Computer systems play a vital role in our lives. They help us make telephone calls, receive paychecks on time, and reserve hotel rooms and tickets for travel and entertainment. In career and industry, computer systems perform countless tasks--from maintaining career records to controlling manufacturing processes.
A computer system consists of a computer and peripheral equipment, such as remote terminals, tape and disk storage units, and high-speed printers. Systems vary in size from desktop systems consisting of a microcomputer, disk drive, and printer to large mainframe systems that occupy entire floors of office buildings and may have terminals in locations miles from the computer. Keeping this intricate equipment in good working order is the job of he computer service technician.
Most computer service technicians are assigned several clients, depending on the technician's specialty and the type of equipment to be serviced. Workers with several accounts must travel from place to place to maintain these systems and to make emergency repairs. In some cases, more than one technician will share an account and service different parts of a system. In other cases, an experienced technician may be assigned to work full time at a client's installation in order to maintain all phases of that operation. Some technicians work in central facilities where equipment or components are brought for service.
At regular intervals, computer service technicians (Often called field engineers or customer engineers) service the equipment according to manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedules. For example, they routinely adjust, oil, and clean mechanical parts of printers and sorters.
When computer equipment breaks down, technicians must quickly find the cause of the failure and make repairs. To locate the cause of failures, technicians run special diagnostic programs that pinpoint malfunctions. Fixing the equipment may take just a few minutes because most repairs merely involve the replacement of malfunctioning components. To correct an electronic problem, for example, the technician would replace the circuit board indicated by the diagnostic program. In some cases, technicians simply give the customer a new piece of equipment and take the malfunctioning one to a central facility for service.
Computer service technicians also install new equipment. They lay cables, hook up electrical connections between machines, thoroughly test the new equipment, and correct any problems before the customer uses the machine.
Some technicians specialize in maintaining a particular brand or type of equipment or system, or in doing a certain type of repair. For example, some technicians are experts in correcting problems caused by errors in the computer's internal programming.
Computer technicians must be familiar with technical manuals and diagnostic programs for each piece of equipment. They also must keep up with the technical information and revised maintenance procedures issued periodically by equipment manufacturers. To repair mechanical parts, repairs use a variety of handtools, including needle-nosed pliers, wire-strippers, and soldering equipment. The employer supplies tools and test equipment, but technicians are responsible for keeping them in good working order.
Technicians keep a record of preventive maintenance and repairs on each machine they service. In addition, they fill out time and expense reports, keep parts inventories, and order parts.
Technicians spend much of their time working with people. They listen to customers' complaints, answer questions, and sometimes offer technical advice on ways to keep equipment in good condition. In many ways, technicians act as public relations workers for their employer, promoting customer satisfaction and good will. In addition, experienced technicians often help train new workers and sometimes have limited supervisory duties.
The normal workweek for technicians is 40 hours. Many users of computer systems, however, rely on their equipment around the clock, and working time lost because of a breakdown can be very expensive. For this reason, technicians must be available to make emergency repairs at any time, day or night. Although overtime is commonplace, the method of assigning overtime varies by employer. Some technicians are on call 24 hours a day, others work rotating shifts--days one week, nights the next.
Although some bending and lifting are necessary, the job is not strenuous. Work hazards are limited mainly to minor burns and electric shock, but these can be avoided if safety practices are followed.
For most technicians, travel is local; they usually are not away from home overnight. Employers pay for travel, including reimbursement for job-related use of the technician's car. In some cases, employers provide a car for the technician's use. Technicians who work for a nationwide organization must sometimes transfer to another city or State.
Computer service technicians held about 53,000 jobs in 1990. Most are employed by wholesalers and manufacturers of computer equipment and by firms that provide maintenance services for a fee. A small number are employed directly by organizations that have a great deal of computer equipment. Computer technicians generally work in metropolitan areas where computer equipment is concentrated.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most employers require applicants for technician jobs to have 1 to 2 years' post-high school training in basic electronics, data processing equipment maintenance, or electrical engineering. This training may be from a public or private vocational school or a college or university. Basic electronics training offered by the Armed Forces and by some vocational high schools also is acceptable preparation for some jobs. Many entrants transfer from other occupations, such as office machine repairer, television service technician, and engineering technician, and engineering technician, where a knowledge of electronic equipment provides a good background for work in this field.
