Information Technology Degree and Career Guide

Simply put, Information technology (IT) is a broad term that encompasses anything involving the utilization of computer systems and devices to gain access to information. In today’s modern world, IT is utilized by a wide range of entities across all industries. Large-scale multinational enterprises and small-scale solo entrepreneurs all use IT. From communications to data management and operational efficiency, IT supports many business functions and helps drive productivity.

As of 2023, Information Technology jobs are some of the most in-demand in America. Specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the employment of Information Security Analysts, who plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems, will experience a growth of 35% from 2021 to 2031 – much faster than the average for all occupations. Other IT jobs that are also expected to experience positive growth are software developer and tester jobs (25%), web developer and digital designer jobs (23%), and computer and information research scientist jobs (21%).

Information Technology in California

California has the largest concentration of high-paying tech companies and jobs in the U.S. This is no wonder as San Diego and Silicon Valley alone house tech industry leaders like Apple, Meta, Google, Adobe, and Google (Alphabet). It is a global hub for technology and innovation, and as such, it attracts IT professionals from around the world. There is an estimate of upwards of 1.4M tech professionals in California, comprising 8% of the state’s workforce. Around 359k+ are in Los Angeles, 355k+ in San Jose, 336k+ in San Francisco, 117k+ in San Diego, and 53k+ in Sacramento.

Information Technology: Qualifications and Requirements

In the field of IT, qualifications and requirements depend on the job you want to land. In California, there are a variety of programs that you can choose from to further your career.

  1. High School Diploma or GED
    Some jobs in IT do not require a four-year or even a two-year degree! However, you will need to self-educate as certain skills are required depending on the IT job you want.
    • Web/App Developer – Web/App developers need to be knowledgeable in programming languages like HTML, Python, Rubyin, CSS, and JavaScript. You can start learning these languages for free online at edx
    • Computer Support Specialist – A computer support specialist helps customers with troubleshooting computers and with installing and using new hardware and software. Udemy offers a free online course that is perfect for beginners who are looking to become computer support specialists.
  2. Associate Degree
    Associate degrees are more often than not two-year academic courses. However, many associate degrees may be fully taken online, which allows students to complete their coursework asynchronously while working around their current job schedule.
    • Health Information Technician – A Health Information Technician uses digital systems for organizing patient data and handling billing issues. An Associate Degree that prepares you for this job will need to include courses on medical coding, computer programming, and privacy laws. Santa Barbara City College, City College of San Francisco, Consumes River College, Cypress College, East Los Angeles College, Fresno City College, Saddleback College, and San Diego Mesa College are all public schools that offer similarly priced Associate in Science in Health Information Technology degrees in California.
    • Network Support Specialist – A Network Support Specialist works with the design, construction, and maintenance of large IT systems. An associate degree is enough to qualify you for this position, and with enough work experience, you can work your way up to become a Network Administrator. Here is a complete list of schools in the U.S. that offer online and on-campus associate degrees in Network Administration, which will allow you to become a Network Support Specialist.
  3. Bachelor’s Degree
    A bachelor’s degree is the minimum degree that most jobs in the field of Information Technology require. Common courses include information technology system analysis, information security, data networking, information technology system risk assessment, and computer administration.

    As of 2023, the University of California – San Diego and San Diego State University were ranked as the top two universities in California that offer bachelor’s degree programs in Information Technology. San Diego State University is the cheaper option of the two.

    With a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, you can qualify for the following positions and more:
    • Systems Analyst
    • Business Analyst
    • Technical Consultant
    • Technical Sales Engineer
    • Software Developer
    • Software Tester
    • Computer Forensic Analyst
  4. Master’s Degree
    While not necessary for most IT positions, a master’s degree is helpful for those who want to further advance their career and land higher-level leadership roles. Most master’s degree programs are one or two years long and do not have undergraduate prerequisites beyond a bachelor’s degree. Programs to choose from are a Master of Science in Information Technology, a Master of Business Administration in Information Technology, or a Master of Science in Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Alternative graduate degree levels that are focused on technology can include a masters in machine learning and a masters in data science or analytics.
    • Chief Information Officer (CIO) – This is an executive position that is mainly focused on a company’s internal IT needs. They have the final say with regard to internal matters like the security of the company’s information system and the purchase of hardware and software.
    • Chief Technology Officer (CTO) – A CTO is the executive most focused on a company’s external IT needs, such as how the company’s IT interacts with its vendors and clients.
  5. Certifications
    Sometimes, certifications are required for certain IT positions. However, even if they are not required, they are a good way to further improve yourself and even develop a specialty in the field.
    • Help Desk Technician – A Help Desk Technician works to solve complex technology problems in corporate environments. A ComptTIA A+ certification qualifies you to apply for most entry-level help desk jobs and is, in fact, the industry standard for beginning IT careers. The tests can be taken in person or online.
    • Cybersecurity Specialist – Cybersecurity Specialists are some of the most in-demand IT professionals today. According to Cyberseek, in California, there are approximately 15,265 people employed in cybersecurity. As such, competition is tough, and employers often prefer job candidates with cybersecurity certifications. Many universities offer online cybersecurity programs that vary slightly in terms of concentration and affordability. Specifically, California State University-San Bernardino, Naval Postgraduate School, Stanford University, and the University of California-Irvine offer these programs.
  6. Previous Experience
    Previous work experience is required in order to qualify for certain IT roles.
    • IT Manager – 5 years of experience
      IT managers supervise a team of IT staff and manage the information technology of their respective businesses.
    • DevOps Engineer – 5 years of experience or more
      A DevOps Engineer develops, upgrades, and implements software solutions for business infrastructure.

