Computer Engineer

A Day in the Life of a Computer Engineer

"Expect the unexpected," said one computer engineer about her profession, and this statement was reflected on all the surveys we received. Computer engineers coordinate the construction, maintenance, and future growth of a company’s computer systems. They work with all departments, discovering each one’s computer needs, then make suggestions about what technical direction the company should proceed in. While this occupation sounds quite organized and logical, most computer engineers enter the profession at companies who have already made uncertain steps into the technical world.

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Faced with uncertain budget restrictions, presented with old or misapplied systems, and expected to know the nuances of each department’s needs, systems analysts must rapidly become experts in the company’s and each department’s functions and learn how to use second-best systems to satisfy their needs. “Getting people to tell you up front all the things they want to do is like pulling teeth,” wrote one engineer. Flexibility, strong interpersonal skills, and a friendly disposition are highly valued traits in this industry. The bottom line is performance, and those without strong technical skills find themselves quickly outpaced by the expertise their job demands.

Over 30 percent of systems analysts did not intend to become full-time systems analysts: In most smaller companies, the position develops as an ancillary responsibility for the most technically savvy of the current employees. As the company realizes the benefits of a full-time computer representative, that position becomes permanent and exclusive. “I was hired as a researcher,” noted one analyst, “and now all I use is my screwdriver.” Many who have fallen into the profession point to continuing education as an attractive part of the job. Others find themselves hamstrung by decisions others have made before them and the technical limitations of the systems they inherit.

The high level of satisfaction these high-tech tinkerers feel might be related to the creative thinking and problem solving aspects of their job. “It’s like having the most expensive Tinkertoy set in the world--I love it!” said one systems analyst. Few occupations allow the physical construction of an object and the intellectual challenge offered by computer engineering. For those who can make the most of limited resources and listen carefully for the distinction between what people want and what people need from their computer systems, computer engineering is an excellent profession.

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