The rapid spread of computers and information technology has generated a need for highly trained workers to design and develop new hardware and software systems and to incorporate new technologies. These workerscomputer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientistsinclude a wide range of computer specialists. Job tasks and occupational titles used to describe these workers evolve rapidly, reflecting new areas of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the preferences and practices of employers.
Systems analysts solve computer problems and apply computer technology to meet the individual needs of an organization. They help an organization to realize the maximum benefit from its investment in equipment, personnel, and business processes. Systems analysts may plan and develop new computer systems or devise ways to apply existing systems’ resources to additional operations. They may design new systems, including both hardware and software, or add a new software application to harness more of the computer’s power. Most systems analysts work with specific types of systemsfor example, business, accounting, or financial systems, or scientific and engineering systemsthat vary with the kind of organization. Some systems analysts also are known as systems developers or systems architects.
Systems analysts begin an assignment by discussing the systems problem with managers and users to determine its exact nature. Defining the goals of the system and dividing the solutions into individual steps and separate procedures, systems analysts use techniques such as structured analysis, data modeling, information engineering, mathematical model building, sampling, and cost accounting to plan the system. They specify the inputs to be accessed by the system, design the processing steps, and format the output to meet users’ needs. They also may prepare cost-benefit and return-on-investment analyses to help management decide whether implementing the proposed technology will be financially feasible.
When a system is accepted, systems analysts determine what computer hardware and software will be needed to set the system up. They coordinate tests and observe the initial use of the system to ensure that it performs as planned. They prepare specifications, flow charts, and process diagrams for computer programmers to follow; then, they work with programmers to “debug,” or eliminate, errors from the system. Systems analysts who do more indepth testing of products may be referred to as software quality assurance analysts. In addition to running tests, these individuals diagnose problems, recommend solutions, and determine whether program requirements have been met.
In some organizations, programmer-analysts design and update the software that runs a computer. Because they are responsible for both programming and systems analysis, these workers must be proficient in both areas. (A separate statement on computer programmers appears elsewhere in the Handbook.) As this dual proficiency becomes more commonplace, these analysts increasingly work with databases, object-oriented programming languages, as well as client–server applications development and multimedia and Internet technology.
One obstacle associated with expanding computer use is the need for different computer systems to communicate with each other. Because of the importance of maintaining up-to-date informationaccounting records, sales figures, or budget projections, for examplesystems analysts work on making the computer systems within an organization, or among organizations, compatible so that information can be shared among them. Many systems analysts are involved with “networking,” connecting all the computers internallyin an individual office, department, or establishmentor externally, because many organizations now rely on e-mail or the Internet. A primary goal of networking is to allow users to retrieve data from a mainframe computer or a server and use it on their desktop computer. Systems analysts must design the hardware and software to allow the free exchange of data, custom applications, and the computer power to process it all. For example, analysts are called upon to ensure the compatibility of computing systems between and among businesses to facilitate electronic commerce.
Networks come in many variations, so network systems and data communications analysts are needed to design, test, and evaluate systems such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), the Internet, intranets, and other data communications systems. Systems can range from a connection between two offices in the same building to globally distributed networks, voice mail, and e-mail systems of a multinational organization. Network systems and data communications analysts perform network modeling, analysis, and planning; they also may research related products and make necessary hardware and software recommendations. Telecommunications specialists focus on the interaction between computer and communications equipment. These workers design voice and data communication systems, supervise the installation of those systems, and provide maintenance and other services to clients after the system is installed.
The growth of the Internet and the expansion of the World Wide Web (the graphical portion of the Internet) have generated a variety of occupations related to the design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. For example, webmasters are responsible for all technical aspects of a Web site, including performance issues such as speed of access, and for approving the content of the site. Internet developers or Web developers, also called Web designers, are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation.
Computer scientists work as theorists, researchers, or inventors. Their jobs are distinguished by the higher level of theoretical expertise and innovation they apply to complex problems and the creation or application of new technology. Those employed by academic institutions work in areas ranging from complexity theory, to hardware, to programming-language design. Some work on multidisciplinary projects, such as developing and advancing uses of virtual reality, extending human-computer interaction, or designing robots. Their counterparts in private industry work in areas such as applying theory, developing specialized languages or information technologies, or designing programming tools, knowledge-based systems, or even computer games.
With the Internet and electronic business generating large volumes of data, there is a growing need to be able to store, manage, and extract data effectively. Database administrators work with database management systems software and determine ways to organize and store data. They identify user requirements, set up computer databases, and test and coordinate modifications to the systems. An organization’s database administrator ensures the performance of the system, understands the platform on which the database runs, and adds new users to the system. Because they also may design and implement system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security measures. With the volume of sensitive data generated every second growing rapidly, data integrity, backup systems, and database security have become increasingly important aspects of the job of database administrators.
Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists normally work in offices or laboratories in comfortable surroundings. They usually work about 40 hours a weekthe same as many other professional or office workers do. However, evening or weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines or solve specific problems. Given the technology available today, telecommuting is common for computer professionals. As networks expand, more work can be done from remote locations through modems, laptops, electronic mail, and the Internet.
