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Careers in computer science.

In spite of the recent emphasis by corporations and government agencies on downsizing or "rightsizing" and the frequent announcements about thousands of employees who are being or have been let go, those who will soon be college graduates with computer science skills should not be discouraged. For even though many of those affected are people with strong technical backgrounds, there are still many opportunities for people with the right combination of a strong computer science background, pertinent experience, other related expertise, and the appropriate attitude and characteristics to excel in a computer science career.

Computers are everywhere. They are in our schools, business, and homes. They control our cars, telephone communications, appliances, and automated manufacturing processes. They are used to access and process large amounts of data such as those for airline reservations, the stock market, the space program, and the International Revenue Service. They are used for designing and testing cars, airplanes, and electrical devices. They are used for games. And they are used for simulations of many different types of processes. Computers are everywhere, and with the continuing trend toward decreasing size and increasing power, new uses for them will continue to be found. And with the ever evolving computer technology, career opportunities for people with computer science skills look especially good as we approach the 21st century.

In 1990, according to the 1992-1993 issue of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, computer systems analysts and computer programmers held about 468,000 and 565,000 jobs, respectively. And a small but growing number of both systems analysts and programmers were being employed temporarily as consultants, for short-term projects involving developing and implementing new systems.

In that same year, the median annual earnings for systems analysts and programmers were $38,700 and $34,000, while the middle 50 percent earned $30,900 to $50,700 and $25,700 to $42,000, respectively. The lowest 10 percent of the analysts and programmers earned $23,000 and $19,000; and the highest 10 percent earned $62,400 and $52,100, respectively.

Career Options

The two basic types of non-teaching careers available to computer science graduates and others with computer science expertise are computer systems analyst and computer programmer. Systems analysts define business, scientific or engineering problems and design solutions involving computers; identify ways of computerizing existing manual operations or develop new systems; prepare charts and diagrams to describe the design in terms that are understandable to managers and users; specify the processing steps for the programmers to implement; determine the hardware and software to be used; and coordinate testing and observe the use of the initial system. Some smaller companies may not hire programmers, but, instead, hire a programmer-analyst who does both the systems analysis and programming. One of the most prevalent problems affecting the further use of computers today is the incompatibility of computers that need to communicate with each other. Systems analysts connect computers on local and wide area networks to provide access to users for sharing resources and to enable electronic mail capability among the users.

Most systems analysts work in urban areas for data processing service firms, government agencies, insurance companies, banks, and firms that manufacture durable goods. They may be promoted to senior or lead systems analysts, can advance to management positions, and with several years of experience, may start their own computer companies.

The type of job assignment that programmers will have depends on the type of organization in which they work. In organizations that employ computer systems analysts, the programmers write the programs prepared by the analysts. However, in companies with programmer-analysts, one person does it all. Programmers are responsible for writing and/or modifying programs, testing them, and providing directions for their use by operators and users.

Programmers are characterized as two types: applications programmers and systems programmers. Applications programmers write programs for specific requirements, e.g., analyzing and displaying data from a weather satellite. They may work alone or as a member of a team. However, systems programmers are responsible for programs that control the entire computer system. They must understand the operating system and communications with all of the peripherals. Because of the broad knowledge of systems programmers, they usually assist applications programmers when their programs do not run successfully.

In 1990, most computer programmers were employed by data processing service organizations, including firms that write and sell software, firms providing other business services, manufacturers of office, computing, and accounting machines, banks, and educational institutions. Applications programmers work for all of the above employers and systems programmers tend to work for organizations with large computer centers, hardware manufacturers, and software developers.

The employment of systems analysts and programmers is expected to grow at a much faster rate than the average of all occupations through the year 2005.

Preparation for Computer Science Careers

The minimum requirement for a career as a programmer is a strong interest in and familiarity with computers, along with extensive experience working with computers. And for a computer systems analyst, at least a B.S. degree is required. However, in today's climate, the minimum requirements are insufficient to obtain a job in computer science. In the words of Francine T. Wright, a project director for Computer Sciences Corporation, "Competition for jobs has increased tremendously. It used to be that a student with just a degree in computer science could get a job fairly easily. Now, employers are looking for students who have specialized in an area, e.g., training in Novelle networks, courses in Ada, or summer job experience putting together a computer network."

