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Computer Operation Clerk

Significant Points

Just as there is no standard computer system, there is no single pattern of duties and responsibilities for operating computer systems. Operating a computer essentially entails: readying the equipment for operation; setting dials, switches, and other controls; entering commands to activate a variety of equipment and internal program resources; monitoring and controlling operations during processing; and responding to programmed instructions and unscheduled program halts caused by machine failures, program bugs, or invalid data. Even those duties and responsibilities vary significantly among computer centers according to differences in equipment configurations, the amount and kind of internally stored control and utility programs, and specific responsibilities or restrictions for operators to identify and resolve specific kinds of operating problems.

Nature of the Work

Computers vary widely in the number and kinds of jobs that are processed in them and the amount of control that can be exercised by operators. Some systems perform only one processing job at a time although, by changing a tape, disk, or diskette and/or adding a few commands, such systems may run a variety of jobs, one at a time. Large, general purpose computer systems can accept and process many jobs at the same time (multiprogramming). The jobs may be a mixture of those entered by the operator and others that are entered by users through remote terminal stations. Such mixtures may involve literally hundreds of jobs in the system at any given moment. Other differences in computer systems result from differences in the amount and kind of, and the ability to control, internally programmed software routines and subroutines which regulate operating systems (internal supervisory or executive programs), compilers, assemblers, and others. Such programs control internal processing steps and job flow or they are designed to test and accept new applications or systems programs. Permanently stored operating systems include routines that will:

  • compile, assemble, and edit (limited debugging) test programs;
  • provide libraries of standard, frequently used production programs;
  • locate and specify input/output channels and devices for each job;
  • control multiprogramming job separation;
  • receive, respond to, and transmit system and program error messages;
  • provide error listings and identify internal checkpoints;
  • automatically spool intermediate and finishing products for use in other jobs and processes;
  • build input and output queues and automatically release jobs from queues; and
  • perform other process control functions that were once the operator's responsibility.

Other variations in computer systems involve such things as the amount, kind, and uses of peripheral devices; presence or absence of teleprocessing channels; and other equipment or system differences that are designed to meet the needs of a particular organization. Variables in system design introduce related variables in operator jobs. Even in two organizations using the same make and model of equipment, operator jobs will not be identical. Operators need to know what is built into the systems and the controls they have over the equipment, jobs, and software routines.

In some assignments, a single operator is responsible for all of the tasks required to set up and operate the computer and its associated peripherals and to resolve the majority of problems that may occur during operations. In other assignments, operators work in teams in which some employees work on the peripheral devices, at least one controls the system through a central console, and, often, one employee is responsible primarily or entirely for resolving operating problems. In team situations, the employees will often rotate in the different work stations as a part of training, to provide relief for others, to cover for periods of leave, or other reasons. In some organizations, the console operator is responsible for resolving the full range of problems that occur. In others, the console operator is responsible only for those problem conditions that can be resolved through the console or by directing others to make specific kinds of equipment adjustments. Some operators are assigned primary responsibility for resolving those problem conditions that do not respond to standardized commands from the control console. Such an operator isolates the causes of problem conditions, resolves many of them, and for very serious systems problems, seeks assistance from appropriate specialists. Problems can range from resetting switches and making minor mechanical adjustments on tape drives to those that require diagnoses in order to isolate and correct teleprocessing circuit difficulties, data gaps or erasures in disks, disk head crashes, and many other problems that may be complex and difficult to identify and resolve.

Computer operators must have ability to isolate and resolve problems encountered during processing since errors that result in the loss of information, erroneous work products, or damage to the programs are costly. Restructuring lost data and rerunning programs involve the expenditure of substantial resources in terms of machine time and the time and efforts required by others such as programmers, system analysts, and subject-matter specialists. An operator's knowledge of the system and the ability to utilize such knowledges to keep the system running, recover from full or partial failures, or save jobs in progress without resorting to full restart and/or data restoration procedures can often spell the difference between timely accomplishment of work and costly delays. The operator's alertness, speed, and accuracy of judgment in determining what should or should not be done are crucial requirements when problems arise.

As with operating and solving problems in the computer systems, there is wide variation in the degrees to which operators are involved in testing new or modified programs. In some systems, testing is totally controlled by specialists from the control console or through remote job entry terminals and there is virtually no active operator participation. In others, operators are deeply involved in setting up at least part of the job control stream, selecting and activating a sequence of utility routines (compile, assemble, edit, debug, etc.) and reviewing test results to identify more efficient ways to use available equipment and utility programs and resolve equipment utilization problems.

