The computer systems design and related services industry is expected to experience rapid growth, adding 489,000 jobs between 2006 and 2016. Professional and related workers will enjoy the best job prospects, reflecting continuing demand for higher level skills needed to keep up with changes in technology. Computer specialists accounted for 54 percent of all employees in this industry in 2006.
Nature of the Industry
All organizations today rely on computer and information technology to conduct business and operate more efficiently. Often, however, these institutions do not have the internal resources to effectively implement new technologies or satisfy their changing needs. When faced with such limitations, organizations turn to the computer systems design and related services industry to meet their specialized needs.
Goods and services. Firms enlist the services of an establishment in the computer systems design and related services industry on a contract or customer basis for help with a particular project or problem, such as setting up a secure Web site or establishing a marketplace online. Alternatively, firms may choose to contract out to a computer services firm one or more activities, such as the management of their onsite data center or help-desk support.
Services provided by this industry include custom computer programming services; computer systems design services; computer facilities management services, including computer systems or data processing facilities support services; and other computer-related services such as disaster recovery and software installation. Computer training contractors, however, are included in the Career Guide in the section on educational services, and establishments that manufacture computer equipment are included in the Career Guide in the section on computer and electronic product manufacturing. Establishments primarily engaged in providing computer data processing services at their own facility for others are discussed in the Career Guide in the section on Internet services providers, Web search portals, and data processing services. Producers of packaged software and Internet-based software are covered in the Career Guide in the section on the software publishers industry. Telecommunications services, including cable Internet providers, are covered in the Career Guide in the section on the telecommunications industry.
Industry organization. In 2006, there were 159,000 establishments in the computer systems design and related services industry. Custom programming establishments write, modify, test, and support software to meet the needs of a particular customer. These service firms may be hired to code large programs, or to install a software package on a user’s system and customize it to the user's specific needs. Programming service firms also may update or reengineer existing systems.
Systems design services firms plan and design computer systems that integrate computer hardware, software, and communications technologies. In addition, they often install these systems and train and support the people who use them. The systems’ hardware and software components may be provided by the design firm as part of integrated services, or may be provided by third parties or vendors.
Computer facilities management services usually are offered at the customer’s site. Establishments offering these services provide onsite management and operation of clients’ computer systems and facilities, as well as facilities support services.
Electronic business, referred to as e-business, is any process that a business organization conducts over a computer-mediated network. Electronic commerce, referred to as e-commerce, is the part of e-business that involves the buying and selling of goods and services online. With the growth of the Internet and the expansion of e-commerce, some service firms specialize in developing and maintaining sites on the World Wide Web (see below) for client companies. Others create and maintain corporate intranets or self-contained internal networks that link multiple users within an organization by means of the Internet or, more recently, wireless technology. These firms design sophisticated computer networks, assist with upgrades or conversions, design programming features for clients, and engage in continual maintenance. They help clients select the right hardware and software products for a particular project, and then develop, install, and implement the system, as well as train the client's users. Service firms also offer consulting services for any stage of development throughout the entire process, from design and content development to administration and maintenance of site security.
Recent developments. The widespread use of the Internet and intranets also has resulted in an increased focus on security. Security threats range from damaging computer viruses to online credit card fraud and identity theft. The robust growth of e-commerce highlights this concern, as firms use the Internet to exchange sensitive information with an increasing number of clients. In order to mitigate this threat, many organizations are employing the services of security consulting firms, which specialize in all aspects of information technology (IT) security. These firms assess computer systems for areas of vulnerability, manage firewalls, and provide protection against intrusion and software “viruses.” They also play a vital role in homeland security by keeping track of people and information.
