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Career Information: Computers & Technology

All organizations today rely on computer and information technology to conduct business and operate more efficiently. Often, however, these institutions do not have the internal resources to effectively implement new technologies or satisfy their changing needs. When faced with such limitations, organizations turn to the computer systems design and related services industry to meet their specialized needs.

 

SIGNIFICANT POINTS:

  • The computer systems design and related services industry is expected to experience rapid growth, adding 489,000 jobs between 2006 and 2016.
  • Professional and related workers will enjoy the best job prospects, reflecting continuing demand for higher level skills needed to keep up with changes in technology.
  • Computer specialists accounted for 54 percent of all employees in this industry in 2006.

OCCUPATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY:

Providing a wide array of information services to clients requires a diverse and well-educated workforce. The majority of workers in the computer systems design and related services industry are professional and related workers—overwhelmingly computer specialists such as computer systems analysts, computer software engineers, and computer programmers. This occupational group accounts for about 62 percent of the jobs in the industry, reflecting the emphasis on high-level technical skills and creativity. By 2016, the share of professional and related occupations is expected to be even greater, while the share of office and administrative support occupations, currently accounting for 13 percent of industry employment, is expected to fall.

Professional and Related Occupations: Computer specialists make up the vast majority of professional and related occupations, and account for more than 54 percent of the industry as a whole. Their duties vary by occupation, and include such tasks as developing computer software, designing information systems, and maintaining network security.

PROGRAMMERS write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions, called programs or software, that computers must follow to perform their functions. These specialized programs tell the computer what to do—for example, which information to identify and access, how to process it, and what equipment to use. Custom programmers write these commands by breaking down each step into a logical series, converting specifications into a language that the computer understands. While some still work with traditional programming languages, such as COBOL, most programmers today use more sophisticated tools. Object-oriented programming languages, such as C++ and Java, computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools, and artificial intelligence shells are widely used to create and maintain programs, because they allow portions of code to be reused in programs that require similar routines. Many programmers also customize a package to clients’ specific needs or create better packages.

COMPUTER ENGINEERS design, develop, test, and evaluate computer software programs, systems, and hardware and related equipment. Although programmers write and support programs in new languages, much of the design and development now is the responsibility of SOFTWARE ENGINEERS or SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS. Software engineers in the systems design and related services industry must possess strong programming skills but are more concerned with developing algorithms, and analyzing and solving programming problems for specific network systems than with actually writing code. COMPUTER SYSTEMS SOFTWARE ENGINEERS primarily write, modify, test, and develop software to meet the needs of a particular customer. They develop software systems for control and automation in manufacturing, business, and other areas.

COMPUTER AND INFORMATION SCIENTISTS work as theorists, researchers, or inventors. They apply a higher level of theoretical expertise and innovation and develop solutions to complex problems relating to computer hardware and software. Computer and information scientists with advanced backgrounds in security may be employed as cyberspace security specialists in disaster recovery situations or in custom security software installation.

SYSTEMS ANALYSTS integrate hardware and software to make computer systems more efficient. By implementing new software applications, or even designing entirely new systems, they help organizations maximize their investments in machines, personnel, and business processes. To perform their jobs they use data modeling, structured analysis, information engineering, and other methods. They prepare charts for programmers to follow for proper coding and perform cost-benefit analyses to help management evaluate systems. They also ensure that systems perform to their specifications by testing them thoroughly.

NETWORK AND DATA COMMUNICATIONS ANALYSTS design and evaluate network systems, such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet systems. They perform network modeling, analysis, and planning, and may deal with the interfacing of computer and communications equipment. With the explosive growth of the Internet, this worker group has come to include a variety of occupations related to design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. WEB DEVELOPERS are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation. WEBMASTERS are responsible for the technical aspects of the Web site, including performance issues, and for approving site content.

NETWORK or COMPUTER SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATORS install, configure, and support an organization’s LAN, WAN, network segment, or Internet functions. They maintain network hardware and software, analyze problems, and monitor the network to ensure availability to system users. Administrators also may plan, coordinate, and implement network security measures.

DATABASE ADMINISTRATORS determine ways to organize and store data. They set up computer databases and test and coordinate changes to them. Because they also may be responsible for the design and implementation of system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security measures. In some organizations, COMPUTER SECURITY SPECIALISTS are responsible for the organization’s information security.

COMPUTER SUPPORT SPECIALISTS provide technical assistance, support, and advice to customers and users. This group of occupations includes workers with a variety of titles, such as TECHNICAL SUPPORT SPECIALISTS and HELP-DESK TECHNICIANS. These troubleshooters interpret problems and provide technical support for hardware, software, and systems. They answer telephone calls, analyze problems using automated diagnostic programs, and resolve recurrent difficulties encountered by users. Support specialists may work within a company or other organization that uses computers and computer systems, or directly for a computer hardware or software vendor.

Management, Business and Financial Occupations: COMPUTER AND INFORMATION SYSTEMS MANAGERS direct the work of systems analysts, computer programmers, and other computer-related workers. They analyze the computer and information needs of their organization and determine personnel and equipment requirements. These managers plan and coordinate activities such as the installation and upgrading of hardware and software; programming and systems design; the development of computer networks; and the construction of Internet and intranet sites.

 

Sales and Related Occupations: Due in part to the robust growth in e-commerce, a growing number of workers in this industry are employed in sales and related occupations. In order to compete successfully in the online world, firms employ marketing and sales workers to improve the presentation and features of Web sites and other Web-related content. These workers are vital for the successful promotion and sales of the products and services offered by the industry.

EARNINGS:

Workers in the computer systems design and related services industry generally command higher earnings than the national average. All production or nonsupervisory workers in the industry averaged $1,265 a week in 2006, significantly higher than the average of $568 for all industries. This reflects the concentration of professionals and specialists, who often are highly compensated for their specialized skills or expertise. Given the pace at which technology advances in this industry, earnings can be driven by demand for specific skills or experience. Workers in segments of the industry that offer only professional services have even higher average earnings because they employ fewer low-skilled, lower paid workers. Earnings in selected occupations in computer systems design and related services appear below:

Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in computer systems design and related services, May 2006

OccupationComputer systems design and related servicesAll industries

General and operations managers

$59.39 $40.97

Computer and information systems managers

52.47 48.84

Computer software engineers, systems software

40.70 41.04

Computer software engineers, applications

37.91 38.36

Computer systems analysts

34.46 33.54

Computer programmers

32.64 31.50

Network systems and data communications analysts

32.25 31.06

Network and computer systems administrators

32.06 29.87

Computer support specialists

20.44 19.94

Customer service representatives

14.41 13.62

As one might expect, education and experience influence earnings as well. For example, in May 2006, hourly earnings of computer software engineers, applications ranged from less than $2250 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $58.59 for the highest paid 10 percent. Managers usually earn more because they have been on the job longer and are more experienced than their staffs, but their salaries, too, can vary by level and experience. Accordingly, hourly earnings of computer and information systems managers in May 2006, ranged from less than $31.36 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $70.00 for the highest paid 10 percent. Earnings also are affected by other factors, such as the size, location, and type of establishment, hours and responsibilities of the employee, and level of sales.

Benefits and Union Membership: Workers generally receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and pension plans. Unionization is rare in the computer systems design and related services industry. In 2006, only 1 percent of all workers were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with 13 percent of workers throughout private industry.

 

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook Online: http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs033.htm

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