How to Advance Your IT Career Past the Help Desk

8 min read
How to Advance Your IT Career Past the Help Desk

Advancing in the information technology (IT) career path isn’t just about collecting accolades or mastering the nuances of the latest software. It’s about setting a trajectory that fosters consistent growth while keeping pace with the ever-evolving world of technology. However, for many in this field, there’s a familiar and often daunting feeling: being stuck.

As IT professionals gain more experience, they may seek roles that align with their skills and cater to the expanding needs of contemporary businesses. These advanced IT positions present new challenges, offering an opportunity for broader professional impact and greater self-fulfillment.

Transitioning from a foundational role, such as the help desk, to a more encompassing IT position is more than acquiring a new job title. It represents professional growth, embracing new challenges and driving change in the tech industry.

Keep reading to discover how to navigate this transition and unlock the potential paths awaiting you in the IT profession.

Site Reliability Engineer

Site reliability engineering (SRE) is a vital discipline that combines software engineering and IT operations to maintain reliable software systems.

Role and Responsibilities

The primary responsibilities of an SRE include:

  • System automation: Using software tools to automate IT infrastructure tasks
  • Application monitoring: Ensuring application reliability and performance
  • Incident response: Planning and executing responses to system failures
  • Change management: Implementing gradual changes to maintain system stability
  • Observability: Monitoring system metrics, logs and traces to anticipate and solve issues

Bridging Development and Operations

SREs enhance collaboration between development and operations teams, striking a balance between rapid change and stable service delivery.

Average Salary

Based on data from Glassdoor, the average annual salary for an SRE is approximately $151,000.

Education and Certifications

To step into the site reliability engineer role, you typically need:

  • A strong foundation in computer science or a related field
  • A bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer science or similar disciplines
  • Relevant certifications in cloud computing and automation tools
  • Practical experience with systems engineering and software development

Career Advancement

SREs can advance to senior engineering roles or specialize in areas such as cloud computing and cybersecurity, leveraging their unique blend of development and operational skills.

System Administrator

System administrators ensure that an organization’s technical systems operate efficiently and without disruptions.

Role and Responsibilities

In this role, primary responsibilities comprise:

  • Technical support: Addressing and resolving system-related issues
  • System management: Overseeing computer operating systems and ensuring their optimal performance
  • Monitoring: Keeping an eye on system activities and preemptively identifying potential issues
  • Upgrades: Keeping the systems updated with the latest software versions
  • Data management: Creating and managing data backlogs

Building on Help Desk Experience

The system administrator role expands on the experience gained at the help desk. The technical troubleshooting skills acquired as a technician become invaluable when managing larger systems.

Average Salary

Per Indeed, the average annual salary for this job title is $81,266.

Education and Certifications

To step into the system administrator role, you typically need:

  • Higher secondary education in relevant subjects such as physics and mathematics
  • A bachelor’s degree in fields such as computer science or engineering
  • Specific certifications, such as CompTIA to further prove proficiency
  • A master’s degree, which can enhance opportunities and knowledge

Career Advancement

Succeeding as a system administrator can lead to senior roles in IT. With a blend of technical knowledge and managerial skills, these administrators can venture into positions such as systems architect or IT manager.

Systems Architect

Organizations heavily rely on systems architects to develop and maintain their IT infrastructures. These professionals are essential for designing the systems that businesses use daily.

Role and Responsibilities

System architects are responsible for:

  • Design: Creating robust systems that meet organizational needs
  • Implementation: Setting up IT policies, procedures and best practices
  • Maintenance: Regularly updating and ensuring system functionality
  • User Needs Analysis: Evaluating user requirements to ensure the system is efficient and relevant

Importance of Experience and Knowledge

System architects require a combination of in-depth experience and broad knowledge. Their role is critical because an organization’s tech infrastructure depends on their decisions. Years of experience in IT is necessary to understand and cater to the evolving demands of technology.

Average Salary

Given their significant responsibilities, systems architects are compensated accordingly. As noted by ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for this position is $220,795.

Education and Certifications

Becoming a systems architect usually involves:

How to Excel in This Role

Success as a systems architect requires both technical skills and soft skills. Effective collaboration with different teams is essential to understand their requirements and offer suitable technical solutions. Being a proactive problem solver and staying updated with the latest in technology are also vital. With the right mix of skills and dedication, systems architects play a crucial role in shaping the technological foundation of organizations.