Within such a variety of work situations, there are a number of differences in duty assignments which have a significant influence upon the grade level of a particular position. Program subject matter, program logic, or data contents do not directly affect operator responsibilities or position grade levels. Rather, position grades are influenced by the complexity and diversity of the equipment systems and the extent to which the operator actually participates in controlling, adjusting, and modifying them. The criteria in this standard are designed to treat operator positions in terms of those operator/system/ problem solving relationships. The criteria provide that, depending on the degrees of involvement and complexity, computer operators may be graded at full performance levels in grades GS-3/9. Full performance levels at grades GS-3/5 generally indicate that, due to the nature of the equipment and programs operated, there is little or no opportunity to become involved in the more complex aspects of computer operations. Higher levels represent progressively greater scope and depth of such involvement. The criteria can be applied also to describe training levels and employee development in learning about, and ultimately taking responsibility for, progressively more involved phases of computer operations, control, and problem resolution assignments.

Computer Operator, GS-0332-03

Operates two minicomputer systems through a control console. One system serves as a data entry host for correspondence control information fed directly from microfilm terminal stations and the other stores the data for inquiry, document locator access, and related correspondence information services. Each system consists of a central processor containing control and utility programs, one tape drive, one disk drive, and digit controlled console. In addition, there is a card reader that is used with both systems.

  • Cold starts systems by mounting and activating an input tape to enter the standardized operating system to disk memory and entering prescribed commands through a terminal to activate the systems to receive from or provide data to terminal stations.
  • Periodically dumps input data from disk to tape storage and then mounts tape to provide input to the inventory/locator disk records in the second system.
  • Identifies equipment problems such as hung tapes, failure to respond to key-in commands, or tape vacuum column leakage and attempts to correct by standardized procedures. Notifies designated technical personnel about problems that fail to respond to controls and describes over the telephone the nature of the problem. As advised, enters commands, makes minor mechanical adjustments and similar other actions to correct problems, reports success or failure to technical personnel.
  • Searches printed error reports, identifies duplicate or misidentified correspondence records, punches correction cards, and enters corrections to the inventory data base.
  • Periodically purges closed correspondence records from disk memory.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-04

The employee operates a small stand-alone computer system that accepts work and performs a mixture of: receiving data entered from a number of terminal stations; serving as a remote job entry terminal for two different large scale computer systems in other locations; and performing some independent processing of small applications programs. Typically, several of such applications are processed simultaneously under the control of the computer operator.

  • Activates standardized system control programs and associated tape, disk, and teleprocessing equipment.
  • Mounts tapes and activates disk units to load programs for remote job entry to two separate host computers at other locations and separate mounts for jobs to be processed locally.
  • Activates entry channels and provides for tape and disk memory drives for use by terminal operators engaged in key-to-tape or key-to-disk data transcription operations.
  • Monitors system operations in order to identify times for changing tape mounts for scratch and program tapes, change disk pack allocations to accept or transmit work, and detect system messages indicating problems in disk or tape drives or in communications channels.
  • Corrects tape feed problems and other minor problems in tape drives such as covers that fail to close tightly, moves tapes to load point when automatic load mechanisms stick or fail to operate, reset modems in attempting to clear communications channel alignments, detects and overrides tape and disk parity errors, and corrects similar error or problem conditions according to operator manual instructions and standing operating procedures.
  • Sets up and releases each batch job to the system and controls the release of remote entry jobs to their respective host mainframe systems.
  • Sets up and releases each batch job to the system and controls the release of remote entry jobs to their respective host mainframe systems.
  • Follows prescribed operating schedules, looks for potential data contentions, and readjusts schedules to allow for predecessor requirements, where the output from one step is required to complete processing in later steps or jobs.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-05

Performs as backup operator on an assigned large scale system console. On a regular basis, operates a variety of general purpose computer equipment and related auxiliary and peripheral devices in different modes (batch, real time, offline, and/or online) to process a wide range of applications programs (recurring, special, intermittent, one-of-a-kind).

  • Sets up and readies equipment for operation; sets control switches; performs initiation and booting operations; loads utility programs; uses data entry switches and indicators to read, store, and display data; and enters inputs. The equipment includes a variety of devices; e.g., digital plotters, tape-to-paper and key-to-disk-to-tape systems, remote job entry, etc. Monitors, interprets, and responds to terminal/console messages.
  • Sets up and operates peripheral devices such as disk and tape drives, multispeed printers, card readers, and punches. Prepares equipment by setting control switches, changing disks, mounting tapes, preparing labels, and loading paper or forms. Stops machines as necessary; utilizes appropriate guidelines to resolve minor mechanical problems with equipment.
  • Receives training on large scale multiprogramming/ multiprocessor systems console operations. Operates as backup operator under the guidance of a supervisor or higher level operator.
  • Isolates the nature of system failures and equipment problems; within available guidelines, initiates appropriate corrective action to maintain production schedules and ensure the quality of processing. Refers to the supervisor or higher grade operator any systems failures and equipment problems which do not respond to standardized corrective procedures as well as situations in which production schedules cannot be met.
  • Prepares systems logs and other records of computer operations including documentation of equipment operations problems, system malfunctions, system status, etc., and any corrective action taken.
  • Monitors program and equipment tests; implements standardized test procedures to resolve problems. Documents program and equipment performance information for use by systems analysts and programmers.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-06

Employee operates a high speed digital computer system processing batch and real time applications programs for a procurement and supply system. In addition to operating the system and resolving common error conditions, employee is responsible for recognizing, diagnosing, and independently acting on commonly occurring machine stoppage and error situations that may not be fully covered by existing procedures and guidelines.

