Career Paths in MIS
Application Developer | Systems Programmer | Computer Support Staff
Network Administrator | Data Administrator/Database Administrator | Web Developer
The Application Developer (A.K.A. Business Analyst)
The Applications Programmer/Analyst is the most likely place most computer science/IS majors will begin their career. There are more business analysts in IS shops than any other position. This person is responsible for identifying the requirements of business professionals and encoding them into automated systems. The daily activities of an application developer may include holding requirement-gathering sessions with the end user and creating system specifications for application coding. It may involve writing 3rd and or 4th generation languages to meet the system specifications or it may involve diagnosing what happened last night in a processing cycle that did not complete successfully or that completed with unexpected results. This position requires someone who has good listening skills and can convert complex business rules and formulas into structured programming language statements. This position requires someone with exceptional interpersonal skills as they are called upon to interface with others within the IS organization as well as other areas of the business.
The systems programmer is responsible for the operating system environment that the application systems execute and are developed on. The daily activities of a systems programmer include maintaining the operating system on many different platforms, planning for upgrades to existing software platforms and identifying emerging hardware and software products that influence the development environment. The systems programmer typically tries to minimize the amount of code he/she has to develop. By using software packages like IBM's SMPE to manage several thousand components that make-up an operating system, the systems programmer is continually checking on software pre-requisites and co-requisites to ensure seamless compatibility among the many components of an operating environment. This position requires someone with exceptional organization skills, someone with the ability to organize extremely well, and someone who has the aptitude to evaluate individual needs while keeping in mind the whole picture. Systems programmers usually work with other members of the IS organization.
Computer Support Staff (Operator, Help Desk, Systems Administrator)
The computer support person is responsible for keeping everything running. This includes everything from mounting tapes, to monitoring screens for exception alerts and ensuring that the printers have a continuous supply of paper. It also includes manning the help desk, which receives questions ranging from connectivity problems, authorization failures, and "user" errors. This is a highly specialized area of IS in the sense that Master Terminal Operators responsible for on-line availability have completely different sets of skills that must be mastered than the operators that monitor and are responsible for batch cycle jobs running to completion. This position may require shift work, and can become monotonous but never dull. There are a tremendous number of activities that must be performed to maintain a data center and the computer support staff must be proficient in many of them regardless of their primary area of responsibility. These positions require someone that is flexible and tireless. They must be able to take direction well and be able to analyze many different situations that arise. Computer support personnel often feel that they "don't get no respect" because without them the data center would not function, but they aren't recognized as being very technical. Computer support folks usually interface with other members of the IS organization about processing problems and are called upon to answer the business user's questions about the results of application processing.
The network administrator is becoming very important as companies move into client server processing. The multiple platforms now available, the move toward open systems and the many different protocol choices make the network administrator's job very similar to the systems programmer's job. The network administrator is responsible for monitoring through put across the organization's communication lines. The daily activities of a network administrator may involve running a diagnostic program on a communication line to determine performance bottlenecks or it may involve installing a new operating system on a LAN operating machine. The network administrator frequently answers questions about network traffic to end-users as well as IS staff. Understanding the basics of the seven layers of the Open Systems Initiative (OSI) protocol stack is essential to the network administrator. Knowing the details of how the hardware and software that implements each layer operates is where the network administrator gets his leverage. The network administrator is involved in the planning of the IS architecture to support the business. By calculating BAUD rate estimates, the network administrator attempts to avoid performance bottlenecks. This position requires someone that is analytical but more importantly, has the ability to remember large amounts of detailed information.
Data Administrator, Data Base Administrator
The data administration (DA) staff is involved in the establishment and enforcement of development standards. The data base administrator (DBA) is responsible for the performance of the data resource within an organization The DA also is involved in the logical modeling of the data and process requirements of most application development. Performance and tuning is done at a very physical level for the DBA. Data administrators and DBAs are usually CASE tool experts that are involved in the analysis and design phases of applications. Daily activities include system walk-thru's with business analysts, participation in business user interviews along with business analysts to help capture information needs, and modeling activities including encyclopedia/repository reconciliation. These positions require someone who can think in very abstract terms and maintain a consistent level of abstraction. These positions are perhaps the most technically challenging positions in the organization. Good communication skills are required, as are good negotiation skills. Frequently the administrator must convince the application development staff to adopt a course of action that involves additional overhead for their project because it is good for the overall development environment. Data administrators are responsible for maintaining strategic objectives for the IS organization more so than most other positions whose focus is frequently tactically focused. Data Base administrators are responsible for the daily operational and tactical objectives for the IS organization.
The Internet developer, a.k.a. Web developer, is arguably the most visible position in the IS organization today. The WEB developer is concerned with access to company data from very diverse and uncontrolled sources. In addition to evaluating the development requirements that every business analyst receives, the WEB developer must focus on the presentation of the data to ensure it's consistency with the Internet standards as well as the standards defined by his organizations home page. The WEB developer must have a working knowledge of the firewall procedures put in place to protect corporate data and system resources from outside corruption. A balance must be maintained between sharing information with the target population, whether that is internal Intranet users or external Internet users, and protecting sensitive corporate assets. This position requires someone with good visual development skills and the ability to remain flexible in an increasingly dynamic environment. This position also requires someone that can maintain a technical edge while developing applications that meet the stated business need for globalization of the corporate data asset. An individual that has a good history of business applications analysis would be a good candidate if they also possessed the visual development skills mentioned earlier. A unique challenge to the WEB developer is trying to meet the needs and expectations of the general public around the world. Normally, application development staffs strive to meet the expectations of their corporate sponsors and this requirement is no less for the WEB developer. But in addition, the WEB developer is in competition in a global marketplace.