Education requirements range from an associate degree to a
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
The rapid spread of computers and information technology has
generated a need for highly trained workers proficient in various
job functions. These workers—computer scientists, database administrators,
and network systems and data communication analysts—include 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.
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 computer database 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.
Because networks are configured in many ways, 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 the systems, and provide maintenance and other services to
clients after the systems are 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 creation and design.
Computer scientists and database administrators 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 do. However, evening or weekend work may be
necessary to meet deadlines or solve specific problems. With 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
Like other workers who spend long periods in front of a computer
terminal typing on a keyboard, computer scientists and database
administrators are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort,
and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or
cumulative trauma disorder.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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. While there is no universally accepted way
to prepare for a job as a network 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 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 rograms, emphasizing business
and management-oriented coursework and business computing courses.
Employers increasingly seek 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 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 because of 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 occupations. The level of education and the 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 new technologies. Workers
with formal education or experience in information security, for
example, are in demand because of the growing need for their skills
and services. Employers also look for workers skilled in wireless
technologies as wireless networks and applications have spread
into many firms and organizations.
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 geared more 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 noncomputer
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 scientists and database administrators 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. 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 scientists and database administrators held about 507,000
jobs in 2004, including about 66,000 who were self-employed. Employment
was distributed among the detailed occupations as follows:
Network systems and data communication analysts
Computer and information scientists, research
Computer specialists, all other
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 scientists and database
administrators 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,
A growing number of computer specialists, such as 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 network
systems and data communication 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 network systems analysts themselves. Such jobs may last
from several months to 2 years or more. This growing practice
enables companies to bring in people with the exact skills they
need 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.
Computer scientists and database administrators should continue
to enjoy favorable job prospects. As technology becomes more sophisticated
and complex, however, 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, 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 degrees in fields other than computer science
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.
Computer scientists and database administrators are expected
to be among the fastest growing occupations through 2014. 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
systems design and related services, which is projected to be
one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. economy. 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. In addition to growth,
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.
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
scientists and database administrators. 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. 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, fueling demand for computer
scientists and database administrators. There is growing demand
for network systems and data communication 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 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 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
Median annual earnings of computer and information scientists,
research, were $85,190 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $64,860 and $108,440. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $48,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $132,700.
Median annual earnings of computer and information scientists
employed in computer systems design and related services in May
2004 were $85,530.
Median annual earnings of database administrators were $60,650
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,490 and
$81,140. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,380, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $97,450. In May 2004, median
annual earnings of database administrators employed in computer
systems design and related services were $70,530, and for those
in management of companies and enterprises, earnings were $65,990.
Median annual earnings of network systems and data communication
analysts were $60,600 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $46,480 and $78,060. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $36,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,040.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of network systems and data communications analysts in
May 2004 are shown below:
Wired telecommunications carriers
Management of companies and enterprises
Computer systems design and related services
Median annual earnings of all other computer specialists were
$59,480 in May 2004. Median annual earnings of all other computer
specialists employed in computer systems design and related services
were $57,430, and, for those in management of companies and enterprises,
earnings were $68,590 in May 2004.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers,
starting offers for graduates with a doctoral degree in computer
science averaged $93,050 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; $44,417
for 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, a firm providing specialized
staffing services, starting salaries in 2005 ranged from $67,750
to $95,500 for database administrators. Salaries for networking
and Internet-related occupations ranged from $47,000 to $68,500
for LAN administrators and from $51,750 to $74,520 for web developers.
Starting salaries for information security professionals ranged
from $63,750 to $93,000 in 2005.
Others who work with large amounts of data are computer programmers,
computer software engineers, computer and information systems
managers, engineers, mathematicians, and statisticians.
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,