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Computers: instruments of change.

Consider these two images. First. it's 1952. A huge mainframe computer fills

an entire room. Its cost: Several million dollars. Several scientists, technicians, and other attendants wait for the computer to solve an equation. Time needed: 1 1/2 minutes. Now shift to 1992. One person sits at a desk. On it rests a small box, a monitor the size of a small TV set, and a keyboard. Cost: Less than $2,000. Time needed to solve the equation: Less than half a second. In four decades, technological progress has taken the computer field away from large, centralized computing systems to smaller but interconnected personalized systems.

The pace of developments in the computer field has been more rapid than in most other industries. The pace has been set by the development of the silicon chip. Silicon chips are the miniaturized central processing unit of the personal computer (PC). Advances in chip technology have proceeded extremely rapidly, the speed and capabilities of chips doubling every 2 years. At the same time, prices have dropped, making computers affordable for more and more organizations and individuals. These changes are having major effects on the number of users--at home and on the job--and on the demand for workers who develop and maintain the technology.

The first effect is on users. Growing numbers of people use computers on the job, in school, and at home. These developments are changing the structure of the workplace, redefining some jobs, eliminating others, and creating yet others. Computers are ushering in new ways to teach students or train workers and expanding our recreational choices.

The second effect of these technological changes is on the demand for the workers who develop and maintain computer technology. Just as technology has softened the distinctions between computers and other machines (see the accompanying box, It's Smart, But Is It a Computer?), technology has also blurred the distinctions among computer occupations. The occupational mix has changed: New occupations have sprung up, and others have diminished in importance. These factors make classifying and defining computer occupations and career paths difficult.

This article looks at both users and workers. It discusses the ways computers are now being used in homes and schools, by workers in different occupations, and by various industries. The last section examines computer occupations themselves, including the ways they have changed in the past and the ways they might evolve in the future. The accompanying glossary, Computer Terminology, explains some common terms, acronyms, and initials in the field.

Everywhere You Look, A Computer!

Well, perhaps not everywhere. But computers have become a routine part of life for a large segment of the population. So says the Census Bureau in "Computer Use in the United States, 1989." By the fall of 1989, 75 million Americans reported using a computer in some way, up dramatically from 47 million just 5 years earlier. This growth reflects both falling prices and increasing applications. According to all indications, these trends should continue.

At Home and In School

Since the introduction of PC's in the late 1970's, prices have declined steadily, making them increasingly affordable. Although their impact has been greatest in the workplace, computers have also turned up in many homes and schools.

Home. According to the Census report, computer ownership by households almost doubled from 8 percent in 1984 to 15 percent in 1989. Although lower income households purchase fewer computers than more affluent families, the rate of change in computer ownership between 1984 and 1989 did not differ appreciably by income. And regardless of income, families are more likely to own a computer if a family member uses a computer daily at work or if the household includes school age children. Even senior citizens are realizing the benefits of new technology. SeniorNet, an on-line national computer network for senior citizens, has about 15,000 members who can join forums to discuss specific topics, send electronic letters, or engage in on-line conversations, such as weekly cocktail parties that allow multiple members to talk back and forth.

Rising ownership of home computers reflects not only falling prices but the growing number of applications. Home computers are currently used for word processing, tax preparation, and other household recordkeeping. An increasing number of computer owners use their machines to conduct business from home.

But the entertainment and education of children probably has most frequently justified the purchase of a home computer. Among children between 3 and 17 years of age, 46 percent used a computer either at home or at school in 1989, up from 30 percent in 1984.

Multimedia systems that incorporate a computer, CD-ROM, TV, stereo, VCR, and laser disk are expanding the range of applications even further. Nick Arnett, president of Multimedia Computing Corporation, defines multimedia systems as the linking of audio and visual capabilities to computers. Arnett says, "The software that is selling right now is halfway between educational and entertainment programs aimed toward young children." Interactive space games and other recreational programs enhanced by multimedia graphics are also popular.

School. Computers are ideal educational tools, and an increasing number are being used in schools. In math classes, instructors use computers to teach statistics and graphs and to encourage an interactive approach to problem solving. Multimedia systems--such as audio-video textbooks and multimedia encyclopedias--bring lessons to life by using colorful graphics and sound. With a multimedia encyclopedia, a child can select the term dinosaur, and the computer will provide a moving, color picture of a dinosaur, complete with sound. Providing vivid images such as these is recognized as an effective way to hold the attention of younger children. This is reflected in the growth of computer usage among school children. Children in kindergarten through fourth grade doubled their use of computers between 1984 and 1989, much faster than students in other grades. (See chart 1.)

