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The rapid spread of computers and computer-based technologies over the past two decades has generated a need for skilled, highly trained workers to design and develop hardware and software systems and to incorporate these advances into new or existing systems. Although many narrow specializations have developed and no uniform job titles exist, this professional specialty group is widely referred to as computer scientists and systems analysts.
Computer scientists generally design computers and conduct research to improve their design or use, and develop and adapt principles for applying computers to new uses. Computer scientists perform many of the same duties as other computer professionals throughout a normal workday, but 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. Computer scientists include computer engineers, database administrators, computer support analysts, and a variety of other specialized workers.
Computer scientists employed by academic institutions work in areas ranging from theory, to hardware, to language design. Some work on multi-discipline projects, for example, developing and advancing uses for virtual reality. Their counterparts in private industry work in areas such as applying theory, developing specialized languages, or designing programming tools, knowledge-based systems, or computer games.
Computer engineers work with the hardware and software aspects of systems design and development. Computer engineers may often work as part of a team that designs new computing devices or computer-related equipment. Software engineers design and develop both packaged and systems software.
Database administrators work with database management systems software. They reorganize and restructure data to better suit the needs of users. They also may be responsible for maintaining the efficiency of the database, system security, and may aid in design implementation.
Computer support analysts provide assistance and advice to users, interpreting problems and providing technical support for hardware, software, and systems. They may work within an organization or directly for the computer or software vendor.
Far more numerous, systems analysts use their knowledge and skills in a problem solving capacity, implementing the means for computer technology to meet the individual needs of an organization. They study business, scientific, or engineering data processing problems and design new solutions using computers. This process may include planning and developing new computer systems or devising ways to apply existing systems to operations still completed manually or by some less efficient method. Systems analysts may design entirely new systems, including both hardware and software, or add a single new software application to harness more of the computer's power. They work to help an organization realize the maximum benefit from its investment in equipment, personnel, and business processes.
Analysts begin an assignment by discussing the data processing problem with managers and users to determine its exact nature. Much time is devoted to clearly defining the goals of the system and understanding the individual steps used to achieve them so that the problem can be broken down into separate programmable procedures. Analysts then use techniques such as structured analysis, data modeling, information engineering, mathematical model building, sampling, and cost accounting to plan the system. Analysts must specify the files and records to be accessed by the system and design the processing steps, as well as the format for the output that will meet the users' needs. Once the design has been developed, systems analysts prepare charts and diagrams that describe it in terms that managers and other users can understand. They may prepare a cost-benefit and return-on-investment analysis to help management decide whether the proposed system will be satisfactory and financially feasible.
When a system is accepted, systems analysts may determine what computer hardware and software will be needed to set up the system or implement changes to it. They coordinate tests and observe initial use of the system to ensure it performs as planned. They prepare specifications, work diagrams, and structure charts for computer programmers to follow and then work with them to "debug," or eliminate errors from the system.
Some organizations do not employ programmers; instead, a single worker called a programmer-analyst is responsible for both systems analysis and programming. As this becomes more commonplace, analysts will increasingly work with Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools and object-oriented programming languages, as well as client/server applications development and multimedia and Internet technology. (The work of programmers is described elsewhere in the Handbook.)
One obstacle associated with expanding computer use is the inability of different computers to communicate with each other. Many systems analysts are involved with connecting all the computers in an individual office, department, or establishment. This "networking" has many variations, and may be referred to as local area networks, wide area networks, or multi-user systems, for example. A primary goal of networking is to allow users of microcomputers-also known as personal computers or PCs-to retrieve data from a mainframe computer and use it on their machine. This connection also allows data to be entered into the mainframe from the PC.
Because up-to-date information-accounting records, sales figures, or budget projections, for example-is so important in modern organizations, systems analysts may be instructed to make the computer systems in each department compatible so that facts and figures can be shared. Similarly, electronic mail requires open pathways to send messages, documents, and data from one computer "mailbox" to another across different equipment and program lines. Analysts must design the gates in the hardware and software to allow free exchange of data, custom applications, and the computer power to process it all. They study the seemingly incompatible pieces and create ways to link them so that users can access information from any part of the system.
Computer scientists and systems analysts normally work in offices or laboratories in comfortable surroundings. They usually work about 40 hours a week-the same as many other professional or office workers. However, evening or weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines or solve problems. Given the technology available today, more work, including technical support, can be done from remote locations using modems, laptops, electronic mail, and even through the Internet.
Because computer scientists and systems analysts spend long periods of time in front of a computer terminal typing on a keyboard, they are susceptible to eye strain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems.
Computer scientists and systems analysts held about 828,000 jobs in 1994. Although they are found in most industries, the greatest concentration is in the computer and data processing services industry. This includes firms that design and install computer systems; integrate or network systems; perform data processing and database management; develop packaged software; and even operate entire computer facilities under contract. Many others work for government agencies, manufacturers of computer and related electronic equipment, insurance companies, and universities.
A growing number of computer scientists and systems analysts are employed on a temporary or contract basis, or as 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 them would be needed once the system is functioning, the company might contract directly with the systems analysts themselves or with a temporary help agency or consulting firm. Such jobs may last from several months up to 2 years or more.
There is no universally accepted way to prepare for a job as a computer professional because employers' preferences depend on the work to be done. Prior work experience is very important. Many people develop advanced computer skills in other occupations in which they work extensively with computers and then transfer into computer occupations. For example, an accountant may become a systems analyst specializing in accounting systems development, or an individual may move into a systems analyst job after working as computer programmer.