  • Makes appropriate computer console settings to activate internal control and utility programs; activates peripheral devices by setting switches and making console key-in to link the various devices with the control programs and main memory. Loads programs and begins operations for the shift.
  • Powers on front-end processors and modems to provide access from remote job entry and inquiry terminal stations.
  • Monitors job flow for program load requirements, tape mounts, sign-on by terminal stations, and output device requirements and to identify messages and indicators of system problems in programs and equipment.
  • Initiates corrective actions in situations where unanticipated or difficult machine stoppages or program errors occur for which prescribed operating instructions are inadequate. Deviates from guidelines in attempting to resolve equipment problems before calling vendor customer engineers for service.
  • Adds new tested program capabilities to computer system, makes provision in command structure and memory devices for storing new data bases, and closely monitors program operations for errors or for smooth blending with existing stored program structure.
  • Notifies specialists of program errors and follows instructions in making changes in job control entries or in resetting program operations at other than prescribed restart checkpoints.
  • Reviews processing schedules, run sheets, and related instructions to identify precedent processing requirements and potentials for program or data base contention in order to restructure operating schedules and priorities when recovering from interrupted operations.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-07

Incumbent operates any one of several high-speed, large-scale computer systems processing batch and teleprocessing applications programs as well as performing developmental and production testing. As the control console operator, independently investigates and resolves operating and equipment problems. Participates in the installation of new or modified operating systems and equipment. Provides technical guidance and direction to lower level operators.

  • Activates large-scale computer system by powering on control console, loading the appropriate operating system, entering commands to connect the large-scale central processor(s) and operating system with associated hardware resources such as tape and disk drives, activating teleprocessing access channels, identifying malfunctioning equipment that is unavailable, and entering starting point data.
  • Insure the total availability of the large-scale computer system(s), which includes single and multiconnected processors, magnetic tape units, magnetic disk units, impact printers, laser printers, card reader-punches, consoles, label printers, and remote terminals.
  • Monitors system status and performance by observing system messages, requesting control console display of status information, and responding promptly to messages displayed on the control console to avoid message backlogs or system deterioration.
  • Monitors job flow and system utilization by entering commands through control console to assure effective and efficient processing. Selects jobs to be processed concurrently based on available resources and acceptable I/O-CPU matching criteria to prevent memory fragmentation and degradation of system performance.
  • Independently switches hardware equipment from online to offline mode, and vice versa, and switches equipment from one large-scale computer system to another when required by production or test workload requirements or priority requirements.
  • Investigates system malfunctions to determine the cause; i. e., hardware, software, or environment. Defines and isolates the specific problem, using available diagnostic and error recovery techniques, and independently initiates corrective action. As required, contacts vendor engineers, computer hardware specialists, and systems software specialists to determine the cause of problems resistant to available problem solving techniques. Informs supervisor of the action taken.
  • Prepares written reports on job delays, system malfunctions, and other operational difficulties or problems and reviews these reports with appropriate specialists and shift personnel.
  • Assists systems programmers and analysts in conversion to more advanced levels of operating systems. Participates in test runs and makes comprehensive reports of any significant operating occurrences.
  • Assists computer equipment specialists in the installation of new equipment and reinstallation of existing equipment. Participates in installation diagnostic procedures and in testing the newly installed equipment before release to the production environment.
  • Participates in shift turnover activities by discussing with incoming shift peers, work in progress, problems relating to production schedules, system status, equipment malfunctions, and other operational problems.
  • Provides technical training and guidance to lower level operators. Resolves system and equipment problems referred by lower level operators.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-08

The employee maintains continuity of equipment operations and processing workflow; resolves equipment, program, and control problems ranging from common, recurring conditions to those that are complex and require time and attention away from the control console; sets up and tests new applications and systems programs and informs specialists about ways to use existing hardware and software capabilities in new programs more effectively and efficiently; and relieves console and other operators at their work stations in order to assure continuous workflow. This responsibility extends to operations in several systems performing multiprograming, batch, and teleprocessing operations. The employee normally has primary responsibility over either multiprocessor or multiprogram systems during a shift. Serves as senior operator on an assigned shift and sometimes serves as acting shift supervisor.

