History of Computers and Computer Careers

IT jobs are relatively new compared to many professions, such as doctors and lawyers. As recently as 1930, there wasn’t any such thing as a desktop PC, let alone computer programmers, information technology professionals, or database engineers. But in the intervening 80 years, computer careers have mushroomed into a widely diverse field.

The computer as we know it has a complicated history. Each facet of the computer — such as batteries, integrated circuits, transistors, modems, motherboards, and so on — is a separate invention. Most of the inventors of these components weren’t pursuing computer careers as such. It took a special kind of “think-outside-the-box” mentality to combine these inventions into the modern computer.

The early twentieth century was a veritable seedbed of the names we associate with computer careers today. For example, IBM was incorporated in 1911 and David Packard was born in 1912, while William Hewlett was born just a year later. Seymour Cray and Alan Turing, whose names are famous in the super-computer arena of computer careers, were both born in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

By the mid-twentieth century, the Z1 (a punch-card-based computer), the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer), and the Complex Number Calculator (which could add, subtract, multiply, and divide complex numbers) had been invented, along with several other prototypes. These machines formed the foundation for today’s digital computers and the computer careers associated with them.

Computer development seems to have proceeded at the speed of light after these early beginnings. The 1950s saw the first computer languages, vacuum tube technology, random-access memory, and business and commercial computers. Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates were all born in the 1950s, as well. Withthis ever-accelerating pace of development came an ever-increasing need for people interested in computer careers.

The 1960s ushered in an era of computer companies. The company that is perhaps most often synonymous with computer careers, Intel Corporation, was founded in 1968, while its main competitor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), was founded the following year. Microsoft (founded by Paul Allen and Bill Gates) followed in 1975. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in 1976. With these four companies, the mass-marketing of computers, both commercial and eventually home-use, truly began. By 1979, more than one-half million computers were in use in the United States.

Colleges and universities recognized early on the potential of computer careers. Purdue University opened the first Department of Computer Science in the U.S. in 1962; many other learning institutions soon followed suit. Today there are literally thousands of academic programs that prepare graduates for successful computer careers.

Intel’s microchips, dot-matrix printers, floppy disks, software programs such as Lotus 1-2-3 and WordStar, Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh, and PC World magazine all debuted in the 1980s, and in less than ten years, computer use in the U.S. had grown from one-half million to more than 45 million. Not all inventions were positive, however. Worms and viruses, too, made their appearance in the 1980s, leading to computer careers such as developing firewall and virus-scanning software.

Although e-mail messages had been sent before, the Internet and the World Wide Web in their present forms really came into being in the early 1990s, along with the first search engines. This opened up an entirely new field of computer careers, including Web site development, e-mail marketing, and search engine optimization. The growth of the Web continued through the 1990s, with the launching of Amazon.com, eBay, and Google.

With the start of the twenty-first century, attention turned to social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), faster multicore processors, virtualization, and energy efficiency. New computer careers in these areas, such as data-center management, are still growing. Although some of the original pacesetters in the industry (such as William Hewlett) have recently passed away, marvelous opportunities exist for newcomers in the field who wish to capitalize on the continuing growth of the computer industry and computer careers.

Last Updated: 04/26/2014

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