Computers in the Workplace

The personal computer has had its largest impact in the office, shop, and factory. Census reports indicate that 42 million workers used a computer on the job in 1989, compared to only 24 million in 1984. This increase represents a change from 25 percent of employed persons to 37 percent.

In the 1960's and 1970's, mainframe technology was used by large organizations--universities and other research centers, major corporations, government agencies, and data processing service firms. Although mainframes were ideal for handling large amounts of information, they were too difficult and expensive to use when dealing with smaller amounts of data. In the early 1970's, smaller computers, called minicomputers, became commonplace. Many businesses adopted the smaller machines. This increased user flexibility, but these computers still required programmers, key punch operators, and computer operators.

Widespread business use of the computer became feasible with the introduction of the PC. Personal computers gave workers immediate access to information. For the first time, workers could search large data bases in seconds to find information, and many workers could use a data base simultaneously.

The personal computer has changed the structure of the workplace, redefining job responsibilities and allowing greater access to information, which has reduced the role of the middle manager. Increased access to information allows lower level workers to assume more responsibility, in some cases eliminating the need for middle managers.

Glenn van Doren, president of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, says that the personal computer allows workers to "hear more people's ideas and more people's viewpoints." He adds, "This kind of sharing of information really wasn't possible before the PC." Van Doren claims that mainframes tended to discourage sharing of information. Today, according to van Doren, there is "a tremendous tendency to take decisionmaking ability and push it down into the organization." The networking of PC's enables many more people to have access to data. Van Doren believes that, because more people are directly involved and informed in their day-to-day jobs, their job satisfaction is higher and they work more productively.

Van Doren doesn't think the spread of PC's in the workplace has peaked yet, but he sees it occurring within the next 4 to 5 years. As the spread continues, "More and more information will be shared at lower and lower levels of the corporation," Van Doren predicts. He believes this will continue to modify the responsibilities of workers.

Computer Applications

A decade ago, word processing was by far the leading software program used on personal computers in the workplace. Word processing programs offered improved editing capabilities and essentially rendered typewriters obsolete. Word processing remains the most commonly used software, but now many other programs have entered the workplace. Spreadsheet, bookkeeping, and inventory control programs have become increasingly commonplace.

Expert systems. The development of expert systems has advanced software beyond traditional editing and data management functions. Expert systems incorporate all the knowledge of a human expert in a specific field and offer solutions to a problem based on that information. They are being put into use by a growing number of businesses ranging from medicine to insurance. For example, these systems assist workers in determining whether to approve a loan or challenge an insurance claim.

Communication. Computers are also improving and opening new lines of communication. Increasingly, organizations are moving from mainframe or stand-alone PC systems to networked PC systems. Networked PC's are connected through local area networks (LAN's) that allow users of linked PC's to communicate with each other. Users can send large amounts of information electronically over LAN's.

Videoconferencing is another improvement in communications that is becoming more feasible for organizations eager to minimize travel expenses. Videoconferencing enables people to collaborate face to face with associates from around the world.

New technology. Advances in computer technology have had numerous effects on the way we do our jobs. Pen computing and hand held computers have mobilized sales and inventory personnel. Multimedia graphics are being used to create vivid, attention-getting presentations in thousands of colors. Computer-aided design software has revolutionized advertising campaigns as firms produce ads by computer instead of by hand. The list of relatively recent computer applications could go on and on.

Computers and Productivity

Despite a decade of spending on information technology by American companies, overall white-collar worker productivity, although rising, is lower than it was in the 1970's. Many companies devoted huge budgets to the latest technologies, some to the point of overautomating simple tasks, and forgot to focus on practical applications. Others lost sight of the most important factor for improving productivity: people. If employees find a system difficult to use and understand, it will not be effective. Part of the problem has been a failure to consistently redesign job functions for maximum efficiency. When used efficiently, computer technology has spurred large productivity gains for many organizations.