Employers almost always seek college graduates for computer professional positions; for some of the more complex jobs, persons with graduate degrees are preferred. Generally, a Ph.D., or at least a master's degree in computer science or engineering, is required for computer scientist jobs in research laboratories or academic institutions. Some computer scientists are able to gain sufficient experience for this type of position with only a bachelor's degree, but this is difficult. Computer engineers generally require a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, electrical engineering, or math. Computer support analysts may also need a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field, as well as significant experience working with computers, including programming skills.
For systems analyst or even database administrator positions, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor's degree in computer science, information science, computer information systems, or data processing. Regardless of college major, employers generally look for people who are familiar with programming languages and have broad knowledge of and experience with computer systems and technologies. Courses in computer programming or systems design offer good preparation for a job in this field. For jobs in a business environment, employers usually want systems analysts to have a background in business management or a closely related field, while a background in the physical sciences, applied mathematics, or engineering is preferred for work in scientifically oriented organizations.
Systems analysts must be able to think logically, have good communication skills, and like working with ideas and people. They often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously. The ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail is important. Although both computer scientists and systems analysts often work independently, they also may 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 other staff who have no technical computer background.
Technological advances come so rapidly in the computer field that continuous study is necessary to keep skills up to date. Continuing education is usually offered by employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, or private training institutions. Additional training may come from professional development seminars offered by professional computing societies.
The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals offers the designation Certified Computing Professional (CCP) to those who have at least 4 years of work experience as a computer professional, or at least 2 years experience and a college degree. Candidates must pass a core examination testing general knowledge, plus exams in two specialty areas, or in one specialty area and two computer programming languages. The Quality Assurance Institute awards the designation Certified Quality Analyst (CQA) to those who meet education and experience requirements, pass an exam, and endorse a code of ethics. Neither designation is mandatory, but professional certification may provide a job seeker a competitive advantage.
Systems analysts may be promoted to senior or lead systems analysts after several years of experience. Those who show leadership ability also can advance to management positions, such as manager of information systems or chief information officer.
Computer engineers and scientists employed in industry may eventually advance into managerial or project leadership positions. Those employed in academic institutions can become heads of research departments or published authorities in their field. Computer professionals with several years of experience and considerable expertise in a particular area may choose to start their own computer consulting firms.
Computer scientists and systems analysts will be among the faster than the average growing occupations through the year 2005. In addition, tens of thousands of job openings will result annually from the need to replace workers who move into managerial positions or other occupations or who leave the labor force.
The demand for computer scientists and engineers is expected to rise as organizations attempt to maximize the efficiency of their computer systems. There will continue to be a need for increasingly sophisticated technological innovation. Competition will place organizations under growing pressure to use technological advances in areas such as office and factory automation, telecommunications technology, and scientific research. As the complexity of these applications grows, more computer scientists and systems analysts will be needed to design, develop, and implement the new technology.
As more computing power is made available to the individual user, more computer scientists and systems analysts will be required to provide support. As users develop more sophisticated knowledge of computers, they become more aware of the machine's potential and better able to suggest how computers could be used to increase their own productivity and that of the organization. Increasingly, users are able to design and implement more of their own applications and programs. As technology continues to advance, computer scientists and systems analysts will continue to need to upgrade their levels of skill and technical expertise and their ability to interact with users will increase in importance.
The demand for "networking" to facilitate the sharing of information will be a major factor in the rising demand for systems analysts. Falling prices of computer hardware and software should continue to induce more small businesses to computerize their operations, further stimulating demand for these workers. In order to maintain a competitive edge and operate more cost effectively, firms will continue to demand computer professionals who are knowledgeable about the latest technologies and able to apply them to meet the needs of businesses. A greater emphasis on problem solving, analysis, and client/server environments will also contribute to the growing demand for systems analysts.
Individuals with an advanced degree in computer science should enjoy very favorable employment prospects because employers are demanding a higher level of technical expertise. College graduates with a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, information science, or information systems should also experience good prospects for employment. College graduates with non-computer science majors who have had courses in computer programming, systems analysis, and other data processing areas, as well as training or experience in an applied field, should be able to find jobs as computer professionals. Those who are familiar with CASE tools, object-oriented and client/server programming, and multimedia technology will have an even greater advantage, as will individuals with significant networking, database, and systems experience. Employers should increasing seek computer professionals who can combine strong programming and traditional systems analysis skills with good interpersonal and business skills.
Median annual earnings of computer systems analysts and scientists who worked full time in 1994 were about $44,000. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,100 and $55,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,100 and the highest tenth, more than $69,400. Computer scientists with advanced degrees generally earn more than systems analysts.
According to Robert Half International Inc., starting salaries in 1994 for systems analysts employed by large establishments employing more than 50 staff members ranged from $43,500 to $54,000. Salaries for those employed in small establishments ranged from $35,000 to $45,000. Starting salaries ranged from $51,000 to $62,000 for data base administrators, and from $45,000 to $62,000 for software engineers.
In the Federal Government, the entrance salary for systems analysts who are recent college graduates with a bachelor's degree was about $18,700 a year in 1995; for those with a superior academic record, $23,200.
Other workers who use research, logic, and creativity to solve business problems are computer programmers, financial analysts, urban planners, engineers, operations research analysts, management analysts, and actuaries.
Further information about computer careers is available from:
Association for Computing Machinery, 1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
Information about the designation Certified Computing Professional is available from:
Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals, 2200 East Devon Ave., Suite 268, Des Plaines, IL 60018.
Information about the designation Certified Quality Analyst is available from:
Quality Assurance Institute, 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Suite 350, Orlando, FL 32819.
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