Computer operators rank among the most rapidly declining occupations
over the 2004-14 period because advances in technology are making
many of the duties traditionally performed by computer operators
Computer operators usually receive on-the-job training; the
length of training varies with the job and the experience of
Opportunities will be best for operators who have formal computer
education, are familiar with a variety of operating systems,
and keep up to date with the latest technology.
Nature of the Work
Computer operators oversee the operation of computer hardware
systems, ensuring that these machines are used as efficiently
and securely as possible. They may work with mainframes, minicomputers,
or networks of personal computers. Computer operators must anticipate
problems and take preventive action, as well as solve problems
that occur during operations.
The duties of computer operators vary with the size of the installation,
the type of equipment used, and the policies of the employer.
Generally, operators control the console of either a mainframe
digital computer or a group of minicomputers. Working from operating
instructions prepared by programmers, users, or operations managers,
computer operators set controls on the computer and on peripheral
devices required to run a particular job.
Computer operators load equipment with tapes, disks, and paper,
as needed. While the computer is running—which may be 24 hours
a day for large computers—computer operators monitor the control
console and respond to operating and computer messages. Messages
indicate the individual specifications of each job being run.
If an error message occurs, operators must locate and solve the
problem or terminate the program. Operators also maintain logbooks
or operating records, listing each job that is run and events,
such as machine malfunctions, that occur during their shift. In
addition, computer operators may help programmers and systems
analysts test and debug new programs. (See the statements on computer programmers and computer
systems analysts, elsewhere in the Handbook.)
As the number and complexity of computer networks continue to
grow, a greater number of computer operators are working on personal
computers (PCs) and minicomputers. In many offices, factories,
and other work settings, PCs and minicomputers are connected in
networks, often referred to as local area networks (LANs) or multi-user
systems. Whereas users in the area operate some of these computers,
many require the services of full-time operators. The tasks performed
on PCs and minicomputers are very similar to those performed on
large computers. This includes trying to keep computer networks
secure in the face of a increasing number of cyber-attacks.
As organizations continue to look for opportunities to increase
productivity, automation is expanding into additional areas of
computer operations. Sophisticated software, coupled with robotics,
enables a computer to perform many routine tasks formerly done
by computer operators. Scheduling, loading and downloading programs,
mounting tapes, rerouting messages, and running periodic reports
can be done without the intervention of an operator. Consequently,
these improvements will change what computer operators do in the
future. As technology advances, the responsibilities of many computer
operators are shifting to areas such as network operations, user
support, and database maintenance.
Computer operators generally work in well-lighted, well-ventilated,
comfortable rooms. Because many organizations use their computers
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, computer operators may be required
to work evening or night shifts and weekends. Shift assignments
usually are made based on seniority. However, increasingly automated
operations will lessen the need for shift work, because many companies
can let the computer take over operations during less desirable
working hours. In addition, advances in telecommuting technologies—such
as faxes, modems, and e-mail—and data center automation, such
as automated tape libraries, enable some operators to monitor
batch processes, check systems performance, and record problems
for the next shift.
Because computer operators generally spend a lot of time in front
of a computer monitor, as well as performing repetitive tasks
such as loading and unloading printers, they may be susceptible
to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Computer operators usually receive on-the-job training in order
to become acquainted with their employer’s equipment and routines.
The length of training varies with the job and the experience
of the worker. However, previous work experience is the key to
obtaining an operator job in many large establishments. Employers
generally look for specific, hands-on experience with the type
of equipment and related operating systems they use. Additionally,
formal computer training, perhaps through a community college
or technical school, is recommended. Related training also can
be obtained through the U.S. Armed Forces and from some computer
manufacturers. As computer technology changes and data processing
centers become more automated, employers will increasingly require
candidates to have formal training and experience for operator
jobs. And, although not required, a bachelor’s degree in a computer
field can be helpful when one is seeking employment as a computer
operator or advancement to a managerial position.
