What do you call a worker who maintains and monitors a company's computer network? Is the title LAN specialist, network technician or network support engineer? All three of those titles apply -- as do a number of others.
Information technology's many job titles cause confusion among career counselors, educators, hiring managers and human resource professionals, not to mention technology job seekers themselves.
Even experienced IT workers sometimes fail to realize the variety of job roles for which they may be qualified. A senior programmer may search only for programmer positions rather than expand the search to include equivalent titles such as application developer.
Are You Confused?
"Job title confusion" was how one techie put it. The techie's job involved maintaining a computer network, but he wasn't sure whether he should search for jobs as a network administrator, service technician or another title.
"Which one of these most accurately reflects what I do?" the techie wrote. "Any help would be appreciated!"
CompTIA's TechCareer Compass
At last, help is here. CompTIA's TechCareer Compass, the result of a voluntary partnership among industry groups, governmental bodies and educational institutions, provides an in-depth taxonomy of the ever-changing world of IT jobs. The compass helps IT job seekers, educators and HR professionals, among others, gain an understanding of the industry's many job roles and career trajectories. (The guide uses the term "information and communication technology," or ICT, to refer to the convergence of IT and telecommunications jobs.)
"We're trying to bring some sanity to the chaos that's out there," says Neill Hopkins, vice president of workforce development and training for CompTIA.
The TechCareer Compass resulted from a partnership among CompTIA; the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies; and a variety of companies, educational institutions and organizations such as Cisco, IBM, the Information Technology Association of America and the National Skills Standards Board.
The compass divides the ICT world into seven concentrations, including digital media, network infrastructure and programming, and then provides job titles for each concentration. For instance, the network infrastructure concentration includes the titles network support technician, network analyst, network administrator, hardware installation coordinator, computer operator and project manager.
Titles and Roles
Aside from a job description, the CompTIA guide provides critical work functions and skills for each position. Listings include alternate job titles to help those confused about whether a security engineer might be another name for a network administrator specializing in security. The guide lists 768 certifications applicable to the jobs listed, along with other education and training resources.
Job classifications should help job seekers expand their job searches beyond their current titles, says Tara Manzow, product manager for CompTIA. Other fields, such as nursing and sales, do not have this proliferation of job titles. "I don't think there are a lot of alternate job titles for doctor or accountant," she adds.
Clarity for Techies
The compass draws on work by the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET) to develop a taxonomy of IT jobs and the skills needed for them. The group's task was formidable, given the variations in job roles from one company to the next.
"Many other occupations are not as flexible as IT," says Peter Saflund, associate director of NWCET. "A senior programmer might be anyone from a 27-year-old working at a game developer to a 55-year-old working at Boeing."
Some tech job seekers have pointed out such discrepancies, expressing a certain degree of frustration about the melange of IT job titles. Sometimes titles do not seem to conform to descriptions, while other times one's education does not provide the guidance needed to determine what positions may be appropriate.
The TechCareer Compass aims to resolve some of these dilemmas. "It gives you an opportunity to explore what that title really means," says Hopkins.