|Nature of the Work||[About this section]||Back to Top|
In the last decade, computers have become an integral part of everyday life, used for a variety of reasons at home, in the workplace, and at schools. And almost every computer user encounters a problem occasionally, whether it is the disaster of a crashing hard drive or the annoyance of a forgotten password. The explosion of computer use has created a high demand for specialists to provide advice to users, as well as day-to-day administration, maintenance, and support of computer systems and networks.
Computer support specialists provide technical assistance, support, and advice to customers and other users. This occupational group includes 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. Support specialists may work either within a company that uses computer systems or directly for a computer hardware or software vendor. Increasingly, these specialists work for help-desk or support services firms, where they provide computer support to clients on a contract basis.
Technical support specialists are troubleshooters, providing valuable assistance to their organizationís computer users. Because many nontechnical employees are not computer experts, they often run into computer problems that they cannot resolve on their own. Technical support specialists install, modify, clean, and repair computer hardware and software. They also may work on monitors, keyboards, printers, and mice.
Technical support specialists answer telephone calls from their organizationsí computer users and may run automatic diagnostics programs to resolve problems. They also may write training manuals and train computer users how to properly use new computer hardware and software. In addition, technical support specialists oversee the daily performance of their companyís computer systems and evaluate software programs for usefulness.
Help-desk technicians assist computer users with the inevitable hardware and software questions not addressed in a productís instruction manual. Help-desk technicians field telephone calls and e-mail messages from customers seeking guidance on technical problems. In responding to these requests for guidance, help-desk technicians must listen carefully to the customer, ask questions to diagnose the nature of the problem, and then patiently walk the customer through the problem-solving steps.
Help-desk technicians deal directly with customer issues, and companies value them as a source of feedback on their products. These technicians are consulted for information about what gives customers the most trouble, as well as other customer concerns. Most computer support specialists start out at the help desk.
Network or computer systems administrators design, install, and support an organizationís LAN (local-area network), WAN (wide-area network), network segment, Internet, or intranet system. They provide day-to-day onsite administrative support for software users in a variety of work environments, including professional offices, small businesses, government, and large corporations. They maintain network hardware and software, analyze problems, and monitor the network to ensure its availability to system users. These workers gather data to identify customer needs and then use that information to identify, interpret, and evaluate system and network requirements. Administrators also may plan, coordinate, and implement network security measures.
Systems administrators are the information technology employees responsible for the efficient use of networks by organizations. They ensure that the design of an organizationís computer site allows all of the components, including computers, the network, and software, to fit together and work properly. Furthermore, they monitor and adjust performance of existing networks and continually survey the current computer site to determine future network needs. Administrators also troubleshoot problems as reported by users and automated network monitoring systems and make recommendations for enhancements in the implementation of future servers and networks.
In some organizations, computer security specialists may plan, coordinate, and implement the organizationís information security. These workers may be called upon to educate users on computer security, install security software, monitor the network for security breaches, respond to cyber attacks, and in some cases, gather data and evidence to be used in prosecuting cyber crime. This and other growing specialty occupations reflect the increasing emphasis on client-server applications, the expansion of Internet and intranet applications, and the demand for more end-user support.
|Working Conditions||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Computer support specialists and systems administrators normally work in well-lit, comfortable offices or computer laboratories. They usually work about 40 hours a week, but that may include being ďon callĒ via pager or telephone for rotating evening or weekend work if the employer requires computer support over extended hours. Overtime may be necessary when unexpected technical problems arise. Like other workers who type on a keyboard for long periods, computer support specialists and systems administrators are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Due to the heavy emphasis on helping all types of computer users, computer support specialists and systems administrators constantly interact with customers and fellow employees as they answer questions and give valuable advice. Those who work as consultants are away from their offices much of the time, sometimes spending months working in a clientís office.
As computer networks expand, more computer support specialists and systems administrators may be able to connect to a customerís computer remotely, using modems, laptops, e-mail, and the Internet, to provide technical support to computer users. This capability would reduce or eliminate travel to the customerís workplace. Systems administrators also can administer and configure networks and servers remotely, although this practice is not as common as it is with computer support specialists.
|Employment||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Computer support specialists and systems administrators held about 758,000 jobs in 2002. Of these, about 507,000 were computer support specialists and about 251,000 were network and computer systems administrators. Although they worked in a wide range of industries, 35 percent of all computer support specialists and systems administrators were employed in professional and business services industries, principally in computer systems design and related services. Other organizations that employed substantial numbers of these workers include banks, government agencies, insurance companies, educational institutions, and wholesale and retail vendors of computers, office equipment, appliances, and home electronic equipment. Many computer support specialists also worked for manufacturers of computers, semiconductors, and other electronic components.
Employers of computer support specialists and systems administrators range from startup companies to established industry leaders. With the continued development of the Internet, telecommunications, and e-mail, industries not typically associated with computerssuch as constructionincreasingly need computer-related workers. Small and large firms across all industries are expanding or developing computer systems, creating an immediate need for computer support specialists and systems administrators.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Due to the wide range of skills required, there are many paths of entry to a job as a computer support specialist or systems administrator. While there is no universally accepted way to prepare for a job as a computer support specialist, many employers prefer to hire persons with some formal college education. A bachelorís degree in computer science or information systems is a prerequisite for some jobs; however, other jobs may require only a computer-related associate degree. For systems administrators, many employers seek applicants with bachelorís degrees, although not necessarily in a computer-related field.
