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If you are considering a career in computer work, you have many different occupations to consider. This experienced computer software analyst shares his experience in the industry and shares the lessons he had to learn the hard way in the workplace so you don't have to make the same mistakes.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I worked for more that 22 years as a computer software analyst, primarily working in customer service and information technology. During that time, my job title evolved from programmer/analyst to computer consultant. For the last nine years, I have been working as a writer instead of a computer professional. The three adjectives that describe me best are analytical, loyal, and reliable.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a male Caucasian, and because that is very common in the computer business, I do not feel I was treated differently than the average worker. There may have been times that a company sought a minority candidate over someone like me, but on the whole, I don’t think discrimination played a role in my career path. Most of the discrimination that I experienced was second hand. There were times that female coworkers were treated worse. I’d like to think that improved as time passed, but it has not yet reached the point where everyone judges the two genders as equals.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: During my time as a software analyst, I worked primarily in two different jobs. I began working with the operating system for a mainframe manufacturer, which was an excellent way to learn as it involved all phases of the process: definition, design, development, integration, evaluation, documentation, and support. For the final decade of my computer career I consulted on a contractual basis. That position involved developing and supporting interfaces and reports to integrate a vendor Customer Management System application with other corporate applications. At the most basic level, my job involved solving problems. A business process was not flowing correctly, so I developed or modified software to produce the desired result. The constraints varied from task to task, but a constant emphasis was placed on performing quality work to satisfy customers. As for common misunderstandings, a comedy like “Office Space” isn’t that far removed from reality. One thing that is different in computer work from some less technical occupations is how quickly things change. Both products and skills can become obsolete in a few years or even months.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: There were ups and downs over more than 20 years, but I’d say my satisfaction averaged around an 8. Satisfaction increased when I felt my assigned task had meaning. It is disheartening to work on a project that is abandoned midstream or lacks executive commitment.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: I wouldn’t say computer work moved my heart, and that’s likely why I decided to transition away from it. The work was a good match for my talents, but I think writing prose rather than code comes closer to hitting the sweet spot.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: Once I stopped working as a computer consultant, it became difficult to reenter that job market after a couple of years. My skill set became outdated, and prospective employers don’t always understand that experience with one language or database translates well to working with a similar product.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: While studying to become an electrical engineer, I found that I liked computer classes more than physics courses. Because I had a strong science background, I would have enjoyed working as an application programmer alongside an engineer, rather than doing systems or IT work. As my career progressed, it became harder to transition to a scientific focus. Organizations do not want to hire someone with ten years of experience if none of it is in their sector.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: Corporations do not sufficiently value their employees and their contributions; numerous batches of layoffs of friends and colleagues drove that point home.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: Dealing with people can be the most challenging aspect of the job. School trains you to handle machines better than mercurial humans.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: For several months, I had a coworker that was verbally abusive to both peers and customers. I never expected to encounter such unprofessional behavior.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: My parents had great work ethics, despite working at jobs that were far less desirable in my estimation, so I try to emulate what I learned from them. Any seemingly impossible task is inevitably accomplished through steady progress, one day at a time. Many coworkers seek the recognition that comes with winning awards, and though I was fortunate to earn some with a high profile, I took more satisfaction out of earning the respect of customers and colleagues by consistently performing at a high level.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I welcomed the puzzle of isolating an elusive bug or finding a workaround for a hard-to-solve problem. On the other hand, I believe most analysts are frustrated by ever-changing requirements; that is liking trying to navigate a journey when handed a completely different map each day.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: Some assignments were stressful, usually due to having insufficient time, resources, or training. I found it important to remember that all I could do in any situation was my best. I tried to maintain a balance by limiting how late I would work, carving out at least a couple hours of free time each day. Exceptions occurred, but work can consume every waking moment if one lets it.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: Annual salary varies greatly depending on location, experience, and qualifications. Entry-level positions may start as low as $30,000, but advancing to a six-figure salary is common, and $200,000 and above is a definite possibility, especially for consultants with skill sets landing in the right niche.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: Many companies have reduced their benefit packages. Employees with sufficient years of service could once expect to earn eight weeks of vacation a year, but three to five weeks is now more common. Being too overloaded to take all the vacation to which one is entitled is another concern. I took much of my vacation a day or two at a time to create long weekends and derive the benefit throughout the year.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: Many different routes to success exist in this industry, just as there are varied employment possibilities. A bachelor’s degree is increasingly important. That is not to say that one cannot be hired with less education, but the possibility exists that a career path will be blocked by the lack of a four-year degree in the future. Majors can include computer science, information technology, business, mathematics, graphic arts, etc. People often pair a technical undergraduate degree with an M.B.A., particularly if they have management aspirations.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: The computer field is an excellent choice. It offers a good quantity and variety of opportunities, and most of the positions are attractive. If one later decides to transition to another vocation, the skills learned will still hold value.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: Watching the movie inspired by my best-selling novel! If I am instead working on computers in five years, it is more important to work with good people than with interesting or fun technology.