Pros and Cons of a Career in Computer Information Systems
Computer Information Systems (CIS) encompasses careers such as programmers, systems analysts or CIS managers - anything dealing with data input and the operation of computers for businesses.
Below is a table that compares some of the characteristics of careers in computer programming, computer systems analysis and computer and information systems management:
|Computer Programmer||Computer Systems Analyst||Computer and Information Systems Manager|
|Career Overview||Computer programmers write code to create working software programs||Computer systems analysts study the operational procedures of organizations' computer systems and make recommendations for performance improvements||Computer and information systems managers are executives who plan and direct the implementation and operation of computer activities for a business or organization|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor's degree is the most common, but some employers only ask for an associate's degree*||Bachelor's degree is the most common, but employers may allow an associate's degree or request a master's degree||Bachelor's degree is the most common, but some employers required a master's degree*|
|Program Length||Two years (associate's) or four years (bachelor's), full-time||Two years (associate's), four years (bachelor's) or six years (bachelor's and master's), full time||Four years (bachelor's) or six years (bachelor's and master's), full time|
|Certification and Licensing||Some companies require product certification||Product certification may be required by some firms||Certification may be required by some firms|
|Experience Required||Employers may require about 1-3 years of experience||Employers may require about 1-5 years of experience||Employers typically require 5-15 years of experience, depending on the type of management position|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||As fast as the national average (8% growth; 28,400 additional jobs expected)*||Much faster than the national average (25% growth; 127,700 additional jobs expected)*||Faster than the national average (15% growth; 50,900 additional jobs expected)*|
|Mean Annual Salary (2014)||$82,690*||$87,320*||$136,280*|
Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Programmers build on the work of software developers and engineers. They write instructions to computers in code language so that they can perform the functions stipulated by software. They may have to troubleshoot the programs to ensure that computers do what they're instructed to do. As noted by the BLS, sometimes a programmer is also called on to act as a software developer by planning and designing software programs and their implementation.
While most programmers hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or an allied subject, employers may hire individuals who only hold an associate's degree in computer programming. If you only hold an associate's degree, work experience can weigh heavily in your favor. The BLS recommends that you be fluent in a number of programming languages.
Below are summaries of computer programming job postings from December 2012:
- A county school district in Florida was looking for a full-time computer programmer. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have two years of experience in computer programming. Consideration was also given to candidates who held an associate's degree and had 3-5 years of experience in computer programming. Candidates were to be familiar with the COBOL programming language and IBM AS/400 computers.
Though the BLS recommends that you be qualified in more than one programming language, you can distinguish yourself further by becoming literate in newer languages as they are developed. You may also want to become certified in various vendor-specific products or languages. Earning professional certification through an organization such as the Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) can also serve to help you stand out from the competition. The BLS notes that programmers who hold a bachelor's degree or higher usually have a better chance at more remunerative positions. Additionally, with some business experience and specialized knowledge, you may be able to advance to become a systems analyst, software developer or manager.
Computer Systems Analyst
A computer systems analyst is the go-to employee for any business that uses IT systems. You may work as an in-house employee or as an independent consultant. Systems analysts examine how organizations use their computer systems to meet business objectives and make recommendations for more efficient IT system use. You may also recommend and oversee the implementation of new systems and see to it that users are properly trained.
The BLS asserts that most computer systems analysts hold a bachelor's degree in computer or information science. However, since systems analysts are concerned with business performance, employers may hire applicants who hold a business or liberal arts bachelor's degree, if they are also proficient in writing computer programs. Employers may also accept candidates who hold an associate's degree, if they have accrued enough qualifying work experience. However, some employers may require applicants to hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in information systems or a master's degree in computer science.
Here's what some employers were looking for in December 2012:
- A test services company in Arizona wanted to hire a full-time computer systems analyst. At least two years of full-time experience working with Linux and network administration was necessary, along with a Department of Defense secret security clearance. Candidates who had the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) credential and a Bachelor of Science degree in a computer field were preferred.
- A Tennessee university was looking for a computer systems analyst to function primarily as a software developer. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have accumulated six months of experience or the equivalent amount of education and experience. Job duties primarily entailed the design, development and maintenance of Web-based applications.
- An office solutions company in Minnesota was seeking a full-time computer systems analyst. Applicants who held an associate's degree or equivalent were to be considered, but the employer preferred to hire an individual with a bachelor's degree. Candidates were to have 2-5 years of work experience and be qualified in all MS Office applications and SQL. Duties included creating, maintaining and updating SQL, SSRS and VBA reports and procedures. Another responsibility was providing assistance and training to users and customers.
Multiple product certifications and professional certification from an organization such as the ICCP can enhance your marketability. Citing the rapid advances being made in IT, the BLS advises that you distinguish yourself and increase your job opportunities by keeping up-to-date on technological innovations. The BLS also states that because of the growing concern with cyber threats, you may be able to stand out from the competition by becoming an expert in network and systems security. A graduate degree in computer science or business administration may also increase your job opportunities.
Computer and Information Systems Manager
Computer and information systems managers, also referred to as information technology (IT) managers, are at the top of the totem pole in CIS careers. They hold sway over the planning and operation of computer functions in an organization. It's often the IT manager's responsibility to see to it that the most efficient computer programs are installed to achieve organizational goals.
Because the duties of a computer and information systems manager can be quite broad, companies often prefer to divide the duties among several executives. Specific job titles include IT security manager, IT director and chief technology officer (CTO). At the top of the management hierarchy is the chief information officer (CIO) position.
According to the BLS, though you may be qualified for a position as a computer and information systems manager with only a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, many companies prefer that you also hold a master's degree. Companies with this preference generally request a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
In addition, the BLS notes that you're usually required to have accumulated a considerable amount of qualifying work experience before you're eligible for a management position. Experience requirements can vary according to the specific position. It's advisable that your work experience is in the industry in which you seek employment.
Here are some summaries of job postings from employers who were seeking computer and information systems managers in December 2012:
- A faith-based, human services organization in New York was looking for a full-time information systems manager to supervise the company's information systems staff. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree or have the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MSCE) credential along with 5-6 years of experience in the computer field and 2-3 years of experience in a managerial capacity. Candidates were to be familiar with various operating systems, as well as new telephony network technology and architecture.
- A New Jersey IT services company wanted to hire a full-time computer information systems manager. Candidates were to hold a master's degree and have at least six months of qualifying work experience. The employer also considered candidates who held a bachelor's degree if they had accumulated five years of experience. Acceptable degree fields were business administration, computer science, science or engineering. Candidates were to be familiar with numerous technologies and programming languages to allow them to plan, direct and coordinate computer activities within the company.
- A manufacturing company in California sought a full-time IT manager to be responsible for the planning, execution and operation of all computer activities. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or a business-related field and have ten years of qualifying work experience, including five years in a manufacturing environment and five years in a managerial position. Candidates were to be familiar with SQL, Microsoft Dynamics and electronic data interchange as well as hold MCSE certification.
You may be able to secure a position with a bachelor's degree. However, to broaden your horizons and enhance your employment potential, consider earning an MBA. An MBA can be particularly important if your ultimate aim is a position as CIO, who is responsible for the overall technology strategy of an organization. You can complete this degree part-time while you work, so that you can continue accruing necessary on-the-job experience.
You may also want to seek certification. Vendor certification can give you an edge for jobs that don't require it. ICCP certification can also stand you in good stead. In addition, the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council, a government organization, operates CIO University in conjunction with a number of schools. Completing a graduate program leading to a diploma, certificate or degree through CIO University may set you apart from your competition.