Hours. In 2006, workers in the computer systems design and related services industry averaged 38.3 hours per week, compared with 33.9 for all industries combined. Many workers in this industry worked more than the standard 40-hour workweek—about 19 percent work 50 or more hours a week. For many professionals and technical specialists, evening or weekend work is commonly necessary to meet deadlines or solve problems. Professionals working for large establishments may have less freedom in planning their schedule than do consultants for very small firms, whose work may be more varied. Only about 7 percent of the workers in the computer systems design and related services industry work part time, compared with 15 percent of workers throughout all industries.
Work environment. Most workers in the computer systems design and related services industry work in clean, quiet offices. Those in facilities management and maintenance may work in computer operations centers. Given the technology available today, however, more work can be done from remote locations using fax machines, e-mail, and especially the Internet. For example, systems analysts may work from home with their computers linked directly to computers at their employer or a client. Computer support specialists, likewise, can tap into a customer’s computer remotely in order to identify and fix problems. Even programmers and consultants, who often relocate to a customer’s place of business while working on a project, may perform work from offsite locations.
Those who work with personal computers for extended periods may experience musculoskeletal strain, eye problems, stress, or repetitive motion illnesses, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
In 2006, there were about 1.3 million wage and salary jobs in the computer systems design and related services industry. While the industry has both large and small firms, the average establishment in computer systems design and related services is relatively small; about 78 percent of establishments employed fewer than 5 workers in 2006. Many of these small establishments are startup firms that hope to capitalize on a market niche. The majority of jobs, however, are found in establishments that employ 50 or more workers (chart).
Compared with the rest of the economy, there are significantly fewer workers 45 years of age and older in the computer systems design and related services industry. This industry’s workforce remains younger than most, with large proportions of workers in the 25-to-44 age range (table 1). This reflects the industry’s explosive growth in employment in the 1980s and 1990s that provided opportunities to thousands of young workers who possessed the latest technological skills.
Occupations in the Industry
Providing a wide array of information services to clients requires a diverse and well-educated workforce. The majority of workers in the computer systems design and related services industry are professional and related workers—overwhelmingly computer specialists such as computer systems analysts, computer software engineers, and computer programmers (table 2). This occupational group accounts for about 62 percent of the jobs in the industry, reflecting the emphasis on high-level technical skills and creativity. By 2016, the share of professional and related occupations is expected to be even greater, while the share of office and administrative support occupations, currently accounting for 13 percent of industry employment, is expected to fall.
Professional and related occupations. Computer specialists make up the vast majority of professional and related occupations, and account for more than 54 percent of the industry as a whole. Their duties vary by occupation, and include such tasks as developing computer software, designing information systems, and maintaining network security.
Programmers write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions, called programs or software, that computers must follow to perform their functions. These specialized programs tell the computer what to do—for example, which information to identify and access, how to process it, and what equipment to use. Custom programmers write these commands by breaking down each step into a logical series, converting specifications into a language that the computer understands. While some still work with traditional programming languages, such as COBOL, most programmers today use more sophisticated tools. Object-oriented programming languages, such as C++ and Java, computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools, and artificial intelligence shells are widely used to create and maintain programs, because they allow portions of code to be reused in programs that require similar routines. Many programmers also customize a package to clients’ specific needs or create better packages.
Computer engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate computer software programs, systems, and hardware and related equipment. Although programmers write and support programs in new languages, much of the design and development now is the responsibility of software engineers or software developers. (See the section in the Career Guide on software publishers.) Software engineers in the systems design and related services industry must possess strong programming skills but are more concerned with developing algorithms, and analyzing and solving programming problems for specific network systems than with actually writing code. Computer systems software engineers primarily write, modify, test, and develop software to meet the needs of a particular customer. They develop software systems for control and automation in manufacturing, business, and other areas.
Computer and information scientists work as theorists, researchers, or inventors. They apply a higher level of theoretical expertise and innovation and develop solutions to complex problems relating to computer hardware and software. Computer and information scientists with advanced backgrounds in security may be employed as cyberspace security specialists in disaster recovery situations or in custom security software installation.