Wright goes on to say that employers are looking for employees who can be productive from day one. For that reason, it is a necessity for students to get job-related experience during the summers while they are in school. "It used to be that students got summer jobs because they needed the money. Today, related job experience can be the one thing that differentiates a student who gets hired for a career in computer science from one who does not (even if the student has straight A's)," says Wright.

Once on the job, the computer science employee must be industrious. One should not sit back and wait to be told what to do or, as Wright says, "He or she will be left in the dust." Employers are looking for employees who are highly motivated and innovative. And, especially in the scientific environment, they should ask questions freely. Computer technology is changing so rapidly that what they learn in school will be obsolete within a couple years after completing school. Therefore, one should embark on a continuing education enhancement program through formal advanced education, informal education, conferences, and seminars.

Creative Career Alternatives

In light of the competitin for jobs and the "rightsizing" that employers are undergoing, I offer a challenge to African-American students: "Now is the perfect time to tap into the genius within you and come up with a 'better mouse trap' or develop some service or product that has not yet been thought of, and then market it." In other words, take advantage of the rapidly changing technology; help to rapidly change it. NASA has a Technology Utilization program that assists people and companies interested in commercializing NASA's space technology, and publishes a book called Spinoff that features successful products and services. African Americans should participate in this program. For more information on the Technology program, contact any of the NASA field centers or write to: Manager, Technology Transfer Office, Center for Aerospace Information, P. O. Box 8757, Baltimore, MD 21240.

Another avenue for giving vent to one's entrepreneurial spirit is through developing markets in the African and Caribbean countries. As indicated by Africare's Melvin P. Foote, there is a great need for technical skills in Africa, and the African leadership prefers to have African Americans provide that technical expertise. One such obvious need is telephone communications. With the advent of satellite communications and electronic networking, this could be a niche that could be filled by enterprising African-American computer scientists. For years, African Americans have been unable to link Africa's needs and African Americans' potential prosperity, which could lead to the eventual prosperity of both parties. For more information about Foote's initiatives, contact:

Melvin P. Foote, Africare House

440 R Street, N.W.

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 462-8614

Your Future Is In Your Hands

The future looks excellent for computer science careers, well into the 21st century. However, because of the large number of graduates with computer science degrees, the competition is stiff. Do not be satisfied with the minimum requirements. Remember that employers are looking for people with something special. So take time to find a computer science-related job for the summer, develop some "real world" expertise, refine your speaking and writing skills, and be industrious on the job, not just a "bump on the log."

If you are innovative and willing to take risks, contact NASA's Technology Utilization Office and develop a new product or service that can be marketed and maybe featured in the Spinoff publication. Or seriously consider working on a technical project as a consultant.

Your future is in your hands! Good luck!

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 1992-1993 Edition.

Gene Rogers

Information Systems Engineer The Vanguard Group of Investment Companies Valley Forge, PA

As a systems engineer for The Vanguard Group of Investment Companies, the world's largest pure no-load mutual fund complex, Gene Rogers analyzes and designs information systems for the company's Shareholder Control Department, which oversees daily control and tax compliance procedures for shareholders' accounts. He provides consulting services to a number of Vanguard departments, defining their systems needs, developing new systems applications, and updating current systems to improve services to clients.

Rogers began his career 12 years ago as a programmer trainer for the Independent Data Processing Center in Sacramento, which serves the Sacramento County California School System. Later, he moved to Blue Diamond, Inc., Sacramento, as a Lead Systems Analyst. In 1989, he joined Vanguard as an Information Systems Engineer, and continues to hone his technology and leadership skills through management and training programs offered by Vanguard.

"Be willing to make sacrifices to get your career off to a good start. Study hard. Aim for top grades. Keep abreast of the latest technology. Seize opportunities to enhance your skills through additional training. Have realistic expectations about entering the job market and about career growth. Talk with individuals currently working in your field of interest. Become a member of professional organizations. Subscribe to professional publications. Develop contacts," advises Rogers.

The Top Computer Programming/Science Employers

AT&T

Arthur Andersen & Co.

IBM

American Management Sys.

State Farm Ins. Cos.

Hewlett-Packard Co.

GE

Cap Gemini America

Merck & Co., Inc.

Ford Motor Co.

Schlumberger

Amoco Corporation

Johnson & Johnson
COPYRIGHT 1993 IMDiversity, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Thomas, Valerie L.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1788
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