Non-techies want things nice and simple. Just let me show up for work and make sure my computer, phones and gadgets work properly. Is that so hard? Actually, a lot goes into a properly run IT department. Understanding what these unsung heroes do for us behind the scenes might help us appreciate them a little more when the Wi-Fi actually works and your email Inbox is functional each morning.
IT Departments Manage Hardware
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IT personnel manages virtually everything in the office that plugs into the wall. This includes all the PCs, the LAN that connects you to the network and the network to the Internet. In most offices, this includes the telephone system, too.
Selecting and Purchasing Hardware
IT makes critical decisions about what hardware best serves the company's needs, when that hardware needs upgrading and chooses cost-effective systems that will serve the company's needs into the future. As quickly as technology changes these days, that's a huge undertaking. It not only requires a great deal of knowledge about what's available today, but the foresight to know what will remain useful in the future.
Installing Hardware After Hours
After equipment purchases, all that hardware has to be installed, and this work can't normally be done during regular business hours. Most companies couldn't afford the downtime - which means the IT guys are stuck doing this work overnight and during the weekends.
IT Departments Manage Software
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If hardware is our tools, software is the power that runs the tools. The computers, modems, and phones don't do anything unless they're properly programmed and maintained. This work also falls to the IT department. It entails everything from the designing the system to writing the code to installing and maintaining the software. Even if the company chooses to buy software "off the shelf," a lot of work goes into installing these systems, setting the system up for the employees and keeping that software working properly.
Testing and Debugging New Software
After software is installed, a thorough testing process assures all the bugs are worked out. Like hardware installation, software installations usually take place after hours so the workflow isn't disrupted. The IT department must make sure the software is working on every computer and is tested under every conceivable circumstance that it might face during operations. This is a time-consuming and tedious process.
Updating and Patching Software
Software also needs to be regularly updated. Updates might be small patches to fix a bug in the system or large upgrades that are almost as difficult as installing new software from scratch. Each of these upgrades calls for a new round of testing and debugging. Often, training employees on their new software packages also falls to the IT staff.
IT Departments Protect Machines from Intruders
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Those outside the field of technology can easily underestimate the extent of danger from hackers, malware, viruses and other potentially devastating attacks a server has to withstand. Experts estimate that an unprotected server would last about 45 minutes on the Internet before being pillaged. IT departments must manage all the company's firewalls, keep passwords secure and up-to-date, update antivirus protection and perform many other tasks associated with keeping the company's information secure.
Keeping Corporate and Consumer Information Secure
Organizations that keep consumer data, such as social security numbers, drivers' license numbers and other private information that might be targeted by identity thieves have their hands full keeping customers' information safe as well as protecting the company's internal information.
Protecting Highly Sensitive Consumer Data
Hospitals, insurance companies and organizations that possess sensitive information on people's health have even stricter security measures. In fact, federal law prohibits these organizations from storing this type of information off site. So the on-site IT team takes full responsibility for keeping that information backed up regularly and safeguarding it from the wrong hands.
Types of IT Professionals
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A common mistake for those outside of the technology industry is to assume that all "tech types" do much the same thing. Just like in banking, law, medicine and other professions, IT professionals fall under one of several categories of specialization. Jobs in the IT field range in scope from help desk techs to upper level management.
Here are some of the many jobs that are covered under the broad umbrella of IT. However, many IT professionals (especially in smaller companies) wear two, three or even more of these hats.
Tech support is manned by professionals that are familiar with the company's software and common problems encountered during its use. This function may fall to your company's help desk. Tech support helps users with their daily hardware and software issues, troubleshoots problems in the system, and sometimes is called upon to fix bugs.
A programmer uses a computer language (such as C++, Java, ACTOR, etc.) to write software that allows users to perform their jobs. Many companies hire a staff of programmers while others outsource this work to a firm or purchase "off the shelf" software developed by a company who specializes in software solutions. Everything your computer does, from checking email to surfing the Internet or doing the functions of your job - must all be programmed.
Before a programmer even begins to write software to perform a task, the system must be designed. Software developers lay out the blueprint for programs while programmers take this blueprint and use it to build a fully functioning system. In other words, developers are like the architect and programmers are like the construction workers.
If your company has a website, a web developer (or a team of developers) built the site and keeps it maintained. Web developers work closely with designers to build an attractive page that - hopefully - functions well and is intuitive for users. This is equally true whether the website is a storefront for customers or an internal site for employees.
These professionals handle the task of installing software on the computers and keeping it running. This includes network access to the Internet as well as all intranet communications, such as your instant messaging community.
This isn't an exhaustive list of IT jobs, and these positions are sometimes called by different titles in different working environments. In many companies, these jobs overlap. Nonetheless, at least you now have a working knowledge of what it takes to be an underestimated, sometimes underrated and often unappreciated IT professional.