Occupation Profile for Computer Operators

Monitor and control electronic computer and peripheral electronic data processing equipment to process business, scientific, engineering, and other data according to operating instructions. May enter commands at a computer terminal and set controls on computer and peripheral devices. Monitor and respond to operating and error messages.


Significant Points

  • Computer operators are projected to be among the most rapidly declining occupations over the 2006-16 decade because advances in technology are making the duties traditionally performed by computer operators obsolete.
  • Computer operators usually receive on-the-job training; the length of training varies with the job and the experience of the worker.
  • Opportunities will be best for operators who have formal computer education, are familiar with a variety of operating systems, and keep up with the latest technology.


$33,560.00 Median Annual Wage 2,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
3.5 Average Unemployment Percentage 26.8 Percentage That Completed High School
130,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 46.4 Percentage That Had Some College
98,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 26.8 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Auxiliary Equipment Operator, Data Processing
Card Sorter
Card Tape Converter Operator
Computer Console Operator
Computer Operator
Computer Peripheral Equipment Operator
Computer Specialist
Computer Systems Support Specialist
Computing Machine Operator
Console Operator
Data Processing Clerk
Data Processor
Digital Computer Operator
Digitizer Operator
Encoding Machine Operator
Environmental Web Crawler
Equipment Operator
High Speed Printer Operator
Imaging Specialist
Information Technology Specialist
Input Output Clerk
Micro Computer Data Processor
Office Automation Clerk
Operations and Maintenance Technician
Peripheral Edp Equipment Operator
Peripheral Equipment Operator
Software Technician
Sorting Machine Operator
System Support Technician

  • These occupations usually involve using communication and organizational skills to coordinate, supervise, manage, or train others to accomplish goals. Examples include funeral directors, electricians, forest and conservation technicians, legal secretaries, interviewers, and insurance sales agents.
  • Most occupations in this zone require training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree. Some may require a bachelor's degree.
  • Previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is required for these occupations. For example, an electrician must have completed three or four years of apprenticeship or several years of vocational training, and often must have passed a licensing exam, in order to perform the job.
  • Employees in these occupations usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers.

Computer operators generally require a high school degree and are trained by employers on the job. Most computer operators expect to advance to other positions in the information technology field within a few years.

Education and training. Computer operators usually receive on-the-job training to become acquainted with their employer’s equipment and routines. The length of training varies with the job and the experience of the worker. However, previous work experience is key to obtaining an operator job in many large establishments. Employers generally look for specific, hands-on experience with the type of equipment and related operating systems they use. Additionally, formal computer training, perhaps through a community college or technical school, can be useful. Related training also can be obtained through the U.S. Armed Forces and from some computer manufacturers. As computer technology changes and data processing centers become more automated, employers will increasingly require candidates for operator jobs to have formal training and related experience.

Other qualifications. Computer technology changes so rapidly that operators must be adaptable and willing to learn. Operators who work in automated data centers also need analytical and technical expertise to deal with unique or high-level problems that a computer is not programmed to handle. Operators must be able to communicate well and to work effectively with programmers, users, and other operators. Computer operators also must be able to work independently because they may have little or no direct supervision.

Advancement. Some computer operators may advance to supervisory jobs, although most management positions within data processing or computer operations centers require advanced formal education, such as a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Computer operators may advance to jobs in areas such as network operations or support through on-the-job experience and additional formal education. As they gain experience in programming, some operators may advance to jobs as programmers or analysts, but a move into these types of jobs is becoming much more difficult because employers increasingly require at least a bachelor’s degree for more skilled computer jobs.

Nature of Work

Computer operators oversee the operation of computer hardware systems, ensuring that these machines are used as efficiently and securely as possible. They may work with mainframes, minicomputers, or networks of personal computers. Computer operators must anticipate problems and take preventive action, as well as solve problems that occur during operations.

The duties of computer operators vary with the size of the installation, the type of equipment used, and the policies of the employer. Generally, operators control the console of either a mainframe digital computer or a group of minicomputers. Working from operating instructions prepared by programmers, users, or operations managers, computer operators set controls on the computer and on peripheral devices required to run a particular job.

