Learn About Being a Navy Information Systems Technician
Education, Military Requirements, and Career Outlook
Information Systems Technicians (ITs) go to sea and shore assignments where they take on a variety of roles maintaining the Navy’s computer and networking assets. Often there’s the classic helpdesk work (“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”) in support of local area networks, software, and hardware (mostly Windows-based platforms) but that’s not all.
Reflecting their roots in the now-defunct Radioman and Data Processing Technician ratings, ITs also deal with data transmission systems including “fiber optics, digital microwave, and tactical and commercial satellites” (Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards.) They also manage cryptologic communication equipment (machines that perform the digital age equivalent of translating secret code) and transmit secure messages between naval commands.
ITs begin their careers with basic training at Great Lakes Illinois, like all other sailors. Technical education commences in Pensacola Florida at Corry Station, home of the Navy’s Center for Information Dominance (which wins the prize for making IT sound like a department aboard the Death Star.)
According to the Navy’s recruiting website, the 22-week course covers everything “from technical preparation in database design to computer networking to working closely with operating communications systems.” Because Navy ITs deal with networks across the globe -- in offices, aboard ships, and on battlefields -- training also includes work with radio frequencies and satellite communications.
Certifications are the key to a career in computer fields. That guy that used to program characters to race across the screen on his Commodore 64 may have been a whiz in his time, but if he hasn’t stayed up to date, he’s worthless in today’s IT environment. Likewise, a Navy IT career will falter quickly if you don’t keep your skills fresh. Luckily, there’s a plethora of Navy-funded credentials and certificates for ITs on Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL), including:
- CompTIA A+, Linux+, and Server+
- Certified Information Security Manager
- Security Certified Network Specialist, Professional, and Architect
- ETA Fiber Optics Installer and Technician
- Nine different Microsoft certifications
Even if you just want to do your time and move on to IT on the civilian side, remember that leaving the service without taking advantage of the Navy’s Credential Program means you’ll end up: (a) digging around in couch cushions to pay for those credentials yourself, or (b) waiting for job offers beside a phone that never rings. Consider how certifications establish professional credibility on this sample resume for help desk positions.
To become IT technicians, recruits must have a high school diploma and no hearing or speech impediments. Taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, focus on the General Science, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge (MK) portions, which must total 222 (with the MK score doubled.) The Electronics Information section can also count toward the required score -- removing the double emphasis on Mathematics -- which is handy if you’ve taken any courses in basic electronics.
Since network security involves sensitive information by nature, it should come as no surprise that a job handling networks for the world’s most powerful navy require a security clearance. You must be eligible for at least a Secret clearance, but since the Navy merged IT with Cryptologic Communication Technicians, more positions that require Top Secret clearance have opened in the fleet. A higher level of clearance just “open[s] many more opportunities,” according to the Navy Personnel Command’s IT professionals.
The Information Systems Technician field, unlike some other ratings that branch and converge, has its own career path straight to E-9 -- Master Chief Information Systems Technician. As career sailors progress above E-6, they take on increasingly supervisory and administrative roles, involving the review and filing of reports and the oversight of communication security.
IT detailers (the sailors who decide where all ITs in the Navy are assigned) recommend that beyond normal duties, ITs get warfare qualifications whenever possible to make them more competitive with their peers. Think that working in IT means you’ll stay in an air-conditioned server room, far away from the ocean? Detailers also emphasize that ITs must do their fair share of sea duty -– alternating between three years onshore and three to four years on a ship. Good news is, you’ll see the world.
With a well-rounded career and the right Navy-funded certifications, IT sailors can also get a big head start on lucrative post-military careers. For a list of civilian job suggestions, check out the Navy COOL site, or the Military Skills Translator.