Typical Jobs

Systems analysts and designers

  • They investigate and analyse a business problem
  • They design a suitable system to handle the problem
  • They set up and test the system.

Systems analysts need to be good at extracting information from people and getting ideas across to non-technical personnel. They must also be able to persuade people that what they are suggesting is the right solution – employees may be sensitive about aspects of their jobs being taken over by computers! Normally two or three years’ experience of programming is required. Moving in from a business background is sometimes possible.

Software engineering & design

Some jobs in computing require a strong technical background. These include those with the titles software engineering, design and networking. People in these jobs are likely to work on very complex, advanced software used to control highly technological equipment and on applications of programmes for business use. They need to understand in detail how both the hardware and the software work. Employers are software and hardware manufacturers and large companies which use the software. Software engineers are increasingly in demand. A degree in software engineering or computer science is the best starting point: there are also BTEC Higher National Diploma courses in software engineering

Computer programmers

Different computing tasks demand different programming languages. Programmers write instructions for the computer in a language it can interpret. They design programs from specifications provided by systems analysts and work out the logical steps that must be taken to do a job. They keep detailed records of the program, so that other (maintenance) programmers can adapt it later. Programmers need to be patient and meticulous people. They mostly work in teams and so have to get on with other people, including the clients and potential users of their systems. Programmers can specialise, e.g. in commercial data work, scientific applications of computing, or programs for the home or educational microcomputer market. Today, much of this work is the subject of short-term contracts or completely freelance.

There have traditionally been two distinct areas of programming:

Applications programmers write programs to handle data from outside the machine, whether scientific calculations or a payroll, for instance;

Systems programmers deal with the internal operations of the computer. They may write diagnostic programs to find faults, or to control the way in which a computer runs several application programs simultaneously.

Fewer jobs for “pure” programmers exist now – an analyst/programmer can carry out the whole job of analysing a small firm’s computing needs, designing an appropriate system and writing the applications program (or “customising” commercial software). We are even reaching the stage where computers can program themselves from an analyst’s instructions! Applications programming can sometimes be entered by those with A Levels or their equivalent, but more usually by BTEC Higher National Diploma holders and graduates (preferably, but not necessarily, in a technical or mathematical subject). Systems programmers are usually graduates who have studied computer science, as a greater knowledge of the internal workings of the computer is required.

End-user and technical support

Producers of hardware and software need to provide technical support to the users of their product. Those supporting users on a day-to-day basis, working on a help desk, need to have a wide range of knowledge. End-user support staff are usually recruited from people with experience both of the computer system being used and of the particular business area. This can be a good entry point for people without technical qualifications in I.T. Hardware maintenance engineers need at least a BTEC Higher National qualification in electrical electronic or mechanical engineering, plus a clean driving licence if the job involves travelling, as many do.

Computer sales

Selling computer systems involves a mixture of technical knowledge and selling ability, generally requiring several years’ experience in computing, plus qualifications to at least A level standard, and preferably a degree. Salespeople need to understand their customers’ business needs so that they can find the right product to solve their problems. Sales managers have to be able to organise and motivate their sales and technical staff.

Retailing personal computers, software and printers in high street shops is different from selling big computer systems. Sales staff must understand the products they sell and an expertise developed through hobby computing would be a valuable asset.

Database controller/manager

Many organisations store vast amounts of information on their computers. This might be information about customers, accounts or stock. Nowadays, information that used to be kept in separate files on the systems, can be combined in a single database. Constructing an efficient central database is a complex matter. The database controller or manager must ensure that the database is accurate, up-to-date and easy to use. A technical background in systems programming or systems design is required.

Information technology manager

He or she is responsible for ensuring the department has the right equipment and properly trained staff and that the organisation of the workload means it can be done effectively and on time. The manager is responsible for staying within the allocated budget, keeping up-to-date with new computing developments, negotiating with suppliers and adapting to developments in business organisation. The success and competitiveness of a business may depend on the efficiency of its computer department and computer manager. Managers have substantial computing experience behind them, especially in systems analysis.

Organisations using personal computers may have a need for an IT manager or independent systems consultant to advise on programs, training, purchase of new systems, etc. Substantial experience of working with computers would be required.

Network or communications manager

He or she co-ordinates the work of technical support staff, probably based at different sites, in setting up and maintaining the systems to link those sites. These systems may carry computer, telephone and video traffic. The manager will need to keep up-to-date with many changes and improvements. A degree in telecommunications or computer science is likely to be needed, plus years of experience in technical support.

Computer operators

There are still a few sites where large mainframe systems require shift-working operators on hand at all hours to load tapes and disks and feed paper into the printer, but this is unusual nowadays. Most staff operating computers have wider responsibilities, as the computer needs less supervision and intervention. The work can be combined with technical support, running a help desk or other technical or administrative tasks. Traditionally, computer operators were recruited as school-leavers or college leavers with good GCSEs, A levels or equivalent. Today, entry requirements will depend on the other skills required for the job.