Computing jobs simplified overviewFabian Piau | Friday September 6th, 2013 - 07:40 PM
If Internet and its use have become embedded in our everyday life (topic research, email, weather forecast, online shopping, social networks…), all the professions behind the scenes are often unknown or misunderstood by the general public (except for this grandma maybe…).
In France, in Belgium and probably in many other countries, we can note that there is almost no communication on the computing industry and its related IT (Information Technology) professions. For me who is working in IT for years, it makes me laugh at first sight, but it is a pity this lack of awareness.
If you read my blog for some time, you should be aware that most of my articles are technical. This blog is therefore addressed to a very particular and limited audience. My articles are often difficult to understand or are simply uninteresting for most people.
Let’s do a tour of the current IT professions in a simple and pragmatic way. Normally, you should not find jargon or technical terms (I tried to do my best) and I will limit myself to the most common professions.
The pioneer professions
Also called programmer. Without developers, there is no software, they are building the essential pieces of the product! They develop, program, write code using a programming language. They use keywords defined by the language (often in English) to build sentences (called instruction or line of code), which form the source code that will be translated and interpreted by the machine (computer).
Developers are specialized in one or a few languages, but they can potentially adapt to others, the logic is usually similar. Developers don’t write 0 or 1 (binary language), it will be generated automatically by the computer.
Not everyone can be developer! Good developers do not write code stupidly, they must understand and master a lot of underlying concepts (memory management, performance, algorithms…) and have relevant skills (communication, autonomy, logic, synthesis…).
I don’t want to disappoint you, but the image of a coffee drinker geek with a long beard, wearing broken glasses, working exclusively between midnight and 6am and patching regularly the Linux kernel… (Phew I guess I am going a bit far here) is not true for many of them. The photo on the right is a fake, thankfully!
Architects are experienced developers. They shape the software by deciding its foundations. For example, they recommend or choose:
- The programming language to use for the software. A web language? A language specialized in mathematical computations? There are hundreds of programming languages available. The choice of the architect is influenced by the entire ecosystem revolving around the language (active community, many existing tools).
- The tools suite that will assist the developers (because reinvent the wheel is not efficient).
- The standards of development.
- The project structure. Software is rarely a monolithic block and consists of several modules that communicate with each other. For example, a module to display pages on the screen, a module to manage the stored information, etc.
Architects can also do an audit on the code of existing software and make recommendations in case of evolutions (new feature, technical refactoring…).
They have a global vision of the product and may give support to developers by answering their questions and giving them advices.
Even more than the developer, it is crucial to stay informed of new technologies. Doing technology forecasting is essential, architects are passionate about their jobs.
If the architect and the developer build the product, the designer gives it a visual look, a face. Also called User interface (UI) engineer, they create the corporate identity charter:
- Color range
- Font style
- Graphics (logo, images…)
- Screens and pages organization (buttons, texts and images location, etc.)
The designer can also participate in the product usability (screens sequence, accessibility, help, etc.). Indeed, a well designed software (rich user interface) can be a nightmare to use (poor user experience).
User experience (UX) engineer can be a full-time job. A dedicated UX engineer will exist rather on large projects when you can have thousands of users. The UX engineer will be involved occasionally and is working on several projects at the same time.
As the name implies, the tester is responsible for testing the software.
They write test cases, execute them, trying to find all the bugs. Testers report all bugs they have found to the development team who will be in charge to fix them. Testers will test again to make sure bugs are now fixed. They are the last resort to prevent regressions (a feature that worked in version N but does not work anymore in the new version N + 1) and ensure that quality is sufficient to deliver the application to the client.
Tester as full-time job is for large projects where the risk is very important, for example, a banking application or an onboard space shuttle program. If the software that manage a little bakery store is starting to fail, there is no big deal, it is not the same as if all the transactions of a bank were rejected or if a plane crashes. This is why developers are in charge of the testing part on traditional management applications.
The advantage of dedicated testers is that they do not need to be technical, they only need to know the business and functional side of the project.
The Operations Manager
If developers, architects and designers fashion the whole product, the operations manager is responsible for making it available to users. In the jargon, we say to deploy the software or application in production. The operations manager ensures that deployment procedures are written and are up to date, provides the ability to revert to the previous software version in case of problem with the new one. The operations manager monitors applications to ensure they are available and meet the clauses set out in the contract.
This role may evolve in the future with a new trend called “DevOps“(concatenation of “development” and “operations”) where the developer supports a part of this operational side. Furthermore, in the past, deployments happened a few times a year, now it is not surprising to deploy in production several times a week or even a day thanks to the use of automated procedures (see agile model below).
The Network and Infrastructure Engineer
The Network and Infrastructure engineer has several roles:
- Ensure that the company network is working properly (internet, intranet…). A network that fails during 15 minutes can represent significant deadweight losses for the company.
- Provide access to all tools for new employees (login, installation and configuration of workstations).
- Manage and maintain the IT infrastructure on the site (inventory and maintenance of servers, computers, cables, seats, projectors, hard drives, setting up backups, etc.).
It is not always the same person who takes care of both the network and infrastructure. It will mainly depend on the size of the company.
The specialized professions
For larger projects, I have to mention two professions where the person is often qualified as technical expert. Avoid technical terms to describe them is a bit difficult, but I’ll try.