Computer operators load equipment with tapes, disks, and paper, as needed. While the computer is running—which may be 24 hours a day—computer operators monitor the control console and respond to operating and computer messages. Messages indicate the individual specifications of each job being run. If an error message occurs, operators must locate and solve the problem or terminate the program. Operators also maintain logbooks or operating records that list each job run and events that occur during their shift, such as machine malfunctions. Other computer operators perform and monitor routine tasks, such as tape backup, virus checking, software upgrading, and basic maintenance. In addition, computer operators may help programmers and systems analysts test and debug new programs.

A greater number of computer operators are working on personal computers (PCs) and minicomputers, as the number and complexity of computer networks continues to grow. In many offices, factories, and other work settings, PCs and minicomputers are connected in networks, often referred to as local area networks (LANs) or multi-user systems. While users in the area operate some of these computers, many require the services of full-time operators. The tasks they perform on PCs and minicomputers are very similar to those performed on large computers and include trying to keep the computer networks secure.

As organizations continue to look for opportunities to increase productivity, many tasks formerly performed by computer operators are now being automated. New software enables computers to perform many routine tasks, formerly done by computer operators, without human interaction. Scheduling, loading, and downloading programs, mounting tapes, rerouting messages, and running periodic reports can be done without the intervention of an operator. As technology advances, the responsibilities of many computer operators are shifting to areas such as network operations, user support, and database maintenance.

Work environment. Computer operators generally work in well-lit, ventilated, comfortable rooms. Because many organizations use their computers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, computer operators may be required to work evening or night shifts and weekends. Shift assignments usually are made based on seniority. However, increasingly automated operations will lessen the need for shift work because many companies can let the computer take over operations during less desirable working hours. In addition, telecommuting technologies, such as faxes, modems, and e-mail, and data center automation, such as automated tape libraries, enable some operators to monitor batch processes, check systems performance, and record problems for the next shift.

Because computer operators generally spend a lot of time in front of a computer monitor and perform repetitive tasks such as loading and unloading printers, they may be susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)

Median annual earnings of computer operators were $33,560 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $25,990 and $43,060 per year. The highest 10 percent earned more than $51,970, and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,510.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Computer operators
  • Job Outlook

    Computer operators continue to be one of the occupations with the most rapidly declining employment. Although computers are increasingly prevalent in the workplace, improved software and automation of many systems are quickly reducing the need for this occupation. Some job openings may, nevertheless, be available to replace workers who leave the occupation.

    Employment change. Employment of computer operators is projected to decline by 25 percent because advances in technology are making obsolete many of the duties traditionally performed by these workers. Technological advances have reduced both the size and cost of computer equipment while increasing the capacity for data storage and processing automation. Sophisticated computer hardware and software are now used in practically every industry in such areas as factory and office automation, telecommunications, health care, education, and government. The expanding use of software that automates computer operations gives companies the option of making systems more efficient, but greatly reduces the need for operators. Such improvements require operators to monitor a greater number of operations at the same time and solve a broader range of problems that may arise. The result is that fewer operators will be needed to perform more highly skilled work.

    Computer operators who are displaced by automation may be reassigned to support staffs that maintain personal computer networks or assist other members of the organization. Operators who keep up with changing technology by updating their skills through additional training should have the best prospects of moving into other areas such as network administration and technical support. Others may be retrained to perform different job duties, such as supervising an operations center, maintaining automation packages, or analyzing computer operations to recommend ways to increase productivity. In the future, operators who wish to take advantage of changing job opportunities in the computer field will need to know more about programming, automation software, graphics interface, client-server environments, and open systems.

    Job prospects. Experienced operators are expected to face competition for the few job openings that will arise each year to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Opportunities will be best for operators who have formal computer education, familiarity with a variety of operating systems, and knowledge of the latest technology.


    Computer operators held about 130,000 jobs in 2006. Jobs are found in various industries such as government, health care, manufacturing, data processing services and other information industries, and finance and insurance. They are also employed by some firms in computer systems design and related services as more companies contract out their data processing operations.

    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    • Core — Load peripheral equipment with selected materials for operating runs, or oversee loading of peripheral equipment by peripheral equipment operators.
    • Core — Retrieve, separate and sort program output as needed, and send data to specified users.
    • Core — Answer telephone calls to assist computer users encountering problems.
    • Core — Oversee the operation of computer hardware systems, including coordinating and scheduling the use of computer terminals and networks to ensure efficient use.
    • Core — Record information such as computer operating time, problems that occurred, and actions taken.
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
    Related College Curriculum
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