.
“Networking is the way computers and other devices communicate with each other,” says Konadu. "I could be communicating with someone from my laptop and they could be on a mobile device. Students need to understand how this works.”
Finally, students need to know how to code. Pretty much everything we use daily, from computer apps to social networks to this website you are using right now is created with code — the language that computers understand. If your code is well-written, a computer will behave the way you want it to behave or perform the task you need it to do.
Konadu explains this is an area many students initially struggle with but is vital to master if they are to succeed.
“In my experience, people don't like coding,” says Konadu. “This is especially true in western countries, where we are not teaching kids from the age of five how to code. Coding is important because in information technology we have to automate a lot of things.”
IT Goes Beyond Technology
To succeed in IT, there is also a range of "soft skills" students need that are just as important.
“Employers are looking for strong communication and organizational skills,” says Konadu. "This is important because in the workplace, IT professionals are often called on to translate incredibly complex concepts into usable solutions that everyone can understand.”
Research skills are also very important and in demand in an industry that requires lifelong learning and innovative thinking.
“The ability to research and solve problems is vital if you want to maintain the relevant skills you need to stay employed,” says Konadu.
Information Technology Degree Programs at NOVA
NOVA offers a range of two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree programs. These include programs in Information System Technology, Cloud Computing, and Cybersecurity.
NOVA’s IT degree programs are designed for the workplace and focus heavily on practical and hands-on skills that employers need and expect.
“The hands-on education at NOVA is big,” says Konadu. "The moment our students graduate, they are prepared and ready to work.”
Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.