Many community colleges and technical schools offer 6-month certificate programs and 2-year associate's degree programs in computer systems support; 4-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's programs in computer information systems. In general, all of these programs cover programming, operating systems and IT security protocols. Some schools offer online learning and preparation for industry certifications. Potential career paths include help-desk support and network administration.
Computer Systems Support Certificate
Certificate programs provide applicants that have little or no technical experience the opportunity to learn fundamental skills in computer hardware and software installation, configuration and troubleshooting. Typically, only a high school education is required for admittance, though some schools prefer applicants to have some proficiency using a computer.
Unlike degree curricula, certificate programs do not include general education. Professional studies cover the basics in hardware and software support. Classes typically include instruction in the following areas:
- Hardware component identification
- Operating system fundamentals
- Networking communication
- Telecommunications systems
- Basic programming languages
Associate's Degree in Computer Systems Support
Students receive extensive training and classroom instruction in the field of computer systems support through an associate's degree program. Businesses and corporations seek out trained technical support professionals who understand and can effectively implement the current technology. Applicants typically only need a high school diploma or GED to enroll in these programs.
Associate's degree program curricula provide teaching in computer software and hardware maintenance, as well as computer systems support. Courses teach students troubleshooting, installation and monitoring procedures. Other topics include computer networking, web page development and server administration. Some common class topics include:
- Computer applications
- Web management
- Operating systems
- Information security
- Local and wide area networking
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Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems
A bachelor's degree program in computer information systems prepares students for increased responsibility in the computer systems field. Students could use business courses offered through a bachelor's program to find work as technical and management professionals. Some programs offer preparation for industry certifications, as well as online classes for convenient learning. Applicants don't need experience in the field, though schools typically require a high school diploma for enrollment.
Courses with specific emphasis on algebra, information technology and systems security train students in the fundamentals of computing and support. Several bachelor's programs allow students to focus their electives on a specific area of computer systems support, such as networking security, programming and database administration. A few examples of course topics at this level include:
- Wireless communications
- Systems analysis
- Database management
- HTML programming
Completion of a certificate program gives individuals the basic skills to obtain entry-level jobs in the field. Computer service companies, technology retail stores and business corporations hire support specialists to maintain and repair customer and company systems. Some job titles could include:
- PC support technician
- Systems specialist
- Network administrator
- Assistant programmer
While a bachelor's degree isn't necessarily required to enter the technology industry, employers might give additional consideration to job applicants with education in the field. With some business training included in a bachelor's program, graduates could qualify for entry-level supervisory positions, though technology experience is typically required for IT management. Some technical positions available to bachelor's degree-holders could include:
- Network architect and administrator
- IT project or program planner
- Technical systems coordinator
- Systems and network technician
Career Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for computer support specialists was projected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Graduates of an associate degree program in computer support qualify for a number of positions within the technology field. The BLS reported an average annual wage of $67,260 for computer network support specialists in May 2015.
A bachelor's degree program often provides graduates with the technical knowledge needed to gain professional certification. Preparatory instruction for industry-standard credentials, such as CompTIA's A+ and Network+, are included in some bachelor's curricula. Earning a bachelor's degree in computer systems support provides foundational skills that can be supplemented with online learning offered through hardware and software manufacturers, such as Microsoft, Cisco and IBM. Additionally, pursuing a master's degree in business administration or information technology could advance the career of a professional with sufficient experience in the field.
Students seeking a career in computer system support can choose to pursue certifications, associates and/or bachelors degree programs, depending on their needs and interests. Job prospects are varied and usually determined by the candidate's technical skills and academic credential.