Systems analysts integrate hardware and software to make computer systems more efficient. By implementing new software applications, or even designing entirely new systems, they help organizations maximize their investments in machines, personnel, and business processes. To perform their jobs they use data modeling, structured analysis, information engineering, and other methods. They prepare charts for programmers to follow for proper coding and perform cost-benefit analyses to help management evaluate systems. They also ensure that systems perform to their specifications by testing them thoroughly.
Network systems and data communications analysts design and evaluate network systems, such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet systems. They perform network modeling, analysis, and planning, and may deal with the interfacing of computer and communications equipment. With the explosive growth of the Internet, this worker group has come to include a variety of occupations related to design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. Web developers are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation. Webmasters are responsible for the technical aspects of the Web site, including performance issues, and for approving site content.
Network or computer systems administrators install, configure, and support an organization’s LAN, WAN, network segment, or Internet functions. They maintain network hardware and software, analyze problems, and monitor the network to ensure availability to system users. Administrators also may plan, coordinate, and implement network security measures.
Database administrators determine ways to organize and store data. They set up computer databases and test and coordinate changes to them. Because they also may be responsible for the design and implementation of system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security measures. In some organizations, computer security specialists are responsible for the organization’s information security.
Computer support specialists provide technical assistance, support, and advice to customers and users. This group of occupations includes workers with a variety of titles, such as technical support specialists and help-desk technicians. These troubleshooters interpret problems and provide technical support for hardware, software, and systems. They answer telephone calls, analyze problems using automated diagnostic programs, and resolve recurrent difficulties encountered by users. Support specialists may work within a company or other organization that uses computers and computer systems, or directly for a computer hardware or software vendor.
Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers direct the work of systems analysts, computer programmers, and other computer-related workers. They analyze the computer and information needs of their organization and determine personnel and equipment requirements. These managers plan and coordinate activities such as the installation and upgrading of hardware and software; programming and systems design; the development of computer networks; and the construction of Internet and intranet sites.
Sales and related occupations. Due in part to the robust growth in e-commerce, a growing number of workers in this industry are employed in sales and related occupations. In order to compete successfully in the online world, firms employ marketing and sales workers to improve the presentation and features of Web sites and other Web-related content. These workers are vital for the successful promotion and sales of the products and services offered by the industry.
Training and Advancement
Occupations in the computer systems design and related services industry require varying levels of education, but in 2006, about 75 percent of workers had college degrees. The level of education and type of training required depend on employers’ needs, which often are affected by such aspects as local demand for workers, project timelines, and changes in technology and business conditions. For example, the recent emphasis on cyberspace security has increased the demand for workers with expertise in security services. Employers also are demanding workers with skill and expertise in other fields. Computer software engineers who develop e-commerce applications, for example, should have some expertise in sales or finance.
With more formal education, employees may advance to completely different jobs within the industry. For those wishing to advance to management positions, business skills are becoming increasingly important. Education or training in a specialty area can also lead to advancement opportunities.
Professional and related occupations. Although there are no universal educational requirements for computer programmers, workers in this occupation commonly hold a bachelor’s degree. Some hold a degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems. Others have taken special courses in computer programming to supplement their study in fields such as accounting, inventory control, or other areas of business. Because employers’ needs are varied, a 2-year degree or certificate may be sufficient for some positions, so long as applicants possess the right technical skills. Some employers seek applicants with technical or professional certification. Certification can be obtained independently, although many organizations now assist employees in becoming certified.
Entry-level computer programmers usually start working with an experienced programmer to update existing code, generate lines of one portion of a larger program, or write relatively simple programs. They then advance to more difficult programming assignments, and may become project supervisors. With continued experience, they may move into management positions within their organizations. Many programmers who work closely with systems analysts advance to systems analyst positions.
Most computer engineers and scientists have a bachelor’s or higher degree and work experience. For computer and information scientists, a doctoral degree generally is required due to the highly technical nature of the work. Employers of some occupations, such as software engineers, may seek applicants with technical or professional certification.
