Employees in this occupation support or assist other employees who design, operate, or use automatic data processing systems applications and products. Most positions involve work in one or a mix of functional areas typically identified as tape library, production control, scheduling or direct support to subject matter or computer specialists. Descriptions of the work and the qualifications required are discussed under those headings.
Employees in tape libraries store, control, clean, repair and issue magnetic tapes and other portable storage media. Tape libraries are storage and control centers for processing media, most commonly magnetic tapes, although disk packs, punched cards, and other materials or documents used in computer processing may also be stored in the library. Typically, the library work includes a variety of duties such as applying labels, flashers, and protection rings to tapes; cleaning and repairing tapes; recording changes in tape inventory; and, issuing tapes for use in program processing. Performance of some duties requires operation of equipment such as a tape verifier/cleaner to check tape condition and remove excess oxide build-up; a degausser to demagnetize tapes so they can be re-used; and on-line remote terminals to transcribe or verify tape inventory entries. This work requires knowledge of data processing terminology and abbreviations related to program identification, tape selection, and inventory entries. This knowledge is also used to interpret and follow abbreviated instructions concerning tape sequencing for multiple use during operations, and similar instructions represented by abbreviated or coded instructions.
Employees working in production control gather, check and annotate processing material and instructions prior to submission to computer operations. Some employees resolve tape, card or control problems during processing and some review products for quality and accounting purposes or for indications of processing problems. Typically this work involves some operation of equipment such as card readers, optical character readers and remote terminals.
Production control work requires knowledge of data processing codes and abbreviations, production schedules, system control languages and security controls over access to computers and products. Some employees follow step by step instructions to identify tapes, change a few specified control cards and pass along operator instructions. Others advise users on how to prepare requests and then plan and insert control streams, establish priorities and write special instructions for operators. Many employees review computer products for a variety of purposes. This ranges from checking for proper number of copies and proper print alignment through reviewing system reports and dumps for flow and control problems and to work analyzing and writing production preparation, control and review procedures for accepting new processing work.
Some employees prepare computer operating schedules specifying the sequence for processing a number of programs or jobs. Effective use of computer operating time and processing capacity must be considered in writing schedules. Capacity considerations include the available combinations of equipment, operating speeds, number of units of core, number of core partitions and other similar features. Time considerations include set-up, run and output times required to complete each job. Also, schedulers consider job priorities and needed input from prior processing. Schedulers for multiprogramming systems consider job separation within parallel schedules to preclude programs from contending for data bases, system utilities or core capacity. Some employees may do little scheduling because processing is primarily controlled by a detailed master schedule or the operating system includes a scheduling software routine. These employees commonly enter ad hoc jobs in time gaps in the master schedule or assign priorities, adjust controls and enter such jobs to an automated queue. They may also use override commands to restructure master or automated schedules in solving operating or production problems.
Support to Computer or IT Specialists
Some computer assistants at full performance levels perform duties much like those assigned to entry and trainee level computer specialists. They assist computer specialists in collecting, organizing and maintaining computer program documentation and manuals. As directed they code programs, draw flowcharts and diagrams and perform other similar duties. Within prescribed limits, some employees write small link, merge or edit programs or work directly from user instructions to write modifications to existing programs. Such support work typically requires knowledge of the scope, contents and purposes of program documentation (e.g., project proposals, data sources, report exemplars, access methods, etc.). Many positions include work requiring knowledge of programming languages (COBOL, FORTRAN PL/1) and job control languages for coding and program testing duties. In addition, some work requires knowledge of system hardware such as the number and kind of devices, operating speeds, amount of core and other equipment characteristics. Knowledge of equipment is often supplemented by knowledge of internal software routines such as schedulers, reports generators, link, merge or other built in routines. Typically, computer assistants acquire knowledge for these support positions through a mix of experience in related computer clerk or assistant positions and, training in on-the-job or after hours programs of study and experience.
Support to Subject Matter Users
Some computer clerks and assistants provide data processing support to subject matter specialists through distributed processing networks. They work at remote terminal stations entering raw data to update or change information files, preparing and entering commands to execute established programs and performing non-routine data searches. Some remote processing stations contain “mini-computers” in addition to terminals and related peripheral equipment. Such minis serve as intermediate storage and control devices (buffers) or may provide local ability to structure and manipulate data. Work involving support to subject matter users varies in difficulty ranging for example, from highly structured input and retrieval methods and procedures for recurring production jobs to tailored search and manipulation strategies for special purpose products. Some employees discuss product requirements with users and give advice on how to structure job requests to obtain data desired.
Computer clerks or assistants use knowledge of data base contents, access authorizations, control methods and program output options to structure coded retrievals through a terminal and provide video display or printed reports, graphs or charts. Data manipulation and information retrieval work requires the same kind of knowledges, skills and abilities whether executed through a remote central computer or through a local mini-computer. This work is distinguished from computer and other equipment operations work in the requirement for paramount knowledges of program contents and retrieval methods rather than paramount knowledges of equipment operation techniques.