Because computer technology changes so rapidly, operators must
be adaptable and willing to learn. Analytical and technical expertise
also are needed, particularly by operators who work in automated
data centers, to deal with unique or high-level problems that
a computer is not programmed to handle. Operators must be able
to communicate well, and to work effectively with programmers,
users, and other operators. Computer operators also must be able
to work independently because they may have little or no direct
A few computer operators may advance to supervisory jobs, although
most management positions within data processing or computer operations
centers require advanced formal education, such as a bachelor’s
or higher degree. Through on-the-job experience and additional
formal education, some computer operators may advance to jobs
in areas such as network operations or support. As they gain experience
in programming, some operators may advance to jobs as programmers
or analysts. A move into these types of jobs is becoming much
more difficult, as employers increasingly require candidates for
more skilled computer jobs to possess at least a bachelor’s degree.
Computer operators held about 149,000 jobs in 2004. Jobs are
found in various industries such as government, health care,,
manufacturing, data processing services and other information
industries, and finance and insurance. A number of computer operators
are employed by firms in computer systems design and related services,
as more companies contract out their data processing operations.
Employment of computer operators is projected to decline significantly.
In fact, computer operators rank among the most rapidly declining
occupations over the 2004-14 period because advances in technology
are making many of the duties traditionally performed by computer
operators obsolete. Experienced operators are expected to compete
for the few job openings that will arise each year to replace
workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Opportunities will be best for operators who have formal computer
education, are familiar with a variety of operating systems, and
keep up to date with the latest technology.
Advances in technology have reduced both the size and cost of
computer equipment, while increasing the capacity for data storage
and processing automation. Sophisticated computer hardware and
software are now used in practically every industry, in such areas
as factory and office automation, telecommunications, health care,
education, and government. The expanding use of software that
automates computer operations gives companies the option of making
systems more user-friendly, greatly reducing the need for operators.
Such improvements require operators to monitor a greater number
of operations at the same time and be capable of solving a broader
range of problems that may arise. The result is that fewer operators
will be needed to perform more highly skilled work.
Computer operators who are displaced by automation may be reassigned
to support staffs that maintain personal computer networks or
assist other members of the organization. Operators who keep up
with changing technology, by updating their skills through additional
training, should have the best prospects of moving into other
areas such as network administration and technical support. Others
may be retrained to perform different job duties, such as supervising
an operations center, maintaining automation packages, or analyzing
computer operations to recommend ways to increase productivity.
In the future, operators who wish to work in the computer field
will need to know more about programming, automation software,
graphics interface, client/server environments, and open systems
in order to take advantage of changing job opportunities.
Median annual earnings of computer operators were $31,070 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,190 and $39,900
a year. The highest 10 percent earned more than $48,720 , and
the lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,250. Median annual
earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of computer
operators in May 2004 are shown below:
Management of companies and enterprises
Computer systems design and related services
Colleges, universities, and professional
Data processing, hosting, and related Services
Depository credit intermediation
The average salary for computer operators employed by the Federal
Government was $45,158 in 2005.
According to Robert Half International, the average starting
salaries for computer operators ranged from $27,250 to $39,500
in 2005. Salaries generally are higher in large organizations
than in small ones.
Other occupations involving work with computers include computer
software engineers; computer programmers; computer support specialists
and systems administrators; computer systems analysts, and computer
scientists and database administrators. Other occupations in which
workers operate electronic office equipment include data entry
and information processing workers, as well as secretaries and
Sources of Additional Information
For information about a career as a computer operator, contact:
Association of Computer Operations Management (AFCOM), 722
E. Chapman Ave., Orange, CA 92860.
For information about work opportunities in computer operations,
contact establishments with large computer centers, such as banks,
manufacturing firms, insurance companies, colleges and universities,
and data processing service organizations. The local office of
the State employment service can supply information about employment
and training opportunities.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition