Perhaps the first step in applying for a job is understanding the position itself. In the information technology field, that's a more complicated task than you might expect, as technology job titles are constantly in flux (like the technology itself). Even the hodgepodge of "standard" titles requires some explanation beyond what's offered in job descriptions.
For those new to the industry, this is especially confusing. You're thinking about entering the IT world, and suddenly you're confronted with names of positions you never even knew existed. A $60,000 salary for a quality assurance engineer? Not bad, but what is QA? Is this a position you aspire to? You'll never know unless you know what a person in that position actually does.
To help you make sense of all this, here is another installment in our series of straightforward, no nonsense descriptions of technology job titles. Salaries are approximate and vary by region. Once you know the titles, expect to see lots of variations, often with a "senior" or "junior" appended to it, or with a qualifier related to the type of technology or computing system.
Chief Information Officer (CIO)
- What they do: The CIO serves as a company's technology guru, overseeing everything from the purchase of computer systems to overarching plans to use technology to gain a competitive edge. With technology often viewed as central to a company's mission -- and not simply as serving "back office" functions, like accounting -- the role of the CIO is increasingly strategic; that is, geared toward finding ways to utilize technology in new and creative ways.
- Skills: The CIO needs to know the technology, but he also needs to have the savvy -- and confidence -- to walk into the CEO's office with ideas to help the company thrive and grow. The CIO is often an expert in a particular industry, whether it's toy retailing or database software. A CIO must have demonstrated skills in management, team-building and budgeting. A CIO is typically an individual who has already held a top technology post, such as IS director.
- Salary: $140,000
- What they do: The project manager develops requirements, budgets and schedules for IT projects. Project managers may coordinate multiple projects, from development through implementation, working with both clients and project leaders. Project managers report on the project's status to clients, manage project resources and timelines, and write proposals and other project documentation.
- Skills: Project managers must know the technology, but they also need to be able to communicate with personnel unfamiliar with the demands of IT projects. Knowledge of a specific area of technology, such as e-commerce or database design, is considered crucial by many organizations, although some emphasize more generic project management skills. Database analysts, senior software engineers and others may take on project management tasks, providing them with the experience needed to become full-fledged project managers. Knowledge of planning tools, such as Microsoft Project or Visio, is often required.
- Salary: $76,000
Quality Assurance Engineer
- What they do: Complex technology projects require testing -- lots of it -- in order to avoid gaffes (and outright disaster). QA engineers work to execute testing plans and goals to ensure systems work properly. Tasks include the design and implementation of testing procedures, interaction with support staff, categorizing bug fixes and enhancement requests, and reviewing bug reports.
- Skills: QA engineers must have problem-solving and organizational skills, along with knowledge of the underlying technology of the systems being tested. A position with an Internet company, for instance, might require knowledge of HTML, CGI, Internet protocols and Java. QA engineers should have experience with bug-tracking software and automated testing procedures.
- Salary: $63,000
- What they do: The LAN manager provides assorted services, from design to administration, of an organization's local area network, which connects staff within an organization.
- Skills: A LAN manager needs to know the intricacies of the specific systems being used by a company: Windows NT, Novell, Unix and so forth. Knowledge of networked applications, virus-protection schemes, system diagnostic utilities, and experience with routers, hubs and bridges is also necessary.
- Salary: $57,000
PC Tech Support Specialist
- What they do: You need the latest version of Internet Explorer on your PC? Call tech support. Tech support specialists are responsible for the maintenance and support of a company's PCs. Tasks include troubleshooting, responding to technical problems, and performing maintenance, upgrades and configurations.
- Skills: Tech support specialists should have knowledge of assorted operating systems, such as Windows 95 and 98, Windows NT and Macintosh, along with familiarity with frequently used applications, from Web browsers to Microsoft Office.
- Salary: $38,000
- What they do: A computer operator is responsible for tasks related to the daily operations of a company's computing systems. Tasks include performing backups, executing batch print jobs and maintaining logs of operations.
- Skills: A computer operator must be able to follow precise instructions, evaluate problems and plan a course of action to remedy situations. An associate's degree, or comparable experience, is often required, with training in the specific system being operated.
- Salary: $35,000
- What they do: Help-desk workers answer support questions, from the silly to the serious. They may handle questions from a company's own computer users, or they may respond to queries, via phone or email, from individuals using a product produced by the company.
- Skills: Help-desk staff must have a comprehensive understanding of specific systems and applications, with the ability to provide clear answers to common (and not-so-common) questions.
- Salary: $35,000