Computer Use by Occupation

Computer usage has increased significantly--but not uniformly--in every occupation over the 1984-89 period. (See chart 2.) For many occupations, computer skills have become an important qualification for employment. Naturally, the degree to which workers use computers and the way they use them varies by occupation.

Managerial and Professional Occupations

Many managers and professionals must possess a high degree of computer literacy. Some of the leading software programs these workers use are for word processing, spreadsheets, data base management, and analysis.

Fifty-eight percent of executives and managers now use computers regularly. However, incorporating computers into the workplace has adversely affected employment opportunities for middle managers. Corporate downsizing has changed the employment structure of organizations searching for ways to operate more efficiently. In many organizations, lower level workers are taking on more responsibilities due to increased productivity from PC's, meaning that middle managers are becoming less necessary.

One-half of all workers in professional specialties used computers in 1989. Among this group, engineers have one of the highest rates of computer usage for any occupation (75 percent). Engineers use computers for conducting experiments, analyzing data, preparing presentations and reports, and drawing graphic designs and structures. Visualization systems allow engineers to manipulate designs on the screen and instantly see the results of changing mathematical calculations.

Other professionals, such as accountants, use computers to organize information. Public accountants are using an increasing number of software programs for tax planning and preparation and other accounting services. Expert systems are being used to assist in income tax planning and preparing for audits. Lawyers and judges use computers to access legal data bases. Scanners can easily enter depositions, briefs, court records, and legal opinions into a data base that can be quickly searched, even in court.

Technical, Sales, and Administrative Support Occupations

Fifty-five percent of these workers used computers in 1989, up from 39 percent 5 years earlier. Among technicians, 6 of every 10 regularly used a computer in their work in 1989. Engineering and scientific technicians and health technologists do highly precise work--exact measuring and data analysis, for example--for which computers have become vital.

A substantial number of salespeople, 35 percent in 1989, used computers in their work. Sales representatives in finance and business services have the highest rate of computer usage, because they spend much of their time working with numbers. Sales workers in retail trade use computers the least frequently of all sales occupations.

Manufacturers sales representatives are finding smaller portable laptop, palmtop, and pen computers ideally suited to their needs. Carrying their computers with them on customer visits allows sales representatives to enter orders into the computer directly, check inventories ,and inform the customer of any price changes.

Two of every three administrative support workers use a computer in their jobs. This degree of automation has had a tremendous impact on the demand for administrative support workers, as well as on skill requirements and job duties. Jobs for clerical workers are growing more slowly than in past years due to a variety of productivity improvements. Managers and professionals are doing much of their own typing, lessening the need for typists. Another consequence of this change is that many secretaries have been relieved of routine tasks and are analyzing data, preparing reports, and doing other higher level work. They also use computers as organizational tools, communication devices, and bookkeeping aids. Financial records processors use computers for bookkeeping and for keeping track of invoices.

Precision Production, Craft, and Repair Occupations

Computers have provided production workers with more access to information and greater control over production. Computers are frequently located on the shop floor, providing shop workers with engineering, marketing, and scheduling data; this improves their ability to make decisions at crucial points in the production process. Some production workers monitor PC's that use graphics to portray machinery located on the floor. These systems track the progress of parts through the production process. Testers, who once recorded observations by hand and later entered the information into an off-line computer system, can now record data directly onto the computer, eliminating delays.

All Other Occupations

Service workers, operators, laborers, fabricators, and farming, forestry, and fishing workers collectively accounted for only 8 percent of computer use in 1989. Relatively few of these workers use computers in their jobs. An exception is protective service workers, one-third of whom used a computer in 1989, primarily for data base management, analysis, and communications.

Computer Use by Industry

Computers have touched every industry. In some, computers have become the dominant technology, while in others they are used relatively sparingly. (See chart 3.)

Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate

Firms in this industry had the highest overall level of computer usage in 1989, just as they did in 1984. The needs of large banks, insurance companies, and securities firms were compatible with mainframe technology, so the industry automated early. Many of its firms were also among the first large-scale purchasers of PC's. More recently, imaging technology has streamlined procedures in this industry further, allowing forms to be scanned by computer and recorded instantly, thus eliminating the need for data entry personnel. Optical disk technology enables vast amounts of information to be stored safely because the computer disks are virtually indestructible.

