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Getting started with a career in IT infrastructure: A brief guide
Learn about the jobs available, skills required/in demand and the most popular relevant certifications/certificates/degrees as you consider infrastructure as an IT career path.
IT and its underlying infrastructure power every aspect of modern businesses, governments, militaries and economies. Many organizations don't have enough employees on staff with the right qualities of IT know-how to fully support their IT infrastructure, however. For both these reasons, IT infrastructure professionals are in high demand, and those interested in pursuing that career path can expect to enjoy highly rewarding careers if they develop the right skills and abilities.
In this guide, we address some common questions asked by those pursuing a job and career in IT infrastructure careers, such as:
- Which jobs are available in the IT infrastructure field?
- What kind of skills are required for a career in IT infrastructure?
- Which jobs and skills are most in demand?
- What are some popular certifications, certificate courses and degree programs that current and future IT infrastructure professionals can pursue?
Let's get started.
In-demand IT infrastructure roles
IT infrastructure includes various operational areas that usually require specific knowledge and skill sets, including:
- Server management
- Storage management
- Security management
- IT help desk
- Application support
- IT asset management, monitoring and maintenance
Actual job titles in each of these areas often vary by organization, with each title frequently carrying its own set of responsibilities. Nonetheless, in general, here are some of the main roles that fall under the purview of IT infrastructure. Although most of these roles are technical in nature, management positions are also available.
- Application support analyst. Supports end users in the use of applications relevant to a business.
- Systems operator. Contributes to the day-to-day operations of the IT infrastructure; provides troubleshooting support.
- System analyst. Analyzes IT hardware and software to make relevant recommendations to optimize performance.
- Service desk/help desk/support agent specialist. First point of contact for end-user (customer, employee, partner, etc.) support, fault reporting, ticket creation and problem resolution.
- Network engineer/architect. Designs and sets up networks like LANs, WANs, intranets and external connections.
- Network/systems administrator. Manages hardware/software installation, maintenance and data recovery.
- Database administrator (DBA). Sets up and maintains databases to store, organize and protect data.
- Security management specialist. Assesses current security posture, design systems and processes to improve security, and oversees security operations.
- IT infrastructure project manager. Coordinates projects to architect, design and implement enterprise infrastructure.
- Infrastructure software manager. Roles and responsibilities include managing and optimizing infrastructure software to support functions such as business transactions and internal services.
- Infrastructure analyst. Implements, maintains and tests hardware and software to ensure high availability; creates backups and redundancies; implements security checks.
- Cloud architect. Manages the cloud infrastructure, and designs implementation architectures and solutions.
A wide variety of organizations employ IT professionals in infrastructure jobs, including:
- for-profit companies in every industry, including startups, SMBs and large enterprises;
- telecommunications and software development companies;
- managed service providers (MSPs);
- government agencies;
- not-for-profit organizations;
- stock, security and commodities exchanges; and
- educational institutions.
Key skills required for a successful career in IT infrastructure
As the previous section shows, most IT infrastructure roles are highly technical and require a good understanding of the concepts and tools used in a particular area of expertise. Some also require -- or prefer -- specialized certifications (more on those further down). Technical skills aren't enough for a successful career in IT infrastructure, though.
One key reason for this is that although IT infrastructure professionals work with servers, switches, networks and devices, they work for the people who use these servers, switches, networks and devices. That's why soft skills like people management and relationship-building are equally important.
These professionals -- particularly those interested in pursuing a management career path -- must also have these three critical skills:
Analytical and critical thinking
IT infrastructure is never a problem-free space. Issues can crop up at any time, and if they affect business continuity those issues must be addressed quickly. IT professionals with analytical and critical thinking skills can analyze these problems, find root causes and identify the best way to solve them in the fastest time possible. They can also identify patterns and trends to predict potential future issues or risks and take proactive action to mitigate these before they become truly damaging.
Problem-solving and decision-making
In addition to the ability to quickly and competently address general or one-off issues or problems, IT infrastructure professionals with broader problem-solving and decision-making skills are highly valuable. This includes the ability to gather information about issues of various complexities, understanding their technical and wider business impact and anticipating the probability of recurrence. They can also create a plan to either prevent these issues from recurring or address them quickly if they do, ensuring there is minimal impact on users and the business.
As the business landscape becomes more complex, organizations require tailored IT platforms and products to maintain operations, serve customers and gain a competitive edge. Today's IT infrastructure professionals must understand their company's specific technical and business needs, and then design and deploy technologies that can best meet those needs efficiently, affordably and with minimal downtime. Business process management skills play an important role here.
Popular IT infrastructure certificates, certifications and degrees (paid and free)
Because IT infrastructure professionals are in such high demand, numerous certifications, certificate programs and degree programs are available to further their knowledge and prepare them for the rigors of a career in this field.
Current job, previous experience and future goals usually determine whether a person pursues a particular IT certification or degree program. Other considerations include time commitment required, potential cost and knowledge areas covered.
Degree programs cost more than certificate programs and certifications. They also take more (usually far more) time to complete. Some of the top degree programs in IT infrastructure cover:
- Computer networking
- Database management
- Data analytics
Certificate programs often include a series of courses, and usually cost more than certifications but less than degree programs and take longer to complete than the former but less time than the latter. Depending on the subject matter, they can be useful for both newcomers and experienced professionals by providing training in a specific knowledge area or addressing particular in-demand IT infrastructure skills.
Certifications are awarded based on a candidate's knowledge and skills in a particular area of technology, so they usually require prior professional experience. However, entry-level certifications are also available, including:
- CompTIA A+. This certification builds a solid IT infrastructure career foundation by focusing on core skills required for user support and device connectivity. It also validates the skills required to support hardware and software for the devices that connect to the internet.
- Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Provides a basic understanding of the ITIL framework and its role in streamlining IT service management.
- IT Support Professional Certificate from Google. With this course, IT support specialists learn valuable help desk skills such as troubleshooting and customer support. They also gain knowledge about network protocols, cloud computing, domain name systems, binary code and Linux systems.
- Introduction to DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering from The Linux Foundation. This introductory course is ideal for those aiming to build a career in DevOps or SRE.
- Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. This program provides assurance that holders have the required competencies to adequately perform their responsibilities.
Other certifications, many free, for entry-level IT infrastructure roles include:
- System Administration and IT Infrastructure Services from Google
- Continuous Delivery & DevOps from the University of Virginia
- Introduction to Containers w/ Docker, Kubernetes & OpenShift from IBM
- Introduction to Service Mesh with Linkerd from The Linux Foundation
Some popular IT infrastructure certification programs for experienced professionals include:
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
- Certified Ethical Hacker
Those looking for project management positions can pursue a certification in Project Management Professional (PMP) or become a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM).
Learn more about IT infrastructure certifications, certificates and degrees; explore additional project management courses and certifications.
Should you pursue a career in IT infrastructure?
Most IT infrastructure roles require specialized skills and competencies, and those professionals who work hard at attaining these skills tend to do well in their careers.
In its most recent tech salary guide, IT and digital marketing staffing agency Mondo found that IT is one of the strongest job markets, with 23 tech jobs pulling in salaries of upward of $200,000. Roles like Network Architect, cloud solution architect and information security manager are particularly lucrative, pulling in annual salaries from $140,000 to $230,000. Even roles that are lower down the totem pole, such as infrastructure analyst, attract good starting salaries.
IT infrastructure projects are becoming increasingly complex to meet evolving business-critical goals. This fact, along with the accelerated need for digital transformation and remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue to push demand for skilled and knowledgeable IT infrastructure professionals in the near future.
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