  • Directs and controls other operators in system start-up and restart procedures, taking control from the console or at individual equipment controllers when systems fail to respond to normal or standardized alternate procedures.
  • Reviews batch operating schedules in terms of known system problems and processing backlogs and adjusts batch memory allocations in balance with necessary teleprocessing requirements and need to provide for precedent processing.
  • Adjusts batch job priorities and restructures internal queues to avoid program contentions, allow for precedent output, and provide for unscheduled jobs and user originated priority changes.
  • Monitors work in progress by observing console messages and receiving status reports from console operators to assure that processing flow proceeds according to plan and looks for indications of equipment, memory, or CPU overload, degraded speeds, and other indicators that problem conditions are developing in the systems. Makes adjustments in memory allocations, and equipment assignments and other changes needed to ensure flow of high priority work and remove the potential for interference from lower priority jobs.
  • Responds to console operator notifications of program and equipment problems that will not respond to established methods for correction through standardized console key-ins and takes over the console. Attempts to resolve equipment problems by working on the equipment itself (including control switches and panels, modems, and other interconnecting devices), identifying the nature of the problems, and seeking technical assistance from the supervisor, technicians, computer specialists or others.
  • Analyzes equipment failures and workload requirements to rearrange processing schedules and equipment assignments within the limits of less than normal processing capacities. Directs the console operator as to which jobs to keep processing and the key-ins required to work with reduced capacity and personally attempts to resolve or have others resolve the equipment problems.
  • Sets up test applications and system programs, activates internal utility routines to accept and process such programs, monitors their flow through the system, and initiates system dumps for use by specialists in improving program processing.
  • Enters new tested programs into the systems and instructs console operators on new and/or special instructions for processing them.
Computer Operator, GS-0332-09

The employee monitors the operations of several large-scale computer systems to identify problem conditions that will not respond to normal operator intervention methods, runs diagnostic software routines to determine the operating integrity of the system, realigns equipment interconnections, isolates and identifies the source and nature of system software problems, and acquires assistance from vendor representatives or systems programmers for significant equipment or software malfunctions. In addition, the employee participates with systems specialists in planning and implementing the introduction of major new applications programs, and additions or changes to equipment and operating system software.

The computer systems operate primarily in teleprocessing configurations involving data entry and retrieval operations, batch processing, and interactive data processing (job entry, inquiry, and program development).

  • Directs and controls operators in system startup or restart procedures.
  • Insures that system hardware is configured according to specifications provided by software system designers.
  • Monitors a specially designed system display terminal for messages indicating system status; takes over control of analysis and solution for problems that cannot be resolved by console operators.
  • Adjusts job priorities, reassigns equipment between systems, traces and resets controls for teleprocessing connections, locates applications and system software malfunctions and reports to systems specialists, and isolates and identifies hardware malfunctions and calls in vendor technicians for assistance.
  • Monitors status of teleprocessing components by observing console displays or being notified of problems by terminal users.
  • Isolates faulty device and resets, repairs, or calls vendor for repairs; adjusts modem settings; restarts minicomputer control units; reassigns access channels to terminal users; resolves access for users with low priority requirements; and takes other similar actions pending system restoration.
  • Orders system dumps and takes equipment status readings in case of system failures and identifies any unusual operating conditions at the time of failure.
  • Analyzes status information to identify the source of equipment failures as either directly in the hardware, in teleprocessing connections, applications programs or system software, or others that may be identified from the system reports.
  • Participates with system specialists to plan and implement revised or new operating configurations (added teleprocessing capacity, increased or reduced mass memory capability, additions to a Data Base Management System, etc.) in order to introduce new, one time, or test processing requirements and/or to introduce new operating systems or revisions to existing operating systems.
  • Prepares detailed descriptions of new configuration and operating characteristics and supplements operator instructions to describe the application of such changes in daily operations.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Computer operators generally require a high school degree and are trained by employers on the job. Most computer operators expect to advance to other positions in the information technology field within a few years.

Job Outlook

Current and Projected Employment.

2008 Employment 110,000
2018 Employment 89,500
Employment Change -20,500
Growth Rate -19%

Employment change. Employment of computer operators is projected to decline rapidly because advances in technology are making many of the duties performed by these workers obsolete. The expanding use of software that automates computer operations gives companies the option of making systems more efficient, but greatly reduces the need for operators.

Job prospects. Experienced operators are expected to face competition for the few job openings that will arise each year to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Opportunities will be best for operators who have formal computer education, familiarity with a variety of operating systems, and knowledge of the latest technology.

Earnings

Median annual wages for computer operators were $35,600 in May 2008.

Information on obtaining Computer Operation positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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