Computer networks are also changing the industry. Fully networked systems connecting local, national, and international offices enable large banks, insurance companies, and real estate firms to have instant access to all types of information. Electronic data interchange sends information between systems. E-mail is becoming almost as pervasive as telephones; it allows users to gain immediate access to information and enables them to share ideas and collaborate on projects.

Public Administration

Federal, State, and local government agencies are the second largest users of computer technology. Government resembles finance, insurance, and real estate in that it also is a major purchaser of computers due to the large amount of data it must collect.

An interesting example of computer technology being applied to an old problem comes from California. Fire-prone parks and forests cover much of the State. A networked system between the State and Federal agencies responsible for these forests has been in operation for a couple of years and should be completed soon. This will enable State and Federal firefighting units to share available resources and equipment, which could be crucial when fighting large or multiple fires. Greg Smith, of the California Department of Forests, explains that the 2,500 PC's and 85 local area networks are connected by a wide area network that is the "communications backbone" of the system. Now, when someone calls 911, the system notes and locates the address, recommends what equipment should be sent based on various factors such as weather conditions and size of the blaze, itemizes the equipment available, and notes if additional equipment will be needed. Bill O'Connor, the battalion chief of the State's San Diego ranger unit, points out that before the development of the new system, everything had to be handwritten, including the current location of equipment. Information is now recorded much faster and more efficiently. According to Smith, PC's can even be brought to the site of very large fires to keep officials fully informed of changing conditions and the equipment needed.

Transportation, Communication, and Public Utilities

The communications industry was the most heavily computerized industry within this group, with 2 of every 3 workers using a computer in 1989. Telephone companies, radio and television broadcasters, and cable television firms all rely on sophisticated computer systems to transmit and control signals.

Transportation firms are far less computerized, with only Z7 percent of their workers using computers in 1989. In the trucking industry, computers are used to coordinate scheduling and dispatching and to improve communication with drivers. Two-way satellite communications systems that require interfacing computers can be customized to meet the needs of individual trucking companies. A computer in the cab of each truck automatically communicates with the home computer, so the dispatch center knows the location of every truck at all times. This allows dispatchers easily to reroute trucks, add unscheduled pickups, or change destinations.


Because this industry is so large and covers such a broad range of activities, it is considered fertile ground for growth in computer use. Many state-of-the-art applications are currently in use. The United Parcel Service (UPS) uses pen technology to assist its drivers on routes and to verify customer signatures. Pen-based computers can decipher handwriting, allowing the user to write commands or text directly on the computer screen. UPS drivers have hand held data collectors, called delivery acquisition devices. When customers receive shipments, they sign their names on the data collector's screen to confirm receipt. According to Robert Wells, deployment manager for strategic systems for UPS in Atlanta, "We capture the signature, and it's recorded as a graphic." Wells believes the new system has improved overall productivity. Many of UPS's competitors also use computerized systems.

Multimedia and animation techniques are being used extensively by Archimage, a Houston architectural firm that pioneered the use of computers for architectural design. Richard Buday, Archimage's founder and president, started in 1983 with two people and two computers at a time when computer usage in architecture was virtually unknown. Buday believes that using computers in architecture represents a "fundamental change in the way architects do their work." He describes computer animation as "the perfect architectural delivery medium for presentations."

Archimage believes the client should be actively involved in the design process. For that reason, it makes presentations on a 37-inch monitor, so everyone is directly involved in making decisions. Realistic two- and three-dimensional animation and multimedia production techniques made possible by the integration of CAD (computer-aided design) and computer animation add life to its presentations. Using a computer, clients can instantly see the results of changes made in lighting or materials and can get the feel of what a building will look like if it is constructed with, say, glass versus brick. Once the design has been completed, the architect can take clients on an animated fly-over and walk-through of the entire building, allowing them to explore every element of the design, even opening doors and walking through rooms.

Some imaginative persons have developed even more creative uses of computers, introducing entirely new media into the traditional art world. John Grimes teaches at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. When asked how he labels himself, Grimes says, "In the past, I have called myself a photographer. But now, I deal primarily with computers, so I guess I'm a geek." Grimes uses computers for "experiments of a transformational nature." He combines and alters images in ways that take seconds on the computer but would require hours by any other means. He can easily discover the consequences of certain ideas. Grimes says computers "operate not as a substitute for creativity, but as a lever--a means of extending creativity." While photography had trouble gaining acceptance from galleries in its beginning, Grimes believes that computer art is receiving an enthusiastic response. A recent show featured over 100 works, many of which were interactive.