Computer engineers and scientists who show leadership ability can become project managers or advance into management positions, such as manager of information systems or chief information officer.
For systems analyst, programmer-analyst, and database administrator positions, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems (MIS). Many of these workers hold an advanced degree in a technical field, and some hold a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in information systems, and are specialists in their fields. An associate’s degree or certificate generally is sufficient for some positions as network systems and data communication analysts positions, such as Webmaster, although more advanced positions might require a computer-related bachelor’s degree. Government, academic institutions, and other employers increasingly are seeking workers with certifications in information security, reflecting the importance of keeping complex computer networks and vital electronic infrastructure safe from intruders.
Systems analysts generally begin with limited responsibilities. They may begin working with experienced analysts, or may deal only with small systems or one aspect of a system. As they gain further education or work experience, they may move into supervisory positions. Systems analysts who work with one type of system, or one aspect or application of a system, can become specialty consultants or move into management positions.
Persons interested in becoming a computer support specialist generally need an associate degree’s in a computer-related field, as well as significant hands-on experience with computers. They also must possess strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills, because troubleshooting and helping others are their main job functions. As technology continues to improve, computer support specialists must constantly strive to acquire new skills if they wish to remain competitive in the field. One way to achieve this is through technical or professional certification.
Computer support specialists may advance by developing expertise in an area that leads to other opportunities. For example, those responsible for network support may advance into network administration or network security positions.
Consulting is an attractive option for experienced workers who do not wish to advance to management positions, or who would rather continue to work with hands-on applications or in a particular specialty. These workers may market their services on their own, under contract as specialized consultants, or with an organization that provides consulting services to outside clients. Many of the largest firms today have subsidiaries that offer specialized consulting services to other departments within the organization, and to outside clients. Large consulting and computer firms often hire inexperienced college graduates and put them through intensive, company-based programs that train them to provide such services.
Sales and related occupations. Many experienced workers move into sales positions, as they gain knowledge of specific products. The emergence of e-commerce has created opportunities for professionals who specialize in Web marketing and sales. For example, computer programmers who adapt prepackaged software for accounting organizations may use their specialized knowledge to sell such products to similar firms.
Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers usually are required to have a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field and work experience, but employers often prefer a graduate degree. An MBA with technology as a core component is especially preferred, as business skills are becoming increasingly important.
The computer systems design and related services industry grew dramatically throughout the 1990s, as employment more than doubled. And despite recent job losses in certain sectors, this remains one of the 20 fastest growing industries in the Nation. However, due to increasing productivity and the offshore outsourcing of some services to lower wage foreign countries, employment growth will not be as robust as it was during the last decade. Job opportunities should be favorable for most workers, but the best opportunities will be in professional and related occupations.
Employment change. Wage-and-salary employment is expected to grow 38 percent by the year 2016, compared with only 11 percent growth projected for the entire economy. In addition, this industry will add more than 489,000 jobs over the decade, placing it among the 10 industries with the largest job growth. An increasing reliance on information technology, combined with the falling prices of computers and related hardware, will spur demand for computer systems design and related services. Individuals and organizations will continue to turn to firms in this industry to maximize their return on investments in equipment, and to help them satisfy their growing computing needs. Such needs include a growing reliance on the Internet, faster and more efficient internal and external communication, and the implementation of new technologies and applications.
The computer systems design and related services industry also has seen an increase in the offshore outsourcing of some of the more routine services to lower wage foreign countries as companies strive to remain competitive. For example, firms have been able to cut costs by shifting some support services operations to countries with highly educated workers who have strong technical skills. This trend, however, will adversely affect employment of only certain types of workers, such as programmers and computer support specialists. Other tasks, such as integrating and designing systems, will be insulated from the effects of offshoring.
