Computer Careers

The typical vision of computer use may be a desktop PC or laptop in an office. But in actuality, any industry that requires fast communication, number crunching, data storage, high-speed graphics, or data analysis is bound to use computers and is therefore a likely source for computer careers. Computer careers are available in a wide range of industry sectors, including the military, criminal justice, education, communications, media, space exploration, construction, meteorology, medical research, and many more.

Here are a few details about computer careers in some of these areas.

  • Military: A computer career with the military offers many areas of specialty, because computers are at the heart of almost everything the armed forces do. Personnel and financial records are stored on computers. Computer models help military personnel track weather and how it might affect maneuvers. Powerful computer networks, both wired and wireless, aid communication between commanders, staff, and troops. From fighter jets to cargo planes, the safety and efficiency of military air traffic control relies on computers as well, not to mention the computers that help guide the planes themselves. In addition, much of the military’s advanced equipment, such as reconnaissance drones and tracking devices, are operated using computers. An advantage of a military computer career is that the skills learned in the military transfer easily to the civilian sector.
  • Criminal Justice: If catching the bad guys appeals to you, there are plenty of opportunities for a computer career in criminal justice. A significantly growing area is computer forensics. In this field, computers are used to investigate and solve computer security breaches and analyze data stored on computers as it pertains to criminal investigations. Computer databases are also used to store and analyze fingerprint data, blood and DNA samples, conviction records, mug shots, and other types of criminal data. Programming and integrating these sorts of databases for organizations such as the FBI and the National Crime Information Center can be a rewarding computer career.
  • Education: Some experts estimate that at least 60 percent of jobs currently require computer skills; in reality, that number is probably closer to 80 percent, as the Internet and reliance on online communication grow. As a result, schools at all levels are increasing their use of computers in the classroom, creating great opportunities for those interested in a computer career that combines an interest in computers with education. There are approximately 82,000 elementary and secondary schools in the United States, and many more colleges and universities. These learning institutions need educators with computer skills. They also need quality software that can support students’ use of computers for self-directed learning, research, and collaborative projects.
  • Communications: Smoke signals, Morse code, the telephone — humans have always devised ways to communicate at a distance. Computers take this ability to new heights, enabling instant global communication. Companies use the Internet, local area networks (LANs), wireless LANs, wide area networks (WANs), video-conferencing applications, information security and cryptography programs, communication protocols, and new computer-driven communication devices such as smart phones to increase their ability to communicate securely with personnel and partners. Companies’ desire to send data, messages, and even visual content to anywhere at any time provides a wide array of computer career opportunities. />
  • Media: The printed word is no longer the dominant media form. Instead, consumers and corporations are focusing more on digital media, including TV, movies, and social media on the Internet. Instead of mailing out brochures, for example, many companies now produce their own videos to publish on the Web. Blogs and social media Web sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are proliferating. You can now watch TV on your computer and run computer video games on your TV. Special effects and advanced computer-assisted animation techniques have made movies more exciting and lifelike; animation is also often used to make Web sites more interesting. Even books are now being published in digital form as eBooks. In other words, computers are becoming the foundation upon which almost all media rests.

Advantages of Computer Careers

The recession of the last few years has caused many people to lose their jobs, suffer economic loss, or take significant cuts in pay and benefits. One of the few career paths that has not suffered such ignominies is computer careers. In fact, the Occupational Outlook Handbook (2010–11 Edition, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) reports the following employment growth statistics:

  • Computer Career Projected Employment Growth, 2008 to 2018
  • Computer and Information Systems Managers 17%
  • Computer Network, Systems, and Database Administrators 30%
  • Computer Scientists 24%
  • Computer Software Engineers and Computer Programmers 21%
  • Computer Technology Trainers 12%

These statistics point to one of the biggest advantages any career can have — job security. Computers aren’t going away any time soon. The demand for computer professionals will remain steady at the least, and will more than likely continue to grow much faster than most other career choices.

A computer career also offers several other benefits besides job security. For example, because computers are a dynamic, ever-changing field, a computer career can be exciting, with lots of variety. Careers are available in many disciplines, ranging from systems, network, and database administrators to hardware designers to Web site developers to computer science professors at universities. Plus, virtually every industry, from finance to oil drilling to human resources to aviation, uses computers and computer professionals.

The potential for flexible schedules is another advantage of computer careers. Many computer consultants and programmers work from their home offices. For those that do work in the corporate setting, many of the companies are progressive and modern, with support for flexible hours. For example, you may be able to work early morning to early afternoon, with daylight hours left over for recreation. Other companies allow four ten-hour work days, with Fridays off. The chances of having a flexible schedule are much higher in computer careers than in many other career choices.

Because talented computer professionals are in high demand, computer careers have a high earning potential. Even a recent college graduate in the computer field can make more than the median U.S. household income (which in 2009 was $50,221, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), and with a few years of experience, the opportunity for salary growth is substantial. For example, according to the PayScale Index, computer programmers can expect a salary between approximately $39,000 and $63,000, while a .NET software developer can expect to earn about $49,000 to $74,500.

Finally, because computer technology is always changing, computer professionals are always learning about cutting-edge technology. They are the first to find out about new advances in communication, networking, computer processors, operating systems, and other important aspects of computer software and hardware. Many times, companies with new products allow computer professionals to have copies or prototypes before the general marketplace has access to them. In a world where it is both who and what you know, computer professionals have a competitive edge.

Disadvantages of Computer Careers

No job is without its drawbacks — after all, work is work. And computer careers are no exception. Although these disadvantages aren’t overwhelming, you should be aware of them as you consider whether a computer career is the right choice.

Much of what a computer professional does is the same, day after day. Programmers write programs, usually in the same programming language, for months at a time. Network administrators fix network problems time and time again. Web developers write Flash and JavaScript code — and then they write more Flash and JavaScript code. Customer-support representatives find themselves fixing the same problems, like forgotten passwords and crashed hard drives, many times over.

Adding to the potential for tediousness is the likelihood of long hours. Part of this is due to the inherent nature of computer professionals — their passion for problem solving won’t let them quit until a solution is found. But long hours can also be a result of demanding deadlines or a high-priority project. For example, if a company depends on video conferencing for team meetings and the network goes down, there will be no rest for the weary until the network is functioning again. Some computer professionals may find these sorts of situations stressful, and also may have trouble balancing work, recreation, and family.

Certain areas of computer careers are more high-pressure than others. For instance, customer service can be very demanding. Problems must be fixed quickly, some frustrated customers can be difficult to deal with, and there is often very little recognition for fixing a tough problem.

And while it is interesting to learn about new technology, doing so can also be challenging. Those who intend to advance their computer careers must continually invest in ongoing education. Is there a new version of your favorite programming language? Better buy it and figure out what’s changed. Has the most up-to-date communication protocol changed? Attend a conference and learn more about it. Computer technology is ever-changing, and the successful computer professional has to work hard to keep up.

Another consideration is the sedentary nature of computer work; generally, computer professionals spend a great amount of time at their desks, staring at a computer and typing. Although not unique to computer work — many other careers, such as accounting and word processing, are also sedentary in nature — you should take care to get enough exercise, rest your eyes, and use ergonomic equipment so that repetitive injury does not occur.

Last Updated: 04/26/2014

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