Tech Talk
August 26, 2005
Choosing a career in IT

We are at the time of the year when many young persons are called upon to make choices that will eventually lead to a career. In chatting with some of them, it pleases me that so many express an interest in a career in the computer field.

Unfortunately though, on deeper probing, I get the impression that most of them only have a vague notion of what a career as an information technology professional entails.{{more}}

I suspect this is so because in their career guidance sessions, they are advised, and correctly so, to choose a career doing something they think they will enjoy. Many immediately think about a career in computers since they enjoy spending long hours surfing the Internet or playing computer games. However, this does not necessarily mean that a career working in the computer field will be right for them.

I would suggest a bit of self-examination to see if they have the right personality and aptitude for the field. Computer professionals are very much “behind the scenes” persons. They are the ones who make other workers more productive, they make life simpler, safer and more entertaining for others. They make communication easier. Generally, persons who remain in the computer world for the long haul tend to have good math and comprehension skills. They are usually persons who have high levels of discipline, love a challenge, and are creative. They have what my mother calls “stick-ability,” and a great curiosity about how things work. They pay great attention to detail and are very comfortable working for long hours by themselves.

The Hollywood stereotype of a computer professional as a “nerd” or “geek” is no fantasy. Many, if not most real life computer professionals fit the bill. You see, they tend to get lost in the latest challenge that confronts them.

The rapid spread of computers and information technology has generated a need for highly trained workers to design and develop new hardware and software systems and to incorporate new technologies. The occupational titles used to describe these workers evolve rapidly, reflecting new areas of specialization or changes in technology, as well as the preferences and practices of employers. There are hundreds of occupational titles relating to computing.

It is not my intention to give definitions of all the possible careers in information technology or computer science, but I will briefly differentiate among the more popular, broader disciples. The Internet is a great source of information on computer careers, naturally.

Variety of jobs

Computer engineers design and test computer hardware and software. They are the team members who solve theoretical problems. They apply their knowledge of math and science to computer design.

Computer programmers also called software engineers, write detailed instructions (software) that tell computers how to perform tasks.

Systems analysts help organizations redesign their computer systems to increase efficiency. Analysts often specialize in business, science, or engineering systems.

Database administrators create and maintain computer database systems. Databases are software systems that contain complex records of information.

The growth of the Internet and the expansion of the World Wide Web (the graphical portion of the Internet) have generated a variety of occupations related to the design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. For example, webmasters are responsible for all technical aspects of a Web site, including performance issues such as speed of access, and for approving the content of the site. Internet developers or Web developers, also called Web designers, are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation.

Computer scientists work as theorists, professors, researchers, or inventors. Their jobs are distinguished by the higher level of theoretical expertise and innovation they apply to complex problems and the creation or application of new technology.

It is difficult for someone outside the field to choose the area they think might best be suited for them without having some hands-on experience. The good thing is, most universities or colleges offer introductory courses in computer science in the first year. These courses give a student a good idea of what the different areas are all about, and allow them to make an informed decision early.

Some youngsters argue that they will not bother to take academic courses in computer science, as all they need is to make sure they get certified in the use of the different hardware and software on the market. The danger in this is that their certification is only valid for as long as the life of that version of the software or hardware. We all know how short that life span is. They will forever be playing catch up to ensure that the certificates they have mean something.

On the other hand, a degree or diploma in computer science, computer engineering, information technology, software engineering, etc. means that they understand the why behind computers and computer applications. Everything else can be built on this. Their qualification goes beyond any software or hardware manufacturer. This does not mean that when they graduate from a college or university they will know everything there is to know about the world of computers. Far from it. In fact, when they go into the work place, it will become clear to them how little they do know. They may even have to take a certification course to bring them up to speed in a particular area depending on the needs of their employer.

But their academic training will have prepared them to quickly assimilate the new information being thrown at them, and they will be able to make the link between the theory and the practical, becoming productive in a short space of time. They will bring to the problems that confront them a level of reasoning which shows that they not only know “how” to fix the problem, but “why” the fix works. They will understand the principles that underlie the technology. When the technology changes, they will be able to adapt, and also adapt the technology to suit their and their organization’s needs.