Given the overall rate of growth expected for the entire industry, most occupations should continue to grow rapidly, although some will grow faster than others. The most rapid growth will occur among network systems and data communications analysts. The growing use of sophisticated computer networks and Internet and intranet sites will increase the demand for their services. Other rapidly growing occupations include computer software engineers, computer systems analysts, and network and computer systems administrators. Employment of programmers should continue to expand, but more slowly than that of other occupations, as more routine programming functions are automated, and as more programming services are offshored.
The demand for networking and the need to integrate new hardware, software, and communications technologies will drive demand for consulting and integration. A need for more customized applications development, and for support and services to assist users, will drive demand for applications development and facilities support services.
Recent events have made society more conscious of the vulnerability of technology and the Internet, and the increasing need for security will spur employment growth in cyberspace security services. Security specialists will be employed more often to asses a system’s vulnerability, and custom programmers and designers will be needed to develop new antivirus software, programs, and procedures. Therefore, employment of analysts and of consultants in areas such as disaster recovery services, custom security programming, and security software installation services should rise rapidly.
The expansion of the Internet and the proliferation “mobile” technologies have also created demand for a wide variety of new products and services. For example, the expansion of the wireless Internet, known as WiFi, brings a new aspect of mobility to information technology by allowing people to stay connected to the Internet anywhere, anytime. As businesses and individuals become more dependent on this new technology, there will be an increased need for “mobility consultants,” or service firms that can design and integrate computer systems, so that they will be compatible with mobile technologies.
The ways in which the Internet is used are constantly changing, along with the products, services, and personnel required to support new applications. E-commerce changed the nature of business transactions, enabling markets to expand and an increasing array of services to be provided. And, as the amount of computer-stored information grows, organizations will continue to look for ways to tap the full potential of their vast stores of data. Demand for an even wider array of services should increase as companies continue to expand their capabilities, integrate new technologies, and develop new applications.
Job prospects. Given the rate at which the computer systems design and related services industry is expected to grow, and the increasing complexity of technology, job opportunities should be favorable for most workers. The best opportunities will be in professional and related occupations, reflecting their growth and the continuing demand for higher level skills to keep up with changes in technology. In addition, as individuals and organizations continue to conduct business electronically, the importance of maintaining system and network security will increase. Employment opportunities should be excellent for individuals involved in cyberspace security services, such as disaster recovery services, custom security programming, and security software installation services.
As one might expect, education and experience influence earnings as well. For example, in May 2006, hourly earnings of computer software engineers, applications ranged from less than $2250 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $58.59 for the highest paid 10 percent. Managers usually earn more because they have been on the job longer and are more experienced than their staffs, but their salaries, too, can vary by level and experience. Accordingly, hourly earnings of computer and information systems managers in May 2006, ranged from less than $31.36 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $70.00 for the highest paid 10 percent. Earnings also are affected by other factors, such as the size, location, and type of establishment, hours and responsibilities of the employee, and level of sales.
Benefits and union membership. Workers generally receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and pension plans. Unionization is rare in the computer systems design and related services industry. In 2006, only 1 percent of all workers were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with 13 percent of workers throughout private industry.
Sources of Additional Information
Disclaimer:Links to non-JA Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.
Further information about computer careers is available from:
Association for Computing Machinery, 2 Penn Plaza, Suite 701, New York, NY 10121-0701. Internet: http://www.acm.org
National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies, 3000 Landerholm Circle SE., Bellevue, WA 98007. Internet: http://www.nwcet.org
University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering Department, AC101 Paul G. Allen Center, Box 352350, 185 Stevens Way, Seattle, WA 98195-2350. Internet: http://www.cs.washington.edu/WhyCSE/
Information on the following occupations can be found in the 2008–09 Occupational Outlook Handbook:
Computer and information systems managers
Computer scientists and database administrators
Computer software engineers
Computer support specialists and systems administrators
Computer systems analysts
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Computer Systems Design and Related Services