Facebook, The Sims, the Internet: There are so many reasons to plop down at the computer and play for hours. For some teens, computer time is a fun way to relax. But for students with strong math skills and technology know-how, computers can lead to successful careers.
Changing technology is one reason computer professionals will continue to be in demand in the future. Short supply is another major factor. David Overbye, director of curriculum at DeVry University, says the dot-com bust has stopped many students from enrolling in computer programs.
“We’ve noticed in young people less interest in technology careers because they read about layoffs,” he says. “People are starting to project we may see shortages. These are very attractive careers to get into.”
What kind of computer careers are available? Hot jobs include video game creator, network security administrator, webmaster and animator.
Video game creator
The field of video games and simulation is growing quickly. Computer professionals design video games, military flight simulators and job training programs. Many colleges have created bachelor’s degrees in game simulation and programming because of increased need. Simulation tools have become cheaper, so that means more businesses are interested in buying the programs. Taxi cab drivers, for example, could be trained with a simulation program to learn how to drive a route, Overbye says.
Video gaming is also a growing industry in need of professionals to create consoles, handheld systems and computer games. Overbye says students who are thinking about careers in simulation or game programming should have a strong interest in computers, math and physics. Employers will also expect students to take courses in English, humanities and social sciences to learn communication skills.
Network security administrator
One of the oldest crimes in the world is stealing money, Overbye says. And that crime has gone high-tech as banks and businesses trade money and financial information over networks. Any time you use a credit card at a fast food restaurant, for example, the restaurant network has to send the information to its and your bank. Hackers want to get into the network to steal money, and it’s security’s job to protect the system.
Start a career in network security with a degree in computer information systems. Overbye says students who are considering this degree should have strong math, science and programming skills. They should also be creative types who tend to ask a lot of questions.
“Computer information specialists are inquisitive; they want to understand how things work and how (they) can improve on something,” he says.
Network security is also about protecting information and stopping spam and “phishing,” schemes that try to get Internet users to divulge PIN numbers and other information.
Someone has to design all those good-looking Web pages that make you procrastinate for hours. Web design is a growing field with beginning designers starting at $35,000 a year, says Sung Kang, an assistant professor of graphic design at Iowa State University in Ames.
Creativity and critical thinking are the most important skills for a Web designer. “All the new technology they can learn, but sometimes creatively thinking is very difficult to teach,” Kang says.
To become a Web designer, earn a degree in computer programming. Or, study graphic design while taking a few programming courses from the computer science department, Kang says.
Movies, television and Web pages all use high-tech animation. In the long term, Overbye says, animation is a growing industry.
Students interested in a career in animation should be creative and have an eye for design. “It is a more top-level skill,” Overbye says. “These are going to be the more artistic types, the people who are good at laying things out.”
Computer animators also need to have strong computer skills and “know the tools they are using,” Overbye says. Animators can be hired by movie studios, television networks or companies looking for Web designers.
“You’re seeing a general trend toward higher (Internet) speeds to the home, so content going on the Web is becoming more dynamic,” he says.
Salaries for computer professionals
Careers in computers can pay off. The median salary for American workers is about $34,000 (half earn less, half earn more), but here are five computer jobs that can pay big bucks.
The gig: Computer software engineer
The pay: Median salary is $74,980
The degree: Most employers prefer workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering.
The gig: Computer and information systems manager
The pay: Median salary is $92,570
The degree: Only a few managers have just an associate’s
degree. Most have a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s is preferred for advancement.
The gig: Computer programmers
The pay: Median salary is $62,890
The degree: More than two-thirds of computer programmers have at least a bachelor’s degree. Programming jobs with a science or engineering focus tend to go to workers with degrees in computer science, information science, math or engineering.
The gig: Computer systems analyst
The pay: Median salary is $66,460
The degree: More employers prefer workers with
degrees. Experience also counts, as well as relevant college courses, such as computer science and systems design.
The gig: Computer and information scientist
The pay: Median salary is $85,190
The degree: Many employers require a bachelor’s degree.