As young people begin their search for a career, it is likely that many will consider one of the vast opportunities available in the computer industry. Skilled computer professionals are in steady demand, despite the normal fluctuations of the world economy.
Rise of the New Economy
At the beginning of the twentieth-first century, widespread computerization of business, education, and entertainment meant that virtually all aspects of the global economy were dependent, in one way or another, on the fortunes of the computer industry. This effect was heightened during the late 1990s when the so-called " dot.com " market skyrocketed, boosting stock portfolios for investors worldwide. Young entrepreneurs backed with financing from venture capitalists created multi-million dollar Internet companies based on ideas that were often untested against traditional business standards of profit and loss projections. Stock prices soared as hopeful investors jumped at the chance to capitalize on the tremendous wealth being made as these start-up companies created the latest software and Internet products and services.
Soon it became clear that many, if not most, of these new economy companies would not become or remain profitable to their stockholders. When the standard measures of business success were applied to the high technology market, the entire U.S. economy began to feel the impact. High tech consulting firms went bankrupt. Telecommunications networks designed to support the once-growing demand for digital services collapsed overnight. News reports of layoffs in major computer industry companies became common. The future suddenly appeared less positive for "techies" who had come to expect high financial rewards in a short period of time. Economic analysts characterized this shift as a correction in the market; computer professionals considered it more of a disaster. However, the market for computer professionals remains strong, in part because every segment of the U.S. and world economy depends on fast, reliable computer networks and equipment. Professionals are needed to create and maintain this infrastructure.
Choosing and Preparing for a Career
There is a need for people to design, build, connect, and maintain computers and computer networks; these jobs fall into the general category of hardware engineering. There is also a need for people who can conceptualize and create computer software; these jobs fall into the general category of computer programming. Within each broad type of computer-related work there are many specialized technical functions, as well as the kinds of industry support jobs common to other market segments, including administration, sales and marketing, and customer service and support. Computer professionals also include the men and women who teach and perform research in academic settings.
Individuals interested in pursuing a career as a computer professional should generally plan to earn at least a four-year degree (bachelor's level) in computer science or computer engineering. Fluency in multiple computer programming languages is vital for anyone interested in software development; the more languages learned, the more valuable the prospective employee. A solid understanding of hardware infrastructure is important, as well, especially for those interested in network creation or administration.
Not all computer professionals have an academic background in computer science or engineering, however. Often, people with advanced degrees in business, education, or something as seemingly unrelated to the computer industry as music, art, journalism, or criminology will find a niche as a computer industry professional. These individuals may not be involved in the technical aspects of software development or network configuration. However, their expertise may help provide unique services such as computer training, Internet access company development, web site design, or the marketing of computer-based services to schools, governments, or nonprofit agencies.
Most American universities now offer a variety of academic programs that will prepare students to become computer professionals. Many well-known schools throughout the United States, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), specialize in technology-related fields. There are also accredited certification programs available from industry giants such as Cisco Systems. As in all career fields, the selection of a training or preparatory program should be based on a match between student interests, strengths, and career goals, and the particular program and training options of any given school.
Computer professionals who specialize in the hardware or infrastructure aspect of the computer industry are the ones who design, build, test, and improve the computers and networks that support the economy. From the design of a mouse to the building of a supercomputer , hardware engineers are needed to create the physical tools of the computer age. Some hardware engineers specialize in designing networks of computers. Others focus on creating computer peripherals to meet the unique requirements of special needs users. Hardware specialists are needed to repair and modify equipment. Computer hardware engineers need to understand the technical aspects of computer design and connection; ideally, they will also learn to understand how people use and interact with computers, as well, which can help them create better equipment.
Without software to operate the hardware, computer systems are useless. Computer programmers are charged with the duty of writing the code that creates user-friendly software. Programmers are responsible for conceiving, designing, and building software applications. Sometimes they work alone. Often, teams of programmers apply their skills in a shared effort to create complex software. Computer programmers need to work methodically and analytically. Many programmers specialize in writing software for particular business, education, or entertainment purposes; the most adept programming specialists learn that it is important to communicate with users about what they want their finished software to accomplish.
Jobs in the Computer Industry
In addition to the people who create the tools—hardware and software— that one calls computers, there are professionals whose job it is to help businesses figure out the most effective way to use these tools. Many companies now have something called an Information Technology (IT) department. Information technology specialists work with a company to identify the best combinations of hardware, software, and networking to meet the company's needs. In some cases this is done externally, on a consulting basis; in other companies this may be handled by in-house technology staff. The IT specialist must typically figure out how to use a company's limited resources to maintain a system of computer-based communications equipment from a vast array of vendors, always with an eye toward improving the firm's competitive edge in the market. Career paths for IT professionals start with entry-level positions and can lead to managerial and executive positions with titles such as information technology director, chief information officer, and chief technology officer.
Many other jobs are available for computer professionals with the right combination of technical and other skills. Since people need to learn to use their company's technology resources, from hardware to software, there is a steady need for educators and training personnel. Repair specialists who can troubleshoot hardware and software problems on very short notice are in high demand wherever there are complex networks to maintain. Software companies need knowledgeable personnel to staff their customer support departments and help personal computer owners fix their problems by phone or by e-mail. There will always be a place for creative thinkers who can create and fill market niches with specialized software and hardware products and services.
see also Computer Scientists.
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