Doctors and other specialists rely on information technology professionals to keep computer systems functioning.

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Information technology, or IT,  describes any technology that powers or enables the storage, processing and information flow within an organization. Anything involved with computers, software, networks, intranets, Web sites, servers, databases and telecommunications falls under the IT umbrella.

Most modern businesses depend heavily on information systems, from employee e-mail to database management to e-commerce Web sites. Hospitals have large patient databases to maintain. Universities have sprawling networks to administer. Even a small, home-based cookie business needs an order-tracking system. The Information Technology Association of America reports that 92 percent of IT professionals work for non-IT companies [source: Career Voyages].

Four of the ten most in-demand jobs right now in the United States are IT jobs. IT is everywhere. For that reason, IT professionals are in high demand. From 2004 to 2014, it's estimated that there will be 1.3 million  job openings in the IT sector. That's a 31 percent growth in the IT job market. And the average starting salary for graduating computer science, electrical engineering and information science majors is $50,000 [source: Career Voyages].

But who are these IT professionals, and what do they do?

  • Some IT folks work behind the scenes to make sure that all the information systems we take for granted run smoothly. These are database, network and systems administrators.
  • Others help design these information systems according to an organization's needs. These are database, network and systems analysts.
  • Others help develop hardware and software to make these systems more robust, reliable and secure. These are hardware and software engineers.
  • Still others make sure that this information is presented to the user in a clear, useful, dynamic way. These are Web developers and designers.

In this HowStuffWorks article, we'll tackle the broad subject of IT by first looking at IT education -- the undergraduate, graduate and professional certification programs that train IT professionals. Then we'll look at the most popular IT job titles in detail, describing what that person does and how they do it. We'll finish with a look at salary expectations and the overall job outlook for IT careers.

Let's start with undergraduate IT programs and majors.