Computer Jobs for Non-Programmers
I never wanted to work with computers. I thought that anything to do with computers was boring. My mother started working as a computer-operator already in the early 1970s. My father was in the military but was eventually trained to be a computer technician as well. When he left the military, he immediately launched into a new career with IBM where he worked until he retired. My mother went on to become an IT-Manager before she eventually retired. I hated the conversations around the dinner-table. When my brother got his first computer-job I thought I was going to throw up! I decided to study Speech Communications and Political Science and History and, well anything to avoid computers!
I have now been working with computers for nearly 20 years. . . I was unable to avoid this fate. It is hard to avoid a life in the computer-industry when you spend your childhood running around a computer lab. It is like being part of a circus-family or even a royal-family. My fate was sealed.
But I now actually enjoy working as a software developer. I had no idea that working with computers could be so creative and, believe it or not, rewarding! But jobs in the computer-industry are as varied as the people who do them. Not everyone is interested in becoming a programmer. But all is not lost! There are lots of jobs in the computer industry that do not require you to be a programmer. Here is a list of a few non-programmer jobs:
My Project Leaders have seldom been programmers. Most of them have been organized, mature, patient, and able to handle deadline pressures. And most of them have had technical degrees (Computer Science or Engineering). Their primary responsibilities seem to be listening to lots of whining from programmers and agreeing to unrealistic demands from Product Managers. They are simply “planners” who make sure deadlines are met with the functionality ordered by the Product Manager. On a side-note, Project Leaders are often slotted for management jobs.
A Human-Machine Interface Specialist is essential to the development of any software that interacts with “real people”. (Real person = a non-nerd, usually in a serious relationship with another human-being, who can dress him- or herself is a manner that does not invoke uncontrolled snickering.) An HMI Specialist conducts interviews with end-users to define different “use-cases”. This insures that end-users can actually get useful functionality from the new software/hardware being developed. HMI Specialists work closely with programmers and designers to insure that new products provide easy-to-use interfaces for all interested parties.
IT Support Technician/Specialist
My first computer-job was as an IT-Support Technician. This is a fancy name for the person who takes care of all the computers in the office. The IT-Support Tech installs standard software (like Microsoft Office, etc.) on all the computers in the office. The IT-Support Tech also adds new employees to the network, upgrades memory/hardisks on laptops, orders software/hardware, etc. In general, the IT-Support person makes sure everyone in the organization can work efficiently with their computers and computer-peripherals. Many IT-Support Technicians get their first jobs through vocational schools. They do not necessarily go to the University to study Computer Science. The trend seems to be outsourcing this service to IT-Consulting firms but the occupations is still in demand.
Network Technicians do everything from installing new network hardware to configuring network security. They are also often responsible for the company mail-servers, VPN-connections, and content-management applications. These people are generally super-busy, super-stressed, and super-important to the organization. They usually start as IT Support Technicians and work their way up but some are Computer Science majors and/or Engineers.
If there is one thing that programmers hate to do, it is documenting what they have done. Furthermore, they are terrible explainers. Somebody has to put together manuals and technical-documentation for all the real people who will be using the new application/system/program/hardware. Technical Writers often have technical degrees and/or technical experience. It also helps to have a B.A. (or at least a minor) in English or Speech Communications. But the job is often open to almost anyone who is semi-literate and who expresses an interest. The pay is not usually as high as for programmers and technicians but they get to write for a living!
To say that the Webmaster does not have to be a programmer is not really true. They should have knowledge of programming. However, depending on the environment that Web-Content is hosted in, they may or may not need advanced programming skills. Many sites use standard shrink-wrapped environments like Microsoft’s Content Management Server with IIS. These environments require more “configuring” than “programming”. While any web-servers running CGI and/or Java Beans would require more “programming” (and also a lot of “configuring”). As the name suggests, the Webmaster makes sure that the company’s Internet and Intranet content is available at all times.
Product Managers are the people who make decisions about the system/application/program – usually with an eye towards increasing profits. This is a person concerned more with money than with technique. They decide what “functionality” will be offered. It is then the Project Leader’s job to see that the functionality gets programmed (or “coded” as we in the industry call “programmed”). It is often the Product Manager who ultimately decides whether or not your job can be outsourced to lower-cost countries so be nice to this person.
HelpDesk / Application Support
This is not considered the cream of IT-Jobs. This is a thankless job where you answer phones and try to help customers/users through problems. On the up-side, this is a desk-job usually with set working hours and reasonable levels of stess (if you can handle angry callers). Many Helpdesk-jobs all over the globe are being outsourced to places where labor-costs are lower. In my world it is still better than a telephone-sales job, but maybe not the best IT-job you can find.
Trainer / Training Coordinator
As IT seeps deeper and deeper into the fabric of our lives, the one area that has not kept pace is that of technical training and education. I currently work for a company specializing in Industrial Robotics. One of our biggest challenges is training our customers and internal staff to use our software efficiently. Once our staff and customers learn our software, it will be harder for them to change to a different Robotics vendor. If they do, they will probably have to re-learn everything! The Trainers and Training Coordinators are essential to our fast-paced computerized world. So this is definitely what I would call a “job for the future”.
My company recently outsourced this function to India. It is nonetheless worth mentioning to Europeans and Americans. There are still Operations Technicians all around the world. They basically watch over large (usually national or international) computer-systems to insure that everything is working fine. They keep track of disk-space, CPU-Usage, memory-problems, backup issues, etc. The corporate bean-counters may or may outsource these jobs to cheaper countries but somebody will always have to do the job.
Database Operators watch over large and/or multiple databases. They check cache-hit ratios. They optimize indexes. They monitor and run database backups. They run database scripts. In a word, they take care of data. Since data is what the modern world is all about, this is also a job that will always exists in one form or another. As is the case with Operations Technicians, many Database Operators are now employed in countries with lower labor-costs.
This is another unsung hero in the Computer Industry. This is the person responsible for version-control and compilations. When a developer makes a change to a program, there needs to be copy of how the code looked before the programmer got into the code and messed it up. If the programmer inadvertently “broke” the code, there has to be a readily available backup of the “good” code. (This has, of course, never happened to me. ;-) Furthermore, someone has to manage all of changes to the program/system/application so that versions match and the code builds properly. (To “build code” means to compile the program-code into executable programs.) The Configuration Manager makes sure that all of the code is safe, correct, and can be deployed. These are non-programmers but usually have to be able to write and debug scripts. There is no indication that this job category is less in demand today than previously. This is a smart career-choice if you want stability.
This sounds like a boring “click and check” job but it is much more than that. A good tester understands how the software (or hardware) is used and can describe scenarios that developers did not think to test. A good test makes or breaks a development project. Sometimes this can be tedious job of “clicking around” in an application but sometimes it is testing the entire program chain. It may not be that sexy but, if you are a good tester, you will be appreciated and considered a valued member of the development team.
I have almost certainly missed a few occupations so I welcome any input from my readers. But if you are looking for a job working with computers but you do not fancy the idea of becoming a programmer, this list might give you some ideas.