Computers function on the basis of instructions developed in an artificial form of language acceptable for electronic translation and execution within the machine system. There are many languages and variations used for general and special purposes. Most computer clerks and assistants commonly use at least some terminology from programming, system control and user access languages. Some employees, especially those supporting computer programming work, use higher level languages extensively. Requirements for knowledge of computer language are evaluated according to the degree and manner of use or application rather than the language from which applied terminology is derived.
Most computer clerks and assistants perform quality control duties and responsibilities before, during or after computer processing. Typically this work is included with other duties and responsibilities although there are some fulltime quality control positions. Quality control prior to processing involves checking set-up packages of tapes, run sheets, special instructions and schedules. During processing quality is maintained through such work as adjusting priorities, correcting run controls, adding jobs or accommodating run specifications to most current data. Post processing quality review and control encompasses a wide range of considerations. This work may involve readily apparent conditions such as print clarity or alignment, number of copies and user identity. Quality control extends to employees who examine operator logs, system reports and dumps and program documentation to identify trends and recurring problems and to develop new operating controls and procedures. Quality control work requires many of the knowledges of programs, equipment, languages and processing procedures and methods needed for production control and scheduling work.
Prepares projected (up to 6 months) and daily operating schedules for two stand alone and two interchangeable multi-programming computer systems.
- Receives semi-annual program additions, deletions and changes from national headquarters systems office, and monthly processing change notices for incorporation into local processing master schedules.
- Reviews program and product requirements to be installed and scheduled for the upcoming processing year. Identifies existing programs that are changing and those that are being cancelled, in order to determine the hardware and core capacities either required or made available by those changes.
- Identifies the flow, equipment and capacity requirements for new processing requirements, combines those needs with capacity available and carry over requirements.
- Reviews history files concerning production volumes, processing times, allowances for reruns, lost time and down time in order to relate optimal capacity to practical availability for productive processing.
- Incorporates the preceding with specified frequency of production requirements and develops an operating master schedule for use over a six month period.
- Reviews monthly system change notices, identifies change requirements and modifies existing schedules and processing resource allocations affecting one or several production requirements.
- Prepares daily to weekly processing schedules for recurring and special jobs.
- Reviews system reports and operator logs to compare scheduled processing with accomplishments, identify processing problems and resolve those associated with control stream, peripheral equipment assignments or data dependency/contention problems.
Incumbent works in the data processing center as a systems monitor resolving processing problems and error conditions except those requiring programming changes.
- Identifies and determines corrective action to be taken in case of individual job failures not covered in the operations manual, or in circumstances when the prescribed procedures will not produce a solution for a 4-CPU multiprocessor/ multi-programming computer system, and a separate multi-program system used for processing smaller jobs and as back-up.
- Identifies job interrelationships, provides for dependencies and reorders job priorities.
- Orders run stream dumps and determines actions to be taken to correct operational problems that cause runs to end abnormally or necessitate general recovery of data base information.
- Determines need to reconstruct data base from back-up files, rerun or restart requirements and need to shift run sequencing in order to better align jobs or better apply system utility programs in relation to jobs on the schedules.
- Resolves partial system failures (hardware or software) by providing for revised applications of system operating capabilities in a manner that allows working through or around the problems with reduced capacity, readjusting the system when full operating configuration is restored.
- Ensures restoration of transactions and data bases at a proper restart point after system initialization and recovery routines have been used to resolve error conditions and the system has been reloaded for continuation of operations.
- Works with applications programmers and operations personnel to identify problems with applications, operating systems or hardware that are difficult to pinpoint. Suggests methods for sequencing and software/hardware operating configurations to accept new requirements and resolve processing malfunctions, including revised run stream applications, spooling techniques and possible transfer of some jobs to other computer systems.
- Prepares operating schedules for a multi-processor/ multi-programming computer system, allowing for multiple dependency processing, data and program contentions and sequencing.
- Prepares schedule run stream according to handbook instructions, making modification or allowances for recent occurrences (failures, program changes) requiring new or temporary procedures. Loads schedule through the system executive program.
- Monitors work in progress in order to detect unusual production delays, problems caused by unforeseen contentions, need to adjust priorities in order to move small jobs past large jobs that are awaiting completion of other processing, and to work with operations personnel to detect and resolve common or unusual operating problems or failures.
- Plans, schedules and directs the transfer of program and/or data files from disk to tape storage, maintains records of programs and data so stored, and schedules restoration/recovery from back-up files when needed for problem solving in subsequent processing.
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.
Current and Projected Employment.
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.
Median annual wages for computer operators and clerks were $35,600 in May 2008.
Workers in a number of other occupations also type, record information, and process paperwork. Among them are:
- Computer Programmer
- Computer Software Engineer
- Computer Operator GS-0332
Information on obtaining Computer Clerk 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.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
- Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.