Virtual reality is another new development in computer technology. Viewers wear video goggles, earphones, and an electronic glove. The goggles and earphones give the user the illusion of being inside a computer-created world. The computer senses movements of the glove and changes the images accordingly. The user can view various sights, listen to different sounds, and manipulate imaginary objects.

In the medical world, computers are well adapted to handle the vast amount of data that the health services industry must deal with every day. Hospitals continue to use computers mainly for record-keeping and word processing. However, imaging systems-such as computer-aided tomography (CAT), ultrasound, x rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)--have proven extremely useful in radiology and cardiology practices.

Bibliographic retrieval systems and clinical patient record systems are also increasingly common. Literature retrieval and the development of CD-ROM systems that allow the data base to be located at the machine itself have greatly helped medical students and doctors gain access to information.

Another development in medicine is the growing acceptance of expert systems for diagnosis. These systems are now more useful for specialists than for general practitioners, because general practitioners must consider so many possibilities. Expert systems have been developed to diagnose pulmonary disease and for use in ophthalmology and psychiatry practices.

Manufacturing, Construction, and Mining

Computers are transforming manufacturing. Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) has proven effective for integrating business and manufacturing processes in many manufacturing companies. In CIM, all aspects of manufacturing are computerized, from designing the products, to planning production schedules, to controlling inventory. CIM tracks information such as the number of parts ordered and the changes made in material requirements. The system also automates assembly or processing and inspection. Some CIM technologies use artificial intelligence for decisionmaking. Electronic data interchange (EDI) is also an important part of CIM technology, allowing users to send data instantly to suppliers and other plants. This helps plants keep inventories low and costs down.

Computer use in construction falls well below the average for all industries. This reflects the nature of the industry, which is largely composed of many relatively small contractors that are not extensively computerized.

Computer use in mining remained essentially unchanged between 1984 and 1989. Like firms in most other industries, mining establishments use word processing and spreadsheet programs extensively. Workers also frequently employ programs to analyze ore samples and to monitor output.

Wholesale and Retail Trade

The proportion of this industry's workers using computers rose significantly over the 1984-89 period, from 18 to 28 percent. Industry firms make above average use of sales software, because most cash registers are now linked to computers. Invoice and inventory control functions are also heavily computerized. Computers are used nearly twice as extensively in wholesale establishments as in retail firms.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries

Use of computers in this industry is relatively low. However, 1 of every 3 workers in forestry and fisheries, a very small industry, used computers in 1989. Widely used applications include word processing, spreadsheet, and analytical packages.

In the much larger agriculture industry, there is far less computer use by individuals. Only 8 percent of farmers used their own computer in 1989. Paul Yarborough, a communications professor at Cornell University who has been tracking computer usage among farmers in Iowa and New York since 1982, doesn't expect this pattern to change soon. Yarborough says that more than half of the present population of farmers will never adopt a general purpose computer. Younger farmers, however, will be more open to purchasing computers.

The primary use of personal computers in farming is for management support activities such as recordkeeping, running hypothetical financial and production models, and improving communication. Computers with modems also give farmers access to services that provide marketing information, such as weather and crop reports. Computer use in automating farm production processes, such as animal feeding and control of machinery, is just beginning.

Computer Occupations: New Applications, New Job Titles

Computer occupations include a wide variety of job functions, ranging from academic researchers and workers who design complex hardware or software systems to data entry workers and computer equipment repairers. (The accompanying box lists many of the computer occupations.) As computer technology has advanced, the mix of these occupations has also changed, with many new specialties emerging and others becoming less important.

The Old Way ...

When all computers were mainframes, occupational responsibilities were very structured: Only computer workers had access to the computer. Programmers and systems analysts were fairly well removed from the rest of the organization. Organizations were set up with a main computer room, where one group managed all the hardware and software. Packaged, ready-to-use software was not available, so systems were custom designed. This was a tedious process that required several steps. First, the systems analyst would meet with the user to explore the feasibility of computerizing a particular process. If the request was workable, the analyst then devised a series of steps that would achieve the desired result. At this point, a programmer or a team of programmers would write the program, which could have thousands of lines of programming code. This was followed by testing the program to ensure that it performed as intended.

