What's new in high-tech careers? To remain competitive in the global marketplace, companies rely on the innovations of information technology professionals.
While this may read like something from a Ray Bradbury novel, this science-fictional setting is closer to reality than you think. Many of these capabilities exist today in the areas of portable communications, remote data access and intelligent systems. And many more are to come as computer scientists and engineers map out the next technological frontier.
A major driver of economic growth in America has always been technology. It has helped the country win wars, created millions of new jobs and spawned new industries. Not so long ago, the technological strength of U.S. manufacturing and service industries stood head and shoulders above the rest of the world.
But because of increasingly intense international competition, America's technological edge has been eroding. Government and private industry leaders are taking a hard look at how advanced information technology can be used more effectively to reestablish and improve the competitiveness of U.S. industry.
As the nation quickens its step to keep pace with foreign competitors, demand is mounting for workers with high-tech skills. African-Americans with the technical and marketing skills needed to help their companies gain a worldwide market presence will see the biggest payoff.
Whether employed in high-tech consumer companies or educational organizations, African-Americans are already making significant contributions to advancing the nation's agenda. Computer experts can be found almost anywhere from the corporate boardrooms of Digital Equipment Corp. to the classrooms of Florida A&M University. "There are more specialists and generalists in the industry than ever before," says Diane Davis, president of Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) in Detroit
The need for experts in information technology (which includes computer services and telecommunications) is growing, Davis says, partly because the field now encompasses new technologies, such as interactive multimedia, which did not exist a few years ago.
In order to reap the benefits of such a robust industry, African-American professionals and entrepreneurs must stay on the competitive edge of these new technologies and combine their technical talents with a keen understanding of today's business needs.
While more and more doors are unlocking in high-tech careers, the number of African-Americans walking through is small. According to the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), based in Washington, D.C., there were 675,000 computer systems analysts and scientists employed in 1990. Of that total, 5.8% were black.
Moreover, many black high-tech professionals are pigeonholed in outdated areas because they've failed to look beyond their routine job functions. Even nontechnical professionals are at a disadvantage, say industry insiders such as BDPA's Diane Davis, who also is manager of information technology for Digital.
Although the drive for higher productivity and efficiency has led to corporate downsizing and cost-cutting, computer and information services is one of a few industries that will have more jobs than workers by the and of the decade, says George Keller, president of the Association for Service Management International, a trade organization based in Washington, D.C.
In fact computer and information services is one of the fastest-growing job categories. Over the next 10 years, employment in the computer services sector is expected to double, generating some 710,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Certain employment sectors are more potentially explosive than others in terms of jobs, salaries and business opportunities. The fastest-growing areas in information technology are: telecommunications services and equipment computer software and hardware services; computer literacy and information training; marketing; and value-added sales. And industries exhibiting strong demand for information technology professionals include financial services, health care, public utilities and distribution and sales.
With the federal government contracting out services and corporations still downsizing, small and emerging companies will hire the bulk of high-tech professionals. This year alone, high-tech companies with fewer than 1,000 employees will add 105,000 workers, estimates Corporate Technology Information Services Inc., a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.
For the remainder of the decade, employment opportunities and job security might not depend so much on which company you work for, but whether you are working in one of the hot areas or divisions of that company. "Technology is changing so rapidly, that it is crucial for high-tech professionals to stay abreast of trends," says Clarence Robert Lipscomb, management analyst with the Public Utility Commission of Texas, located in Austin. "If you have a specialization plus broader exposure to evolving technology, you'll be in a much better position." This way, you won't have to fret about your job becoming obsolete.
Throughout the 1990s and beyond, computer programmers and systems analysts will have to retool themselves for marketability, says David Nesbitt a telecommunications consultant for COMSYS Inc. in Englewood, Colo. In today's changing environment, computer scientists are required to know engineering and engineers to be familiar with computer science, Nesbitt explains.
Adopting a multidisciplinary approach may be the key to optimizing future opportunities as we move into the 21st century. This might require high-tech professionals to further their academic education by taking training courses or getting advanced degrees.
The College Placement Council estimates that the average starting salary for a computer science graduate with a bachelor's degree is 30,523; for a master's, $39,120; and for a Ph.D., $61,555. According to the CPST, in 1990, only one black received a doctorate in computer science and information technology--less than 1% of all degrees received in that area. And only 259, or 2.6%, of all master's degrees awarded in computer science and information technology were awarded to blacks.
These days, it seems that every form of communications is converting to digital from the analog waves of televisions, telephones and radios, and the images of movies and photographs. The move to digital is causing several industries to overlap: computers, electronics, telecommunications and entertainment. Sound, pictures and information are cropping up in everyday products such as TV sets, telephones and stereo systems.
This new technical movement has fostered a high demand for people who can design and operate digital networks.