DevOps Specialist

DevOps is an innovative software development culture and practice that integrates development and operations teams to enhance software delivery and reliability.

Role and Responsibilities

Key responsibilities of a DevOps specialist include:

  • Collaboration: Bridging the gap between development and operations teams
  • Automation: Utilizing tools to automate development and deployment processes
  • Continuous integration/delivery: Implementing practices to ensure rapid and reliable software releases
  • Monitoring: Ensuring quality and performance of applications through continuous monitoring
  • Security integration: Incorporating security practices into the DevOps process (DevSecOps)

Enhancing Software Delivery and Quality

DevOps Specialists play a crucial role in speeding up software delivery while maintaining quality, enabling organizations to respond swiftly to market changes.

Average Salary

Based on industry data from Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a DevOps Specialist is $107,000.

Education and Certifications

To become a DevOps specialist, you generally need:

  • Foundational knowledge in software development and IT operations
  • A bachelor’s degree in computer science or related fields
  • Certifications in DevOps practices and tools, such as Jenkins, Docker or Kubernetes
  • Experience with continuous integration and delivery, as well as infrastructure management

Career Advancement

DevOps specialists can advance to roles such as DevOps manager or architect, focusing on strategic planning and enhancing DevOps practices across larger teams or organizations.

IT Manager

An IT Manager plays a pivotal role in companies by spearheading computer-related activities and ensuring the seamless operation of the IT department.

Role and Responsibilities

As an IT Manager, primary duties encompass:

  • Strategic evaluation: Assessing the organization’s IT needs and proposing improvements for productivity, security and efficiency.
  • Tech advisement: Suggesting upgrades to upper management, illustrating the benefits of technological investments
  • Policy formulation: Crafting and supervising IT policies, security protocols and best practices
  • Project oversight: Managing IT-related projects such as system updates, migrations and potential outages
  • Team leadership: Supervising IT professionals, assessing performance and guiding their career progression
  • Training development: Pinpointing IT training opportunities and establishing courses for employee skill enhancement

This managerial role builds on the practical and technical experiences from preceding positions. The familiarity with software and hardware, troubleshooting skills and understanding of organizational IT needs, cultivated in roles such as system administrator become vital assets.

Average Salary

The average annual salary for an IT Manager is $93,849, as per Indeed.

Education and Certifications

To ascend to an IT Manager role, the following are typically required:

  • A bachelor’s degree, primarily in information technology, computer science, management of information systems, general management or a related field, incorporating subjects such as software development and business.
  • Advanced education, as many employers prefer to hire IT Managers with a master’s degree. Pursuing a graduate program while working is a beneficial approach, granting both income and additional education.
  • Training and expertise. Prior roles leading to the IT Manager position offer the training and hands-on experience essential for the role, emphasizing practical troubleshooting and understanding of prevalent software/hardware.
  • Certifications, which can boost employability and potential salary. Here are some of the most helpful programs:

Career Progression

To thrive as an IT Manager, it’s imperative to keep up-to-date on technological advancements, foster cross-departmental communication and ensure that IT goals align with the company’s objectives. Success in this role can pave the way for higher executive positions, such as Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO), where you can influence broader organizational strategies and decisions.

Security Specialist

As businesses face increasing cybersecurity threats, the role of a security specialist becomes ever more crucial in maintaining the integrity and safety of organizational data and systems.

Role and Responsibilities

A security specialist shoulders numerous responsibilities, including:

  • Access management: Establishing user permissions on the network based on job responsibilities
  • Staff training: Educating staff on data management, storage and security best practices
  • Trend monitoring: Keeping up with data security advancements and implementing beneficial trends
  • Knowledge maintenance: Staying updated on industry standards, best practices and pertinent legislation
  • Reporting: Crafting and presenting reports to higher management and colleagues
  • Security oversight: Designing and supervising security systems across networks, applications and databases
  • Vulnerability management: Setting security standards, monitoring systems for potential threats, conducting regular audits and mitigating risks
  • User support: Assisting users, identifying and reporting security breaches and exploring security enhancement options

In-depth experience and knowledge are pivotal for a security specialist. The ever-evolving nature of cyber threats demands a comprehensive understanding of the cybersecurity landscape. Only through extensive experience can an expert predict, identify and mitigate potential security threats effectively.