These programs only worked with the equipment and data of the organization they were written for. Automating the same process for another organization required repeating all the steps. In addition, many programmers were needed to revise and update those programs as circumstances changed. Altering a program to include a new set of information or to process new types of data was a massive undertaking that involved writing out or rewriting many lines of code.

... And the New

The spread of PC's into the workplace altered the centralized work structure and had a major impact on the mix of computer jobs. In such a rapidly changing field, job responsibilities change rapidly. Even job titles change as the development of new technologies requires new skills. Often, job responsibilities overlap, creating confusion as to the exact duties of workers in specific occupations. For example, the role of programmers has expanded from performing strictly programming functions to include business analysis. LAN managers use some programming to connect and maintain networked systems. Some systems analysts are responsible for only a few functions, while others implement an entire system.

As users realized the potential of PC's, they became interested in improving their productivity. As a result, businesses continually upgrade their systems to remain competitive. Standard packaged software developed for general use may not meet their needs. And they often require customized software designed to perform unique functions, such as creating networked systems. Systems analysts, employed by outside consulting firms or the company, custom design the programs as needed. Now, the development of packaged and customized software provides a rapidly growing market in the computer industry.

Programmers. The many technological innovations in programming have redefined the role of the programmer and led to new skill requirements. Development of an increasing number of programming tools and innovations, such as object-oriented programming and Computer-Aided Software Engineering (CASE), have simplified and shortened the process of writing new programs.

CASE tools are used to develop computer systems and simplify code generation. Instead of writing an entire program line by line, CASE tools generate whole sections of code automatically. They allow the programmer to select the needed code from charts and graphs rather than work directly with a complex programming language. Computer systems developed under older systems can be reengineered with CASE tools by pulling sections of the old code from the old system and incorporating them directly into the new.

Automatic code generation has reduced the need for pure programmers. Now, employers look for computer specialists who have business expertise and can combine business analysis with programming skills. Computer experts now teach computer users how to customize their own programs rather than writing the program themselves.

Systems analysts. While programmers are responsible for producing the code for a system, systems analysts design the system that determines what code the programmer will need to write. Their basic role has not changed drastically from the one they performed in the mainframe environment. They review existing programs to see what improvements they can make to meet changing requirements. They often work with the user to identify problems and to understand what new functions the system will require. Then they determine if these changes are feasible using the existing system.

New occupations. Data communications analysts are increasingly important in today's PC environment. These professionals test, research, and evaluate the network hardware and software that controls the transmission of data. They must keep up to date on the development of new products and recommend hardware and software to use with existing systems.

Prior to the PC, businesses buying computers were locked into purchasing the software produced by the manufacturer of that computer. Now, software is largely interchangeable. Many types of software can be used on a system, and different systems can be interconnected. Setting up a system means choosing among an extensive number of options. This has created jobs for people who have the knowledge to assemble the most efficient system for the user. These workers are commonly referred to as systems integrators, systems analysts, or consultants. Demand for technical staff that can work with open systems--which allow systems from different manufacturers to interact--is high. Companies hiring computer professionals for open systems technology look for UNIX skills, as well as C programming and data base management skills.

As a wide variety of systems entered the business environment, it became clear that connecting them in LAN'S would lead to improved communication, speed, and capacity. The occupation of LAN manager arose in response to the growing number of these systems. LAN managers, unheard of before the development of the PC, are now in great demand to perform the maintenance and care of these systems.

Computer security occupations also arose in response to increased PC use. Security was relatively easy to maintain when all computers were mainframes; all information was stored in a central location, and relatively few people had access to it or to the computer. In contrast, a PC network creates many more possible entrances for hackers to gain access into the system and threaten data security. Computer security coordinators plan security measures to protect information in computer files from accidental or unauthorized modification, destruction, or disclosure.

