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Computer Operator Job Description, Career as a Computer Operator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training

Salary: Median—$31,070 per year

Employment Outlook: Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Computer operators manage the operation of computer hardware systems. They are often required to work with most types of computers, including minicomputers, mainframes, and networks of personal computers. Computer operators must maintain the computer hardware as well as solve any problems that occur. A computer operator's duties vary depending on the computer system.

Computer operators are essential to the day-to-day operations of older mainframes and minicomputers. These computer systems consist of a network of smaller computer terminals (monitors and keyboards) hooked up to a central core that contains all the system's software and memory. Most of the older mainframes and minicomputers have a central control panel. While the computer is running, a computer operator watches closely for error lights on the console that may go on to indicate that the computer is not operating properly. If a light goes on or the computer stops, the operator must locate the problem and solve it. Operators maintain log books and operating records for the equipment and record all malfunctions and errors. If the computer system's files and programs are on discs or tapes, the operator has to see to it that the computer has been loaded with these storage media. Experienced operators may help computer programmers or systems analysts test programs.

For a personal computer network, the computer operator may assist a network administrator in ensuring all network connections are in place and that the network and the servers are running smoothly. They may also assist users in connecting computer peripherals, such as printers or lab equipment, or help new employees set up a computer.

Computer operators work for many businesses and industries, including banks, insurance companies, and manufacturers. They are also employed by government agencies, educational institutions, and companies that provide computer services.

The trend toward networking and the use of sophisticated software have enabled computers to perform tasks previously done by operators. With the advancement of technology and the move away from mainframe computers and toward personal computing networks, the jobs of computer operators are shifting from equipment maintenance to network support, user support, and database maintenance.

A computer operator holds hard drives while standing in the server room. (© Helen King/Corbis.)

Education and Training Requirements

In the past a high school diploma, previous experi ence with an operating system, and familiarity with the latest technologies were the minimum requirements for employment. However, employers increasingly require operators to have some formal computer-related training, perhaps through a community college or technical school. Employers then train workers until they are familiar with specific equipment and routines.

Getting the Job

A student's school placement office may list jobs for computer operators. Interested individuals should check state and private employment agencies for job leads. Internet job sites or classified ads in a local newspaper are a good source of openings. For a government job, candidates should arrange to take the necessary civil service test.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Computer operators can advance to supervisory positions. With experience and further education, some operators become computer programmers and network administrators.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer operators held roughly 149,000 jobs in 2004. Employment of computer operators was expected to decline through the year 2014. Technology improvements over the past twenty years have given rise to user-friendly software that automatically controls and monitors the operations of even the largest computer networks. Computer operators are simply not needed. When a problem does arise in these complicated systems, the assistance of highly trained programmers, systems analysts, or network administrators is required.

Working Conditions

Computer operators generally work between thirty-five and forty hours per week. Many companies schedule computer operation twenty-four hours a day, so operators may work in shifts. Because they may work without supervision during their shift, operators must be able to work independently. Some computer operators belong to labor unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Electronic Association
5201 Great America Pkwy., Ste. 520
Santa Clara, CA 95054
(408) 987-4265
http://www.aeanet.org

Association for Computing Machinery
1 Astor Plaza
1515 Broadway, 17th Fl.
New York, NY 10036 (212) 869-7440
http://www.acm.org

Association of Computer Operations Management
724 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92860
(714) 997-7966
http://www.afcom.com

Association of Information Technology Professionals
401 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 2400
Chicago, IL 60611-4267
(800) 224-9371
http://www.aitp.org

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on the size and location of the company. The median annual salary for a computer operator was $31,070 per year in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits depend on the industry in which the operator works. Generally, operators receive paid vacations and holidays and health insurance.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesComputers, IT & Telecommunications