Computer programmers in short supply (1969)

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Careers 1969: Computer programming most understaffed of vocations

by Dave Holt

The demand for computer programmers is tremendous as business, industry, science, education and government all strive to reap technological benefits.

There are few occupations, few scientific achievements and few personal lives left untouched or unchanged by the world of computers. The food you eat probably came from a large chain supermarket by way of a large produce or meat packing plant which is supplied by large breeders and growers. Almost every step of the way, computers more than likely help analyze, account for and distribute each steak or egg.

For the career-minded person, man or woman, young or old, the computer has opened vast new fields. Computer programming is none of the most understaffed professions.

For instance, at least three of more than 50 Denver banks are “fully computerized,” meaning that all normal banking accounts receipts, payments, payrolls, expenses and equipment depreciation allowances are programmed. All other banks have at least minimum computer accounting for checking and savings accounts.

Rather than eliminating jobs, the computers have provided new ones for operators, programmers and repairmen. Denver is like every other city large and small — it lacks the necessary personnel to handle the computers.

According to William Gross of Denver, a freelance programmer, there is room for 100 more programmers just in the banking and finance industry there.

“I work six days a week and sometimes 12 hours a day just trying to service nine clients,” Gross said. “Before I went into the business I was an aircraft mechanic working just as hard for half the money.

“I went to an IBM school in Los Angeles for seven weeks, and started freelance programming for $7.50 an hour. It took me just two weeks to earn back the $250 it cost to attend the school. Now after a couple of years I’m making $15 an hour and sometimes more.”

The IBM school in Los Angeles is only one of more than 1,000 spread across the country. RCA, Rand, IBM, General Electric, and the vast military and Civil Service system are among the major trainers of programmers.

Smaller private school, training centers and subsidiaries of computer manufacturers also run special schools ranging in tuition from $200 for a four-week cram course to $1,700 for a 15-week comprehensive course and computer analysis training.

The military forces are so short of trained personnel that special incentives are offered to men and women in other career fields to retrain for computer programming.

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A case in point is the civilian personnel office at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Three years ago computers were installed for personnel processing, but the only programmers available were military airmen who were on temporary assignment. Two personnel clerks were sent to computer schools in Albuquerque to meet the need.

Programmers work in three broad groups of employment. The primary career potential is in business, industry, education and government. Second to that is a wide field among manufacturers of computers and programming shops. Finally there are scientific and research organizations, computer consultants and special project enterprises.

Programming jobs also are usually classified in three major categories. First there is applications programming which is specific problem-solving areas such as inventory control, highway design, weather prediction, magazine subscription and circulation and so on.

Second, there is systems programming whereby banks put together dozens of accounting, payroll and maintenance functions under one computer system.

Third there is programming research which is the most general field. Here programmers may be involved in population studies, medical case studies, voting trends or even football statistics.

Salary depends on the area of work. Generally Civil Service programmers without college education and only a short-term training course will start at the GS-5 level at $5,200 a year and can be earning $9,000 within three years. Applications programmers earn $8,961 to $17,055 in private industry and business. Systems programmers range up to $12,510 in business and industry for those having only a high school education and vocational programmer training.

Research programmers, consultants and freelancers average $10,619 a year starting salary, with no top range stated. This is according to US Office of Education pamphlets on US Career Opportunities.

Photo: John Szallasi with a IBM 7094 area of the machine room at Columbia University – 1960s

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