Voice/Data Network Analysts And Managers
Telecommunications providers are beefing up their search for voice/data managers and analysts to install and evaluate hardware and software systems. Computer specialists with electrical engineering expertise are especially in demand to design communications equipment and systems, including fiber-optic lines, microwave-to-satellite links and digital switching networks.
The drive for voice and data networks and corporate-wide communications also is creating a need for people with skills in networking and systems integration. Computer specialists who can design and manage local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) are highly sought after nationally. The shortage of these high-tech professionals is pushing their salaries slightly higher than average. For instance, the average salary of systems managers has grown from $32,000 in 1985 to $54,000 today, according to Robert Half International Inc. in New York.
Companies want people who can identify and solve data-processing problems and develop new computer networks and/or install additional software to improve existing systems and processes. Thus, two of the fastest-growing areas are systems analysts and programmers. According to the BLS, the number of systems analysts and programmers will increase 53% and 48%, respectively, by the year 2000.
The quest for faster machines continues to provide employment opportunities for hardware designers (industrial engineers). Such professionals will be responsible for developing the next generation of computers and workstations. Equally desirable are systems integrators working with UNIX--the next-generation generic operating system that would allow one computer system to interact with another manufacture's system. More companies are looking to move to the UNIX operating system because of its compatibility, says Milton Goodman, vice president of new business development for Plainfield, N.J.-based Accurate Information Systems Inc., a BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 company. Companies no longer want proprietary machines but systems that can interact easily with other company's computer networks.
The wide acceptance of multiprotocol systems also greatly reduces the need for basic COBOL programmers. Instead, companies want software designers familiar with computer-aided systems engineering (CASE) design and general-purpose computer languages such as C and C++.
More than ever, employers want software engineers who can customize existing and new programs. Today, computer experts must understand how to use technology as a tool to solve business problems. They are no longer using computers for technology's sake but the company's betterment
Research and Development Professionals
Now that the Cold War's end has shifted the federal government's priorities from military to civilian endeavors, technical professionals can reap the benefits of a career in research and development (R&D). About $30 billion in federal research spending might be set aside for advanced work in robotics, smart highways, data storage, digital imaging, software applications, artificial intelligence, fiber-optic communications and global computer networks. High-tech professionals will be sought out in laboratories in both the private and public sector, with entry-level salaries averaging out at around $28,000.
Systems integrators and software applications designers are not the only professionals to capitalize on opportunities in information technology. Sales is another hot area. Many companies are moving their applications from mainframes to minicomputers and mid-range systems. As a result, companies favor individuals who can supply client/server applications and products that allow a personal computer linked to a file server to store information that formerly resided on a mainframe, says Rosemarie Amadeo, director of business development for Input Output Computer Services Inc., in Waltham, Mass., a BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 company.
Computer and software manufacturers are increasingly looking for sales reps who can review a clients needs and recommend solutions, promote the manufacturer's product line and train the end-users to effectively use the materials.
Al Stoddard, director of Value-Added Reseller (VAR) Sales and Marketing for Lotus Development Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., says commercial and government opportunities abound for VARs. VARs resell computer and software manufacturers' products to clients, offering custom corporate-wide solutions, Stoddard says.
Even with off-the-shelf packages, VARs can tailor applications to meet a company's needs. One example would be providing work-group computing, using the company's notable groupware product, Lotus Notes.
Computer training is becoming a big career and profit booster for consultants. Whether you work for a firm or are self-employed, opportunities are growing for instructors. With new systems infiltrating nearly every type of business, more employers need product trainers who can teach workers--from the clerk to senior managers--to use computers and software programs.
The push for computer literacy has increased demand for computer instructors in education. Elementary schools, high schools and colleges are looking for teachers who understand computers.
For technologists whose writing talents are more up to par than their oral skills, opportunities exist in preparing manuals, catalogs, sales materials and other literature. Oppor-tunities also exist for those who can develop electronic data processing (EDP) curriculums.
Management Information Systems (MIS) Managers
Management is another hot career area in the data communications and telecommunications network arena. The shift from mainframes has enabled information systems departments to decentralize and move closer to end-users. As information systems professionals work with other corporate departments, companies are intensifying their search for candidates with business, interpersonal and communications skills.
The ability to manage systems and the people who use them is critical to career advancement. "Years ago, MIS managers typically focused on downtime--keeping the system up and running," says Patrick Withers, director of computer services for Washington, D.C.-based Black Entertain-ment Television (BET) Holdings Inc., a BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 company. "Today, they must focus on improving technology to enhance user productivity."
Withers stresses that despite the ability of computers or network systems to lessen workloads and improve efficiency, they are only as smart as the people who design, manufacture and program them.