A high school student interested in becoming a computer service technician should take courses in mathematics and physics. High school courses in electronics and computer programming also are helpful.
Besides technical training, applicants for trainee jobs must have good vision and normal color perception to work with small parts and color-coded wiring. Because technicians usually handle jobs alone, they must have the initiative to work without close supervision. Also important are a pleasant personality and neat appearance, since the work involves frequent contact with customers. Patience is an asset, because some malfunctions occur intermittently, making the cause difficult to pinpoint. In some companies, applicants must pass a physical examination. A security clearance may be required in cases where technicians regularly service machines located in restricted buildings, such as Federal Government installations engaged in classified activities.
Newly hired technicians usually receive 3 to 6 months of training from their employer. They may study elementary computer theory, computer math, and circuitry theory in addition to expanding their knowledge of basic electronics. This training includes hands-on experience with computer equipment, doing basic maintenance, and using diagnostic programs to locate malfunctions.
In addition to formal instruction, trainees must complete 6 months to 2 years of on- the-job training. At first, they work closely with experienced technicians, learning to maintain machines that are relatively simple. Some companies have trainees gain experience by specializing in a certain type of equipment for a time. When trainees have mastered repair of that devise they specialize in another. This process continues until the technician can work with a variety of equipment.
Because manufacturers continually redesign equipment and develop new service procedures, experienced technicians must attend training sessions to keep up with these changes and to broaden their technical skills. Many technicians take advanced training to specialize in a particular computer system or type of repair. Instruction also may include programming, systems analysis, and other subjects that improve the technician's general knowledge of the computer field.
Experienced technicians with advanced training may become specialists or troubleshooters who help technicians throughout their territory diagnose difficult problems. They also may work with engineers in designing equipment and developing maintenance procedures. Those with leadership ability may become supervisors or service managers.
Experience in computer maintenance when combined with additional education may also help qualify a technician for a job in equipment sales, programming, or management.
Employment of computer technicians is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the 1900's. As the Nation's economy expands, more computer equipment will be used, and more technicians will be needed to install and maintain it. career, government, and other organizations will buy equipment to manage vast amounts of information, control manufacturing processes, and aid in scientific research. The development of new uses for computers also will spur demand.
Employment of service technicians is expected to grow more slowly than the amount of equipment in use due to improvements that make it more reliable and easier to repair. For example, the latest equipment can diagnose the cause of its own malfunctions. For some computer equipment, the diagnosis of the malfunction will be done by another computer via telephone hookup. As computer equipment becomes smaller and more portable, more of the diagnosis and repair will be done in centralized repair facilities, lessening the time spent traveling to job sites. These factors will lessen the time needed to make repairs and should limit somewhat the rise in employment.
Despite the faster than average growth in employment, most job openings for technicians will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations such as service manager, or who leave the labor force.
Computer service technicians have been less likely than other workers to be laid off during downturns in economic activity. However, firms do restrict hiring of new technicians during recessions, making it harder to enter the occupation. Technicians experienced in the service of several models and brands of equipment or with the most complex equipment generally will be in the greatest demand.
Median weekly earnings of full-time computer service technicians were about $530 in 1990. The middle 50 percent earned between $425 and $715. Many of these probably were trainees. The top 10 percent of technicians earned over $850 a week.
Workers in other occupations who repair and maintain the circuits and mechanical parts of electronic equipment include appliance repairers, automotive electricians, electronic organ technicians, instrument repairers, office machine repairers, radio repairers, radar mechanics, and television service technicians.
Sources of Additional Information
For general information on careers in computer maintenance, contact the personnel department of computer manufacturers and computer maintenance firms in your area. The State department of education in your State capital can furnish information about approved technical institutes, junior colleges, and other institutions offering postsecondary training in basic electronics.
The State employment service office in your area also may be able to provide information about local job opportunities.