The Database Administrator
Also called DBA (DataBase Administrator). Software manage information and data, when you close and reopen the software again, you will find your data back with the same state as before. All these data are stored somewhere, this place is called a database.
If the project is very large with hundreds of different data types, a dedicated administrator will be required to ensure the highest quality and availability of data. A DBA works on:
- Data structure (an address cannot be stored in the same way as a date);
- Consistency storage (compliance, no data duplication);
- Access to the database (backups, redundancy solutions);
The Security Administrator
If the application is available on the internet, that many users can access it at the same time and it contains sensitive data, it is essential to have a good level of security. I say “good” because a foolproof system does not exist.
We often see in the news some major websites that got hacked. There will always be flaws, but a security expert will improve the protection and discourage many of the hackers.
This requires good practices such as passwords encryption in the database, updating tools after a flaw discovery, etc.
The role can involve many other aspects such as training employees about security issues, implementing data backup strategy…
The Project Manager
Actually, this term is very generic and can be adapted to all sectors. Thus, we also find project managers in IT. Contrary to previous professions, it is a non-technical position. Project managers manage the IT project globally.
- They are in contact with clients and are responsible for understanding their needs. They write specifications used by the development team.
- They plan and organize, ensuring that the project is delivered on time within budget.
- They report key indicators to the direction and raise warnings if something is going wrong.
- They act like a buffer between the client, the development teams and the management by centralizing all the communication.
- They write the application’s user manual and can offer a training in order to help users mastering their new software.
- Depending on the impact of the software, they can also do change management. For example, it will probably be necessary when an existing software used for years is going to be replaced.
- They may also have some commercial responsibilities like answering to a Request For Proposal.
Some project managers are technical (a former developer for example), some are not at all (they know the functional and business side only). The developer will generally prefer technical project managers because they will be able to understand more easily whether a particular feature is simple to implement or not. Indeed, the translation from functional to technical will be more realistic resulting in a better workload estimates.
There are different types of project manager (Project assistant, Mono-Project manager, Multi-project manager, Project Director… and even Technical Project Manager) corresponding to different levels of responsibility where the number of projects and teams to manage increases.
In IT, you will find also:
- Business managers that will increase the business potential by winning new projects thanks to their professional network.
- All professions related to Human Resources.
I do not describe them in detail because they are well known and can be found in many sectors.
There are no boundaries clearly defined for IT professions
There are many titles that include several professions. For example, computing engineer is often multidisciplinary with different roles: developer, tester, analyst, database administrator… Analyst-developer, consultant are also kind of “tote bag” titles.
A network and infrastructure engineer can take responsibility in security as well. The boundaries between the different professions are often fuzzy.
You understand that it is very rare to be confined to a single function. Why? Simply because it depends on the size of the project and the allocated budget. A small project with a small budget will not necessarily need a dedicated designer, a dedicated tester… And developers can be adequate using existing tools to help them create something nice visually and tested enough. I am more oriented development, but I don’t think my blog is ugly visually (at least I hope).
It is very common for a project to have a team consisting of one project manager and a few developers.
For software accessible from a web browser (called web application rather than software), it is common to prefix the professions with the keyword “web”. Web developer, Web Designer, Web Project Manager… Tasks and function are the same as for the pioneer professions, only the technologies and tools are different.
We also often heard about the Webmaster that is a title that does not mean much, but in general we know it because it exists since the Web creation. Normally, it should be used to designate a site administrator (in my case, I am the Webmaster of this blog).
The explosion of the Internet in the 2000s has brought new IT jobs. Here are two specialized Web professions:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) manager
Also called Web Optimizer. The goal is to make a website visible on the Internet to increase its number of visits. The Web Optimizer knows all the SEO and analysis methods (both technical and marketing) for your site to improve its ranking and make it appear in the top results of search engines.
In other words, if I type “Cheap flight” on Google, I want my site “Ryanair” to appear in the top 5 results. I’ll probably need one for my blog, so if you like this article, please share it…
The Community Manager
This profession was born with the emergence of online social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on). It is a very recent and marketing approach. CMs manage communities to convey a good image of the company and/or product.
They use various ways to do that. They may animate a Facebook page, manage a Twitter account, respond to questions from users on forums, etc. Their goal is to unite people and promote their communications.
Just as technology, IT professions are constantly evolving. Now, you should have a good idea of the current software jobs. I want to clarify professions oriented software because I did not focus on the hardware side which is not my area.
Actually, the list is not complete. There are other jobs, because if technology evolves, work methods too. Thus, for some years, we are witnessing the massive adoption of the agile model in the IT world.
Let’s give some explanation to understand what it is.
- The Traditional model (called Waterfall) is a long sequence of phases: specification, development, testing and delivery. The client receives its software at the end of the whole cycle.
- The Agile model provides a succession of short phases (iterative model). Somehow, a project consists of mini-projects and each mini-project can represent a feature in the application. A fortiori you are delivering the software regularly and the client can see its software getting richer as developments are keep going and can give feedback quickly.
With the agile model, new professions have emerged such as Agile Coach, Scrum Master, Product Owner. The purpose of this article was to describe the “main” professions in IT, so I will not go further on this agile topic. That said, it may be an idea for a new article, an agile jobs overview.
In the meantime, I hope that the IT world is less abstract and you will know more things about this topic.