In Search Of Business Opportunities
Many minority-owned high-tech businesses are losing out on opportunites, mostly because they are not part of the inside track. Few African-American entrepreneurs are intimately involved with trade associations and committees, says Perry Carter, director for the Information Technology Association of America in Washington, D.C. Such an affiliation would allow them to pool resources, share capabilities and experiences with senior corporate managers, develop industry-wide standards, induce profitable legislative initiatives, develop niche markets and track policies impacting new business ventures. The ability to develop strategic partnerships will be critical to the success of minority firms, Carter adds.
Fortune 500 companies, for instance, are increasingly opting to outsource (contract services) to smaller companies. "The large corporations and the government are leveraging their expertise and resources to generate additional revenue and create greater business opportunities," Carter says. Commercial and government prospects abound for entrepreneurs who supply computer hardware and software services, develop information systems applications and design global networks.
Black entrepreneurs must think globally when looking at business opportunities, says Carter, referring specifically to Canada, Mexico, the European Community's 12-member countries, Pacific Rim nations and Japan. To compete, minority-owned companies must form joint ventures and cross-license technologies. Equally, minority businesses should focus on customizing existing and new programs to solve problems that impact their clients' bottom line.
Being a problem-solver has been financially and personally rewarding for Arlander Card, founder and president of Kansas City, Mo.-based SCI Inc., a systems integration consulting firm. A year ago, a market research firm hired Card, a 13-year veteran who is a former systems analyst and trouble-shooter for such companies as Southwestern Bell, Boeing and TWA, to develop a program that would help a small trucking company process information on how a competitor was enticing away its customers. To conduct the actual market research, the company brought in a second person, Jerry Cane, who previously worked for an advertising agency. The result of this alliance was [i.sup.2], a database management system. The graphics-oriented software runs on any IBM PC or compatible (a Macintosh version will be available by summer).
The the 33-year-old Wichita State University graduate with a degree in engineering now has 10 clients, mostly Fortune 500 companies. Starting from $10,000 up to $100,000, Card customizes each client's program. For another $1,000 to $5,000 monthly fee, he updates the information and provides programming changes.
Kamal A.M. Al-Mansour is tapping into other fresh markets from Afrocentric software to alternative power supplies. The Los Angeles entrepreneur is the founder of AfroLink Software, which produces such products as CP Time Clip Art, Africa Insight and Caribbean Insight The Hastings College of Law and the University of California at Los Angeles graduate formerly worked as a software contracts administrator for Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, Calif., one of seven NASA centers. Ironically, he never had formal software training. In fact, he taught himself to use a Macintosh.
His first product was an on-line service called CP Time On-Line, which came about as a result of various affiliations in the Caribbean. "I had started to build up notes and other data about West Indian culture and different businesses and organizations. Then one day it dawned on me: I had all of these notebooks and a computer. So, wouldn't it make sense to combine the two?"
In 1988, Al-Mansour went to work for GTE Communications Systems division in Needham Heights, Mass. It was during his 11 -month tenure at the company that he started AfroLink Software.
Next year, he plans to introduce a modem that can serve various communications devices--analog telephone lines, radio, digital and cellular. He also is designing the communications software to go along with it, which would have a graphical interface. The hardware component is being devised by his partner, an electronics engineer who resides in Jamaica, West Indies. The partner previously worked 15 years at the German-based company Tektronics Inc. and the U.S. company Teledyne Inc. CP Time On-Line will be marketed with the modem. Says Al-Mansour: "We're confident remote access communications is the wave of the future."
Training Tomorrows High-Tech Pros
To boldly go where no one--or only a few--have gone before is the challenge of today's high-techers. Not everyone in computer and information science is likely to win a Nobel prize. Still, there are great rewards for those who can turn breakthrough technology into practical applications. William Youmans is a freshman at Florida A&M University, majoring in computer science and engineering. The 18-year-old has a big advantage over most of his collegiate peers and many computer specialists. He was the principal architect of an artificial intelligence (Al) and expert systems model. Al is the development of computers that mimic the reasoning of the human brain.
As a high school student, Youmans studied this discipline at the Joint Educational Facilities (JEF) Inc., in Washington, D.C. The community computer literacy group works with about 40 to 50 students a year from kindergarten to 12th grade.
JEF is the brainchild of Jesse L. Bemley, who has been a computer specialist at the U.S. Army Cost and Economic Analysis Center since 1985. Bemley has taught computers and advanced systems technology to young people since 1982.
"As a part-time instructor in the computer science department at Strayer College, I saw the shortcomings of computing in the local schools," Bemley explains. Even his brightest students lacked knowledge about basic programming. JEF was the solution, says Bemley. To differentiate his program, Bemley focuses on areas even the average computer professional has not dealt with. In keeping with an ever-evolving society, "the goal is to make people more knowledge-intensive versus labor-intensive."
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|Title Annotation:||includes list of suggested skills for computer information jobs|
|Author:||Brown, Carolyn M.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1993|
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