Employers generally prefer applicants who have at least a
bachelor’s degree in computer science, information science,
or management information systems (MIS).
Employment is expected to increase much faster than the average
as organizations continue to adopt increasingly sophisticated
Job prospects are favorable.
Nature of the Work
All organizations rely on computer and information technology
to conduct business and operate more efficiently. The rapid
spread of technology across all industries has generated a
need for highly trained workers to help organizations incorporate
new technologies. The tasks performed by workers known as
computer systems analysts evolve rapidly, reflecting new areas
of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the
preferences and practices of employers.
Computer 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 systems—for example, business, accounting,
or financial systems, or scientific and engineering systems—that
vary with the kind of organization. Some systems analysts
also are known as systems developers or systems
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 in-depth 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
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 are increasingly working 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
information—accounting records, sales figures, or budget projections,
for example—systems 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 internally—in an individual office, department,
or establishment—or externally, because many organizations
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.
Computer systems analysts 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
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 are
susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist
problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or cumulative trauma
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Rapidly changing technology requires an increasing level
of skill and education on the part of employees. Companies
increasingly look for professionals with a broad 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, most employers place a premium
on some formal college education. Relevant work experience
also is very important. For more technically complex jobs,
persons with graduate degrees are preferred.
Many employers seek applicants who have at least 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.
Despite employers’ preference for those with technical degrees,
persons with degrees in a variety of majors find employment
as system analysts. 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
such as the wireless Internet. 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.
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
Job seekers 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
Computer systems analysts 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
workers 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.
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.
Workers 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.
Computer systems analysts held about 487,000 jobs in 2004;
about 28,000 were self-employed.
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 services, such as disaster
recovery services and software installation. Computer systems
analysts are also employed by governments, insurance companies,
financial institutions, Internet service providers, data processing
services firms, and universities.
A growing number of systems 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.
Employment of computer systems analysts is expected to grow
much faster than the average for all occupations through the
year 2014 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 among 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 to lower-wage foreign countries.
Workers in the occupation should 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. 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 system analysts 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 commerce—doing
business on the Internet—and 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 information—will 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.
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 analysts 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 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 subjects, also
should continue to find jobs in computer fields. In fact,
individuals with the right experience and training can work
in computer occupations regardless of their college major
or level of formal education.
Median annual earnings of computer systems analysts were
$66,460 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$52,400 and $82,980 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $41,730, and the highest 10 percent earned more than
$99,180. Median annual earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of computer systems analysts in May 2004
Computer systems design and related
Management of companies and enterprises
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers,
starting offers for graduates with a master’s degree in computer
science averaged $62,727 in 2005. Starting offers averaged
$50,820 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer
science; $46,189 for those with a degree in computer systems
analysis; $44,417for those with a degree in management information
systems; and $44,775 for those with a degree in information
sciences and systems.
According to Robert Half International, starting salaries
for systems analysts ranged from $61,500 to $82,500 in 2005.
Other workers who use computers extensively, and who use
logic and creativity to solve business and technical problems,
include computer programmers, computer software engineers,
computer and information systems managers, engineers, mathematicians,
statisticians, operations research analysts, management analysts,
Sources of Additional Information
Further information about computer careers is available from:
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 1515 Broadway,
New York, NY 10036. Internet: http://www.acm.org/
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer
Society, Headquarters Office, 1730 Massachusetts Ave. NW.,
Washington, DC 20036-1992. Internet: http://www.computer.org/
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies, 3000
Landerholm Circle SE., Bellevue, WA 98007. Internet: http://www.nwcet.org/
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,