Like other workers who spend long periods in front of a computer terminal typing on a keyboard, computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or cumulative trauma disorder.
Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists held about 979,000 jobs in 2002; including about 89,000 who were self-employed. Employment was distributed among the following detailed occupations:
Computer systems analysts
Network systems and data communications analysts
Computer and information scientists, research
All other computer specialists
Although they are increasingly employed in every sector of the economy, the greatest concentration of these workers is in the computer systems design and related services industry. Firms in this industry provide services related to the commercial use of computers on a contract basis, including custom computer programming services; computer systems integration design services; computer facilities management services, including computer systems or data-processing facilities support services for clients; and other computer-related services, such as disaster recovery services and software installation. Many computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists are employed by Internet service providers, web search portals, and data-processing, hosting, and related services firms. Others work for government, manufacturers of computer and electronic products, insurance companies, financial institutions, and universities.
A growing number of computer specialists, such as systems analysts and network and data communications analysts, are employed on a temporary or contract basis; many of these individuals are self-employed, working independently as contractors or consultants. For example, a company installing a new computer system may need the services of several systems analysts just to get the system running. Because not all of the analysts would be needed once the system is functioning, the company might contract for such employees with a temporary help agency or a consulting firm or with the systems analysts themselves. Such jobs may last from several months up to 2 years or more. This growing practice enables companies to bring in people with the exact skills the firm needs to complete a particular project, rather than having to spend time or money training or retraining existing workers. Often, experienced consultants then train a company’s in-house staff as a project develops.
Rapidly changing technology requires an increasing level of skill and education on the part of employees. Companies look for professionals with an ever-broader background and range of skills, including not only technical knowledge, but also communication and other interpersonal skills. This shift from requiring workers to possess solely sound technical knowledge emphasizes workers who can handle various responsibilities. While there is no universally accepted way to prepare for a job as a systems analyst, computer scientist, or database administrator, most employers place a premium on some formal college education. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for many jobs; however, some jobs may require only a 2-year degree. Relevant work experience also is very important. For more technically complex jobs, persons with graduate degrees are preferred.
For systems analyst, programmer-analyst, and database administrator positions, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems (MIS). MIS programs usually are part of the business school or college and differ considerably from computer science programs, emphasizing business and management-oriented course work and business computing courses. Employers are increasingly seeking individuals with a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), with a concentration in information systems, as more firms move their business to the Internet. For some network systems and data communication analysts, such as webmasters, an associate’s degree or certificate is sufficient, although more advanced positions might require a computer-related bachelor’s degree. For computer and information scientists, a doctoral degree generally is required due to the highly technical nature of their work.
Despite employers’ preference for those with technical degrees, persons with degrees in a variety of majors find employment in these computer occupations. The level of education and type of training that employers require depend on their needs. One factor affecting these needs is changes in technology. Employers often scramble to find workers capable of implementing “hot” new technologies. Those workers with formal education or experience in information security, for example, are in demand because of the growing need for their skills and services. Another factor driving employers’ needs is the timeframe during which a project must be completed.
Most community colleges and many independent technical institutes and proprietary schools offer an associate’s degree in computer science or a related information technology field. Many of these programs may be more geared toward meeting the needs of local businesses and are more occupation specific than are 4-year degree programs. Some jobs may be better suited to the level of training that such programs offer. Employers usually look for people who have broad knowledge and experience related to computer systems and technologies, strong problem-solving and analytical skills, and good interpersonal skills. Courses in computer science or systems design offer good preparation for a job in these computer occupations. For jobs in a business environment, employers usually want systems analysts to have business management or closely related skills, while a background in the physical sciences, applied mathematics, or engineering is preferred for work in scientifically oriented organizations. Art or graphic design skills may be desirable for webmasters or Web developers.
Jobseekers can enhance their employment opportunities by participating in internship or co-op programs offered through their schools. Because many people develop advanced computer skills in a non-computer-related occupation and then transfer those skills to a computer occupation, a background in the industry in which the person’s job is located, such as financial services, banking, or accounting, can be important. Others have taken computer science courses to supplement their study in fields such as accounting, inventory control, or other business areas. For example, a financial analyst who is proficient in computers might become a computer support specialist in financial systems development, while a computer programmer might move into a systems analyst job.
Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists must be able to think logically and have good communication skills. Because they often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously, the ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail is important. Although these computer specialists sometimes work independently, they frequently work in teams on large projects. They must be able to communicate effectively with computer personnel, such as programmers and managers, as well as with users or other staff who may have no technical computer background.
Computer scientists employed in private industry may advance into managerial or project leadership positions. Those employed in academic institutions can become heads of research departments or published authorities in their field. Systems analysts may be promoted to senior or lead systems analyst. Those who show leadership ability also can become project managers or advance into management positions such as manager of information systems or chief information officer. Database administrators may advance into managerial positions, such as chief technology officer, on the basis of their experience managing data and enforcing security. Computer specialists with work experience and considerable expertise in a particular subject or a certain application may find lucrative opportunities as independent consultants or may choose to start their own computer consulting firms.
