What’s wrong with business reporting of the Computer Industry

You read through a report on computer industry jobs, or you take a test in high school which leads you to believe you may have a future as a “Computer Terminal Operator” or a “Computer Software Analyst.” And the stuff you read makes no sense whatsoever–things like “A Computer Programmer converts symbolic statements of business, scientific or engineering problems to detailed logic flow charts into a computer program using a computer language”, and you think “what?” Or you see something like:

Disappearing Jobs:

Plus, the work of computer programmers requires little localized or specialized knowledge. All you have to know is the computer language.

And you think “WTF?!?”

Really?

Here’s the problem. All of these descriptions are based on an industry classification scheme first created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor. And the descriptions are hopelessly out of date.

In the world of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is how a computer program is created, executed, and the results understood:

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First a business (such as a WalMart) decides that it has a business reason to create a new computer program. For example, they decide that they need a computer system in order to determine which products are selling better in one geographic region, so they can adjust their orders and make sure those products flow to that area.

This problem was probably identified by a Management Analyst (B026), whose job is to “analyze business or operating procedures to advise the most efficient methods of accomplishing work.” Or it was identified by an Operations Analyst (A065).

So they work with a Systems Analyst (A064) in order to restate the problem (“find the areas where different SKUs are selling better, compare against current logistical shipping patterns, and adjust future orders to make sure stores are well stocked for future demand”) into a detailed flow chart and requirements documents outlining how this process should work.

Once this flow chart has been agreed upon by the analysts and operations engineers and scientists, they turn the problem over to a Computer Programmer (A229) in order to convert the flow charts describing the problem into a computer program. This computer program is generally written using automated data processing equipment, such as a punch card reader.

The computer programmer verifies his program by working with a Computer Operator (D308) to submit his punched cards to the mainframe and, after a program run completes, returning the printout to the computer programmer’s “in box”, a wooden box used to hold the printouts designated to a specific programmer. (Computer operators “select and load input and output units with materials, such as tapes or disks and printout forms for operating runs.”)

Once the Computer Programmer has verified that his punch card deck is properly functioning, he will then eventually request (depending on the nature of the program) to either have his job run on a regular basis or loaded into the business mainframe so that inputs to his program may be submitted by a Data Entry Keyer (also known as a Computer Terminal Operator D385), or the process may be batch run by management, depending on if the Computer Systems Administrator (B022) permits it.

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Does this sound like the software industry you’re familiar with? No?

Here’s the problem. This is what every organization outside of the computer industry thinks goes on at places like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. Government decisions on education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and even reporting by places like CNBC are all driven by this image of the computer industry–an image that is about 30 to 40 years out of date.

And no-one has figured it out in the government, because every time they send out a survey on jobs to the computer industry, generally some guy somewhere goes “well, hell, none of this sounds like my guys. So I’m going to guess they’re all in the A064 category, because they need to think about what they’re writing–so they can’t be in the A229 category.

Until someone tells the Bureau of Labor Statistics their designations are garbage, we’re just going to continue to get garbage out from the BLS, from Government managed school textbooks (who still advise people about professions as a “Systems Analyst”, a profession that doesn’t actually exist as such), and from reporting outlets like CNBC–all who get their understanding from the BLS occupational classification system.

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Like fish who don’t notice the water they swim in, we don’t really know how much the government and government classification systems affect our thinking in this country.

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Addendum: Even job survey sites tend to use the same BLS classifications for classifying job and salaries, which is why most job sites talk about “Systems Analyst III” or “Computer Programmer II” job designations–which you will never see on a Google or an Apple job listing. It’s why figuring out salary requirements is such a royal pain in the ass for the computer industry as well–because everything is getting classified into buckets that are 30 years out of date.

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