Average Salary

The typical annual salary for a security specialist is $111,008, according to Indeed.

Requirements for Education and Certifications

To pursue a career as a security specialist, you’ll typically need:

  • A bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer information systems or a related domain
  • 4-6 years of experience in IT roles such as IT specialist, systems administrator or network technician
  • Soft skills such as analytical thinking, attention to detail and problem-solving abilities
  • Training. Transitioning to this role may involve 6-12 months of job-specific training.
  • Certifications, such as the Security 5 Certification, which enhance employability and potentially increase earnings
  • A master’s degree. While the majority (55.8%) of security experts hold a bachelor’s degree and 13.8% have a master’s, some enter the field with only a high school diploma.

Excelling in the Role

To thrive as a security specialist, continuous learning and adaptability are key. Staying updated on the latest threats, engaging in regular training and being an active member of the cybersecurity community will keep experts at the forefront of their field. Additionally, fostering strong communication skills ensures effective collaboration with other departments and the ability to convey complex security concepts to non-experts.

9 Steps to Advance in Your IT Career

As the IT landscape continually evolves, professionals must proactively navigate their career paths to stay relevant and achieve their ambitions. Here’s a comprehensive roadmap to guide your progression in the IT sector:

1. Excel in Your Current Role

Before seeking advancement, ensure you are performing at your best in your present position. A solid foundation in your current role not only builds necessary skills but also garners respect and recognition, laying the groundwork for future opportunities.

2. Pursue Relevant Certifications

Certifications are a testament to your expertise in specific IT areas. Depending on your career goals, certifications such as CompTIA A+, Cisco CCNA or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) can enhance your credibility and open doors to advanced positions.

3. Embrace Hands-On Experience

Real-world experience is invaluable. The challenges faced in practical scenarios sharpen your problem-solving skills, enrich your understanding of systems and strengthen your adaptability to changing tech environments.

4. Network Actively

Forge relationships with fellow IT professionals. Attend conferences, join IT-focused groups and participate in online forums. These connections can provide insights, advice and potential job referrals.

5. Stay Current and Diversify Your Skillset

Continuously update your knowledge on the latest IT trends and tools. Additionally, acquire skills outside the direct IT realm, such as public speaking, project management or leadership. Honing a diverse skill set distinguishes you in the crowded IT field.

6. Contemplate an Advanced Degree

Investing in further education, such as the master’s in Information Technology Leadership at the University of San Diego, can offer deeper insights into complex IT concepts and managerial aspects. This not only elevates your expertise but also potentially boosts your earning potential.

7. Engage in Mentorship and Seek Feedback

Identify a mentor who has trod the path you aspire to follow. Their guidance can be instrumental in avoiding pitfalls and maximizing opportunities. Regularly solicit feedback on your performance, as it offers perspectives on areas of improvement.

8. Hone Soft Skills

Technical prowess is essential, but soft skills such as communication, teamwork and emotional intelligence are equally vital. They facilitate effective collaboration, leadership and the successful translation of technical jargon into layman’s terms.

9. Strategically Map Out Your Career

Periodically evaluate your career trajectory. Determine short-term and long-term goals, identify gaps in your skills or experience and actively seek roles or projects that bridge these gaps. Planning provides clarity, focus and a sense of purpose in your IT journey.

Moving Forward in IT

Your IT journey is uniquely yours, but remember, every expert was once a beginner. And every CIO or CTO started somewhere, often in the very roles we’ve discussed. Harness your passion, embrace the challenge and know that every step taken is a stride closer to your dream IT position.

For those looking to further their careers, consider the Master of Science in Information Technology Leadership at USD. This 100% online program provides advanced knowledge and equips students with the critical soft and technical skills that industry leaders value.

Understanding the path is just the start. To truly thrive, you’ll need guidance, resources and the drive to keep learning. To aid you on this journey, our eBook, Choosing an Online Master’s Degree, is an invaluable tool. Packed with insights and tips, it’s tailored to help ambitious IT professionals make educated decisions about their next academic step.


Are You Asking the Right Questions for Your IT Career? 

Finding the right master’s program in IT Leadership can be the key to your future success. Use our free eBook as a guide to ask the most important questions that will advance your career.

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