Many companies are becoming more flexible about requiring a college degree for support positions because of the explosive demand for specialists. However, certification and practical experience demonstrating these skills will be essential for applicants without a degree. Completion of a certification training program, offered by a variety of vendors and product makers, may help some people to qualify for entry-level positions. Relevant computer experience may substitute for formal education.
Beginning computer support specialists usually work for organizations that deal directly with customers or in-house users. Then, they may advance into more responsible positions in which they use what they have learned from customers to improve the design and efficiency of future products. Job promotions usually depend more on performance than on formal education. Eventually, some computer support specialists become applications developers, designing products rather than assisting users. Computer support specialists at hardware and software companies often enjoy great upward mobility; advancement sometimes comes within months of initial employment.
Entry-level network and computer systems administrators are involved in routine maintenance and monitoring of computer systems, typically working behind the scenes in an organization. After gaining experience and expertise, they often are able to advance into more senior-level positions, in which they take on more responsibilities. For example, senior network and computer systems administrators may present recommendations to management on matters related to a companyís network. They also may translate the needs of an organization into a set of technical requirements, based on the available technology. As with support specialists, administrators may become software engineers, actually involved in the designing of the system or network and not just the day-to-day administration.
Persons interested in becoming a computer support specialist or systems administrator must have strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills because troubleshooting and helping others are vital parts of the job. The constant interaction with other computer personnel, customers, and employees requires computer support specialists and systems administrators to communicate effectively on paper, via e-mail, or in person. Strong writing skills are useful when preparing manuals for employees and customers.
As technology continues to improve, computer support specialists and systems administrators must keep their skills current and acquire new ones. Many continuing education programs are offered by employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, and private training institutions. Professional development seminars offered by computing services firms also can enhance oneís skills and advancement opportunities.
|Job Outlook||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Employment of computer support specialist is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2012, as organizations continue to adopt and integrate increasingly sophisticated technology. Job growth will continue to be driven by the continued expansion of the computer system design and related services industry, which is projected to remain one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. economy, despite recent job losses. Job growth will not be as explosive as growth during the previous decade as these jobs are being increasingly outsourced overseas.
Employment growth among computer support specialists reflects the rapid pace of improved technology. As computers and software become more complex, support specialists will be needed to provide technical assistance to customers and other users. New mobility technologies, such as the wireless Internet, will continue to create a demand for these workers to familiarize and educate computer users. Consulting opportunities for computer support specialists also should continue to grow as businesses increasingly need help managing, upgrading, and customizing more complex computer systems. However, growth in employment of support specialists may be tempered somewhat as firms continue to cut costs by shifting more routine work abroad to countries where workers are highly skilled but labor costs are lower. Physical location is not as important for these workers as it is for others, because computer support specialists can provide assistance remotely and support services can be provided around the clock.
Employment of systems administrators is expected to increase much faster than average as firms will continue to invest heavily in securing computer networks. Companies are looking for workers knowledgeable about the function and administration of networks. Such employees have become increasingly hard to find as systems administration has moved from being a separate function within corporations to one that forms a crucial element of business in an increasingly high-technology economy. Also, demand for computer security specialists will grow as businesses and government continue to invest heavily in ďcyber-security,Ē protecting vital computer networks and electronic infrastructure from attack.
The growth of electronic commerce means that more establishments use the Internet to conduct their business online. This translates into a need for information technology specialists 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 knowledgeable about network, data, and communications security.
Job prospects should be best for college graduates who are up to date with the latest skills and technologies, particularly if they have supplemented their formal education with some relevant work experience. Employers will continue to seek computer specialists who possess a strong background in fundamental computer skills, combined with good interpersonal and communication skills. Due to the rapid growth in demand for computer support specialists and systems administrators, those who have strong computer skills but do not have a bachelorís degree should continue to qualify for some entry-level positions. However, certifications and practical experience are essential for persons without degrees.
|Earnings||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Median annual earnings of computer support specialists were $39,100 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,760 and $51,680. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,060, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $67,550. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer support specialists in 2002 were:
|Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers||$46,740|
|Computer systems design and related services||41,110|
|Management of companies and enterprises||40,850|
|Elementary and secondary schools||33,480|
Median annual earnings of network and computer systems administrators were $54,810 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $43,290 and $69,530. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,440. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of network and computer systems administrators in 2002 were:
|Wired telecommunications carriers||$59,710|
|Computer systems design and related services||58,790|
|Management of companies and enterprises||58,610|
|Data processing, hosting, and related services||56,140|
|Elementary and secondary schools||48,350|
According to Robert Half International, starting salaries in 2003 ranged from $27,500 to $56,500 for help-desk support staff, and from $51,000 to $67,250 for more senior technical support specialists. For systems administrators, starting salaries in 2003 ranged from $49,000 to $70,250.
|Related Occupations||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Other computer-related occupations include
computer software engineers; and
computer systems analysts, database administrators, and computer scientists.
|Sources of Additional Information||[About this section]||Back to Top|
For additional information about a career as a computer support specialist, contact:
For additional information about a career as a systems administrator, contact:
Further information about computer careers is available from:
|OOH ONET Codes||[About this section]||Back to Top|
Last Modified Date: February 27, 2004