The spread of PC's has also created demand for personal computer and systems managers to supervise the installation of new systems, provide training for employees to learn new computer programs, and help users deal with problems. User support analysts act as customer service representatives for computer software and hardware vendors and answer telephone inquiries to help resolve problems. Information and image management is another rapidly expanding application of computer technology. Optical disk technology is the leading technology in this field due to its ability to store vast amounts of information and retrieve it in seconds. Documents are scanned into the computer so users can view the entire form or call up only the information they want. Imaging is becoming the standard practice for financial services, insurance, accounting firms, and other organizations that must store massive amounts of written material. Many imaging systems are being tailored to individual needs of each company. Thus, demand for computer workers specializing in imaging technology is increasing. Service bureaus devoted to meeting imaging needs for businesses and helping them install imaging systems are also on the lookout for people with these skills. Technicians scan documents into the computer and then check them for accuracy. Software designers custom design imaging systems for specific offices. Technical specialists help with data base management, scanning, and networking. Programmers who specialize in imaging use C programming and UNIX skills.

One of the fastest growing markets of new computer technology is multimedia, which is creating new demand and providing excellent opportunities for consulting firms specializing in these systems. Programming multimedia systems requires working with a visual approach. Often programmers work with graphic and design specialists to achieve the proper effects. Video engineers, software engineers, and graphic designers are all growing occupations in the multimedia field. As multimedia systems become embedded in more and more products, programmers will need even more complex technological knowledge.

Losers in the March of Technology

Just as new technology often creates new jobs, it often affects some occupations negatively. As noted, programmer jobs have been affected by improvements in software design. These productivity tools are making programming simpler, allowing workers in many occupations to perform some or all of their own programming. Easier code generation has turned programming into a lower skilled job and reduced the number of jobs that require programming exclusively.

Technology has affected other occupations as well. For example, mainframe computers used to receive input from punch cards. Thousands of key punch operators prepared the cards, which contained programs and stored data. Punch cards are no longer used, and key punch operators are no longer needed. The occupation "key punch operator" evolved into "data entry keyer" to reflect the change in the way workers entered data into computers. Data entry keyers are needed to enter all the data that make up the huge data bases that are part of modern systems. Now this occupation is threatened by new technology. The entire data entry process is becoming increasingly streamlined due to imaging and other technologies, allowing workers to enter and process data in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Other occupations tied to mainframe technology are also being affected. For example, computer operators are vital to the operation of a centralized computer but are not needed in a PC environment. As mainframes account for a decreasing share of computer systems in use, the demand for computer operators will continue to weaken.

Implications for Training

Because information technology is such a rapidly changing field, computer workers must adapt quickly to change and keep up with the latest innovations and methods through retraining. Skills described as essential for today's computer workers could be completely redefined in as little as 4 or 5 years. For example, LAN manager occupations, in high demand today, may be obsolete tomorrow, replaced by occupations we cannot imagine currently.

Many firms are finding their needs shifting from hiring purely technical workers to hiring a greater number of workers who combine technical ability and communication skills with a thorough knowledge of the industry. Due to advances in programming technology, companies are able to get by with fewer pure programmers and are hiring more business analysts and managers. Many companies hire business school graduates and then train them to build their technical skills.

Although college-level training is a minimum requirement for many computer jobs, there are still many opportunities for those who do not have a college degree. Skills taught at a vocational school or junior college in an associate degree program can prepare you for basic programming jobs as well as for jobs in computer maintenance, operations, and user support.

In the future, degree programs that combine computer science with a concentration such as business or math may provide the best preparation for those who are interested in computer careers requiring a bachelor's degree. Work-study programs or internships also can build a solid foundation. Students interested in higher level jobs in systems design or academic research should continue to focus on graduate degrees in computer science.

It's Smart, But Is It a Computer?

Manufacturers are embedding computer chips in a growing number of products that we use every day, products that we don't normally associate with computers. Chips control the fuel mixture in automobiles, maintain the environment in modern buildings, select the appropriate settings on autofocus cameras, and control the bar code scanner at the supermarket checkout. With so many products being computerized, there is understandable confusion over what qualifies as a computer. The defining characteristic of a computer is that the operator controls it. In contrast, the user of a computerized machine has no such control. It performs its function without any input from the operator. This article focuses only on the use of full-fledged computers.

Computer Terminology

AI--Artificial intelligence: computers that have the

ability to mimic human reasoning or sensing. CAD--Computer-aided design: a computer system used

in engineering and architecture, combining design

techniques and manufacturing principles. CD-ROM-Compact disc-read only memory: a compact

disc on which computer data can be stored and

accessed. E-mail--Electronic mail: messages sent electronically

from one computer to another. EDI--Electronic data interchange: sending data

electronically between terminals, Hacker--An amateur computer user or programmer

who works with computers as a hobby or pastime.

