Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
What is IT Engineering?
IT engineering or Information Technology engineering is a broad definition that can apply to software engineering, hardware engineering, integration of hardware and software or validation and verification of hardware and software components.
An IT engineer is equally responsible for hardware and software as well as their integration validation and testing.
IT Engineering Certifications
IT engineering certifications range from vendor specific certifications such as those offered by Citrix Systems and Cisco to the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification. Electronics engineering and computer science degrees may be offered by junior colleges and trade schools, while electrical engineering and systems engineering require at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering from a four year school. Computer science covers the software portion of IT engineering.
Electrical engineering or systems engineering lays the groundwork required to work in IT hardware engineering, though a degree in electronics or software architecture may be enough. IT security is its own specialty within IT engineering.
Managing IT Engineering Projects
Information Technology and engineering rely on the same tools and skill-sets when infrastructure is being installed. The same principles of project management apply to engineering firms building pipelines and IT firms installing servers, routers and cables. IT engineering projects tend to require more support due to the rapid obsolescence of both hardware and software compared to traditional engineering projects such as roads, building maintenance, production line support and water works.
IT engineering project leads must cope with more complexity than other engineering disciplines. Every piece of hardware is made more complex by the number of connectors and software drivers it could have. A group of computers may have the same hardware and Operating System, but troubleshooting is more difficult due to the differences in installed software applications.
Troubleshooting takes longer when each machine may have a different set of information security patches, supporting software versions like Adobe or Java and user customizations. IT support can be likened to maintenance staff supporting and repairing engineering infrastructure. However, IT engineering projects also generate constant, periodic expenses like software licensing fees that are generally not required in infrastructure projects unless you are leasing equipment instead of purchasing it outright.
IT engineering projects require more testing, verification and validation than an equivalent engineering project. An industrial engineer designing a production line will know the incoming material feed rate or can set it to an ideal rate. Each piece of equipment comes with its own specification document that details how it will interface with other, compatible equipment.
The evolution of software creates headaches for IT engineering groups because many major software vendors only test their products with other, commonly used software applications and hardware. A Java update is tested with the most common internet browsers, but it may wreak havoc with niche software applications. Oracle versions are tested with major related software applications like web servers, but it may not have been tested at all with old web server versions or free-ware software. Software updates for standard software packages like Java, Oracle and Apache are not tested by the software vendors with home-grown software applications; this work must be done by the IT engineering department of each firm.
IT engineering project models must deal with variable demand from user needs, automatic software updates and possible spikes from Denial of Service attacks. Quality of service is also higher for many IT engineering groups than it is for engineering firms, since data is the lifeblood of many organizations. If an email server goes down, many businesses start to suffer immediately and may come to a standstill within a few days. When engineers and quality control staff cannot access a drawing database, production could come to a halt even if the production line is still running.
IT Engineering Standards
IT engineering standards are set by the International Standards Organization (ISO), IEEE and the IEC. IEEE standards like IEEE 802.11 for WLAN communications lay the foundation for modern IT networks.
ISO/IEC standard 14772-2 on the virtual reality modeling language is an example of a standard proposed by the IEC and then adopted by the ISO.
The ISO 9000 family of quality standards can apply to IT hardware and server up-time, although they are harder to apply to software. IEEE software standards apply to any software application or operating system managed by IT engineering leads.