Database and Information Science

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According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), information science and database administration are inexorably linked and an understanding of both will yield greater employment opportunities. Not long ago, both occupations were in the broad field of computer science, but as the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2007 stated, “occupational titles used to describe these workers evolve rapidly.”

Evolve rapidly they have, but so do the jobs themselves, based on the needs of a particular organization. By taking a look at the BLS report, it’s easier to get an industrywide look at what these similar positions are, what skills and training are expected for them and their job outlook and earning base.

As the report states, the first step is defining, however broadly, the current differences between computer and database science. As alluded to earlier, computer science previously was a much broader term, but as the industry has grown and branched out, its definition has narrowed. The 2007 BLS report defines the role as “theorists, researchers or inventors” employed by either an academic or private institution. In the case of the latter, specific skills in the role include developing specialized languages or designing programming tools or knowledge-based systems.

A branch-off subject from computer science that has evolved into a profitable employment niche is the database administrator. As organizations and people create more and more data, storing and managing it effectively has become a full-time, indispensable job. Aside from just organizing and storing data, the database administrator makes certain the overall system is running efficiently. The specific tasks involved with this include “planning and coordinating security measures, managing backup systems and adding on new users.”

The database administrator is also closely linked to information science, an interdisciplinary term similar to the blanket term, computer science. According to the BLS report, there is no specific position called an “information scientist,” but the discipline falls under two possible jobs, database administrator or “librarian.” The skill of managing an organization’s data has been merged with performance and security (as seen in the paragraph above) and is really just one piece of the database administrator job-role puzzle.

The training and education of database and computer science professionals has evolved in the same direction, rapidly. The BLS report overtly states that “there is no universally accepted way to prepare for a job as a computer scientist or database administrator.” But the report does offer some general guidelines, such as recommending a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, and highlights the importance of relevant work experience in the field. It also suggests companies look for IT professionals with “ever-broader background and range of skills, including not only technical knowledge but communication and other interpersonal skills.”

Most academic institutions have a bachelor’s degree program in the fields of computer and information science. One trend the BLS notes is the tendency for companies to seek out and favor business-oriented degrees in addition to IT-related fields. An ideal candidate, according to the report, would have a bachelor’s in a computer-related field, as well as an M.B.A. or some other business degree. Still, the report makes it clear a variety of degrees are acceptable to gain employment in this field and that an employer is going to hire someone who fits the specific needs of that company, who can be particularly capable with new technology.

“One factor affecting these needs is new technologies,” the report said. “Employers often scramble to find workers capable of implementing new technologies.”

It’s no surprise that these jobs are lucrative, simply because they are in high demand. Median annual earnings for a database administrator are roughly $60,000. The median income for all other related jobs was virtually the same, $59,000. As far as job outlook is concerned, it’s rosy; private or public organizations are in a constant search for quality people in these positions and show no signs of bucking the trend, even as the titles and skills of these jobs evolve over the coming years.

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