Some experiment with various codes to gain illegal

entry into a secured computer system. Lan--Local area network: a computer network linking

PC's, allowing them to operate and share data within

a common environment. Multimedia system--A system which incorporates a

computer with other types of technology such as

CD players. CD-ROM's, and VCR's. This allows

users to combine text. animation, audio, video, and

graphics to create enhanced presentations. Network--A group of linked computers. On-Line--A PC linked into a networked system. PC--Personal computer: a self-contained computer with

its own monitor, data entry unit, and processing

unit. Spreadsheet--An accountant's or statistician's work

sheet formatted with columns and rows to organize

numerical data; also, a computer program that

produces such a work sheet.

Computer Occupations in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles

Occupations in systems analysis and programming

Software engineer: Researches, designs, and develops

computer software systems in conjunction

with hardware product development, applying

principles and techniques of computer science, engineering,

and mathematical analysis. Computer programmer: Converts data from project

specifications and statements of problems and

procedures to create or modify computer programs.

Converts detailed logical flow chart to

language processable by computer. Programmer-analyst: Plans, develops, tests, and

documents computer programs, applying knowledge

of programming techniques and computer

systems. Programmer, engineering and scientific: Converts

scientific, engineering, and other technical problem

formulations to format processable by computer. Systems programmer: Coordinates installation of

computer operation system software and tests,

maintains, and modifies software, using computer

terminal. Systems analyst: Analyzes user requirements, procedures,

and problems to automate processing or to

improve existing computer system.

Occupations in data communications and networks

Network control operator: Monitors data communications

network to ensure that network is available

to all system users and resolves data communications

problems. Data communications analyst: Researches, tests.

evaluates, and recommends data communications

hardware and software.

Occupations in computer systems user support

User support analyst: Investigates and resolves

computer software and hardware problems of users.

Occupations in computer systems technical support

Computer security coordinator: Plans, coordinates, and

implements security measures to safeguard information

in computer files against accidental or unauthorized

modification, destruction, or disclosure. Data recovery planner: Develops, coordinates implementation

of, and tests plan to continue establishment

data processing activities at off-site location

in case of emergency, such as fire, at main site. Technical support specialist: Performs duties to

provide technical support to workers in information

processing departments. Can include developing

work goals and department projects, and

reviewing completed computer programs to ensure

that goals are met and programs are compatible

with those already in use. Computer systems hardware analyst: Analyzes

data processing requirements to plan data processing

system that will provide system capabilities required

for projected work loads and plans layout

and installation of new system or modification of

existing system. Quality assurance analyst: Evaluates and tests new

or modified software programs and software development

procedures used to verify that programs

function according to user requirements and conform

to establishment guidelines. Computer security specialist: Regulates access to

computer data files, monitors data file use, and updates

computer security files.

Computer-related occupations

Data base administrator: Coordinates physical

changes to computer data bases and codes, tests,

and implements physical data base, applying

knowledge of data base management system. Data base design analyst: Designs logical and physical

data bases and coordinates data base development

as part of project team, applying knowledge

of data base design standards and data base

management system. Microcomputer support specialist: Installs, modifies,

and makes minor repairs to microcomputer

hardware and software systems and provides technical

assistance and training to systems users.

Computer and peripheral equipment operators

Computer operator: Operates computer and

peripheral equipment to process business, scientific,

engineering, or other data. Can include loading

tapes and printer paper, using keyboard, notifying

supervisor of errors or equipment stoppage. Computer peripheral equipment operator: Operates

computer peripheral equipment such as

printer, plotter, computer output microfiche

machine to transfer data to and from computer and

convert data from one format to another. Digitizer operator: Operates encoding machine to

trace coordinates on documents, such as maps or

drawings, and to encode document points into


Computer and office machine repairers

Office-machine-servicer: Repairs and services

office machines using hand tools, power tools,

micrometers, and welding equipment. Assembly technician: Inspects, adjusts, and repairs

punched-card office machines, such as interpreters.

collators, proof machines for banks,

and card punches, using hand tools and test


Source: Dictionary of Occupational Titles, fourth edition (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 1991)
COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Government Printing Office
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related glossary of computer terms
Author:Barkume, Megan
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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