Technological advances come so rapidly in the computer field that continuous study is necessary to keep one’s skills up to date. Employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, and private training institutions offer continuing education. Additional training may come from professional development seminars offered by professional computing societies.
Certification is a way to demonstrate a level of competence in a particular field. Some product vendors or software firms offer certification and require professionals who work with their products to be certified. Many employers regard these certifications as the industry standard. For example, one method of acquiring enough knowledge to get a job as a database administrator is to become certified in a specific type of database management. Voluntary certification also is available through various organizations associated with computer specialists. Professional certification may afford a jobseeker a competitive advantage.
Computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations through 2012. Employment of these computer specialists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations as organizations continue to adopt and integrate increasingly sophisticated technologies. Job increases will be driven by very rapid growth in computer system design and related services, which is projected to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. economy. In addition, many job openings will arise annually from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions or other occupations or who leave the labor force.
Job growth will not be as rapid as during the previous decade, however, as the information technology sector begins to mature and as routine work is increasingly outsourced overseas.
Despite the recent economic downturn among information technology firms, workers in the occupation should still enjoy favorable job prospects. The demand for networking to facilitate the sharing of information, the expansion of client–server environments, and the need for computer specialists to use their knowledge and skills in a problem-solving capacity will be major factors in the rising demand for computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists. Moreover, falling prices of computer hardware and software should continue to induce more businesses to expand their computerized operations and integrate new technologies into them. In order to maintain a competitive edge and operate more efficiently, firms will keep demanding computer specialists who are knowledgeable about the latest technologies and are able to apply them to meet the needs of businesses.
Increasingly, more sophisticated and complex technology is being implemented across all organizations, which should fuel the demand for these computer occupations. There is a growing demand for system analysts to help firms maximize their efficiency with available technology. Expansion of electronic commercedoing business on the Internetand the continuing need to build and maintain databases that store critical information on customers, inventory, and projects are fueling demand for database administrators familiar with the latest technology. Also, the increasing importance being placed on “cybersecurity”the protection of electronic informationwill result in a need for workers skilled in information security.
The development of new technologies usually leads to demand for various kinds of workers. The expanding integration of Internet technologies into businesses, for example, has resulted in a growing need for specialists who can develop and support Internet and intranet applications. The growth of electronic commerce means that more establishments use the Internet to conduct their business online. The introduction of the wireless Internet, known as WiFi, creates new systems to be analyzed and new data to be administered. The spread of such new technologies translates into a need for information technology professionals who can help organizations use technology to communicate with employees, clients, and consumers. Explosive growth in these areas also is expected to fuel demand for specialists who are knowledgeable about network, data, and communications security.
As technology becomes more sophisticated and complex, employers demand a higher level of skill and expertise from their employees. Individuals with an advanced degree in computer science or computer engineering or with an MBA with a concentration in information systems should enjoy highly favorable employment prospects. College graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, information science, or MIS also should enjoy favorable prospects for employment, particularly if they have supplemented their formal education with practical experience. Because employers continue to seek computer specialists who can combine strong technical skills with good interpersonal and business skills, graduates with non-computer-science degrees, but who have had courses in computer programming, systems analysis, and other information technology areas, also should continue to find jobs in these computer fields. In fact, individuals with the right experience and training can work in these computer occupations regardless of their college major or level of formal education.
Median annual earnings of computer systems analysts were $62,890 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $49,500 and $78,350 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,400. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer systems analysts in 2002 were as follows:
Computer systems design and related services
Data processing, hosting, and related services
Management of companies and enterprises
Median annual earnings of database administrators were $55,480 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $40,550 and $75,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,750, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,910. In 2002, median annual earnings of database administrators employed in computer system design and related services were $66,650, and, for those in management of companies and enterprises, earnings were $59,620.
Median annual earnings of network systems and data communication analysts were $58,420 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,850 and $74,290. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,880, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,110. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of network systems and data communications analysts in 2002 were as follows:
Computer systems design and related services
Management of companies and enterprises
Median annual earnings of computer and information scientists, research, were $77,760 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $58,630 and $98,490. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,650. Median annual earnings of computer and information scientists employed in computer systems design and related services in 2002 were $78,730.
Median annual earnings of all other computer specialists were $54,070 in 2002. Median annual earnings of all other computer specialists employed in computer system design and related services were $49,590, and, for those in scientific research and development services, earnings were $70,150 in 2002.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting offers for graduates with a master’s degree in computer science averaged $62,806 in 2003. Starting offers averaged $47,109 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science; $45,346 for those with a degree in computer programming; $41,118 for those with a degree in computer systems analysis; $40,556 for those with a degree in management information systems; and $38,282 for those with a degree in information sciences and systems.
According to Robert Half International, starting salaries in 2003 ranged from $69,750 to $101,750 for database administrators. Salaries for networking and Internet-related occupations ranged from $45,500 to $65,750 for LAN administrators and from $51,250 to $73,750 for Intranet developers. Starting salaries for security professionals ranged from $62,500 to $91,750 in 2003.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition,
Computer Systems Analysts, Database , on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).