Information Technology: Degrees and Career Paths in California

The list of  possible careers in IT you could explore goes on and on. There are entry-level jobs, leadership positions, hardware-based jobs, software-based jobs, cybersecurity jobs, data jobs, and more.  In California, some positions are ranked as better than others. Listed below are the top-paying and most in-demand  IT careers in California and the steps you need to take in order to land these jobs.

Expert IT Systems Engineer-Hybrid

To become an Expert IT Systems Engineer – Hybrid, which ranks as the highest-paying IT job in California, many technical skills are required. One must have at least a Bachelor’s Degree but preferably a Master’s Degree in Computer Science or a related field. Many of the top institutions in California offer online Computer Science degrees, which may be the better option for those who want to study in the best schools for a cheaper price.

Being a senior position, companies also require applicants to have 5-8 years of technical experience. 
Depending on the chosen system and field of a company, additional certifications may also be necessary. For example, a Microsoft-based company may require Microsoft systems certifications such as an MCP or MCSE.

Software Engineering Manager and Architect

For a position as a Software Engineering Manager and Architect, some companies require a Bachelor’s Degree, however many well-renowned companies such as Google accept equivalent practical experience in lieu of formal education.

Before you start gaining experience, you will need a deep understanding of programming, which means you need to know at least one programming language. Knowledge of web technologies and database technologies are also necessities. MIT OpenCourseWare, edX, and Coursera are considered as some of the top free online sources for courses on programming, web technologies, and database technologies that are perfect for beginners.

Information Technology Technician

A job as an Information Technology Technician is one of the most common starting points in the field of IT. It is an entry-level position with great potential for upward mobility. Technicians may move on to become Information Technology Specialists, which ranks as the third highest-paying IT job in California. 

Companies may require a high school diploma, GED certificate, or an Associate’s Degree for this role depending on the size and scope of the company. Overall and for private colleges, Asher College ranks as the top school in California to get an Associate Degree in Information Technology. Second on the list and the best public college in the state to pursue this degree is the City College of San Francisco.

Those who want to become Information Technology Technicians may also improve their chances of being hired by earning entry-level IT certifications. Becoming an Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) and a Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) may be beneficial for you.

California IT Associations and Resources

California is also home to many associations made exclusively with IT professionals in mind. These associations offer those in the tech industry with the resources to improve themselves and advance their career.

  1. CompTIA: The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) offers industry-leading certifications, training, testing, courses, and access to expert knowledge about Information Technology. Their certifications include certifications in core skills, infrastructure, cybersecurity, data and analytics, and cloud essentials. An online testing option is available for those who want a secure and easy way to complete their CompTIA certification exam. Check out their distinguished members from across the years here.
  2. Tech in Motion: Tech in Motion is the largest tech community in North America. It is a networking and events platform that brings together IT professionals. It allows IT professionals to learn about the tech industry, build meaningful business connections, and hear stories from peers and mentors alike through on-site and online activities.
  3. WITI: WITI or Women in Technology International was founded ​​ in the United States in 1989 by Carolyn Leighton. Its members include the President of Space X, Gwynne Shotwell, and the President of the Developer Division of Microsoft, Julia Liuson. WITI offers a wide range of opportunities, education, and events for women in the field of Information Technology. It also boasts a successful talent acquisition and management system that helps its global partners find top talent. You may view all their virtual events here.  
  4. CTC: The California Technology Council (CTC) is an industry development organization for IT professionals in California. It offers numerous Cybersecurity Programs, such as cybersecurity courses with Udacity and EC-Council. It also offers certification programs (ex. Certified CISO, Certified SOC Analyst, Certified Forensics Course, and Certified Ethical Hacking.)

Frequently Asked Questions about IT in California

Why Should I Study IT?

IT offers numerous job opportunities, career growth, constant learning, competitive salaries, work–life balance, and more. Especially if you pursue a degree in Information Technology or Computer Science, you’ll be qualified for many positions in the IT industry.

Can I get an IT degree online?

Yes. Everything from free courses to associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees are available online.

How much money do IT professionals make in California?

The median tech salary in California is approximately USD 116,729 per year. However, salaries differ depending on the exact position you take. Moreover, the highest salaries can reach up to almost USD 200,000 per year.

What is the best city in California to become an IT professional?

Given that California is considered the best state in the country for IT professionals, almost any city is a good place to pursue an IT career. However, here are the top three cities in the state with the highest average salaries for those in the information technology industry:

  1. Silicon Valley, CA – Average Salary: $133,204
    Not only does Silicon Valley rank as the number one city in California in terms of salary, but it also ranks number one in the U.S. and the world. 
  2. San Diego, CA – $114,801
  3. Los Angeles, CA – $113,658

Can I work remotely in the California IT industry?

Yes. Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, many IT roles in the state have shifted to become hybrid or even completely work from home.

What is the tech community like in California?

California has one of the most active and vibrant tech communities. Because of the large amount of information technology professionals concentrated in the area, many networking events are catered to this population.

What are the top tech companies in California?

California is home to Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Google (Alphabet), Facebook, Netflix, Adobe, Intel, Tesla, Cisco Systems, and many more.

Based on information like salaries, company financial health, and employee diversity, Zippia ranked Adobe as the top tech company in California to work for. Adobe is followed by Workday, Paypal, Apple, Salesforce, Fico, NetApp, Intel, Square, and Blackline.