What do computer information researchers do?
Computer and information research scientists develop new and meaningful applications for computer hardware and software programs. Computer information researchers simultaneously work as mathematicians, researchers and scientists, improving and designing new technologies.
Computer information researchers fix problems and bugs in various programs. They are unsung heroes in a variety of industries, finding solutions to computing problems in science, medicine, business and many other fields.
- Study computing problems to develop solutions for hardware and software systems
- Apply scientific and technological principles to broaden the scope of existing technologies
- Develop new technology and programs
- Engage with specific users to discern project goals and unique system needs
- Assess proposed projects to determine feasibility
- Ensure that projects meet performance and industry standards
Some computer and information research scientists work full-time on large projects affecting the computing needs of entire organizations; others work in smaller settings or conduct independent research on new applications. Technical researchers come from many different backgrounds and work in a variety of fields, but all of them share a few abilities.
- Knowledge of operating systems, such as Linux, Solaris, UNIX, VME PowerPC and VxWorks
- Familiarity with programming languages, including C++, Charm++, Microsoft ActiveX and Python
- Ability to demonstrate or present complex ideas in layman’s terms
- Strong analytical skills to pinpoint and solve system problems
- Excellent writing skills and interest in publishing research in scholarly journals
Areas of Information Research
Nearly every industry depends on computer information researchers, affording them plenty of flexibility as they determine their career path. Below, you can read how three distinct fields rely on technical researchers.
Many computer information scientists work to enhance software programs and code. They simplify code to make programs and algorithms run smoothly. Often, they’ll write new software programs to replace old and inefficient code. Software specialists work in many fields.
- Health care: doctors and patients rely on interactive systems to streamline medical care and coverage, and information scientists work to ensure that information can be shared efficiently and accurately.
- Banking and Finance: banks rely on software programs to execute transactions quickly; information scientists ensure that the algorithms in use operate as efficiently as possible.
- E-commerce: Online retailers rely on technical researchers to streamline their coding, ensuring that customers have an optimal shopping experience.
Computer information scientists can also work to bolster a website or organization’s security. They search for weak points in a website’s code, debug potential problems and enhance code where needed to protect against outside breaches. Some of the industries and organizations that rely on technical researchers for security purposes include:
- Government: Whether protecting state secrets, military information or other private work and research, computer information scientists work to protect government property. They design robust security systems designed to ward off penetration from outside pirates and hackers.
- Ticketing: Online ticket retailers must ensure the integrity of the tickets they sell, which is especially important in an era when customers can download tickets from their mobile devices. Computer information researchers design airtight code to prevent ticket duplication and other nefarious scamming practices.
Research and Development
Computer information researchers help working professionals perform research tasks efficiently. Whether working with academics or industry professionals, technical researchers use their knowledge of technical systems to streamline operations. Example industries include:
- Academia: Whether by teaching professors how to use existing technology more effectively or designing new algorithms to crawl through databases more quickly, technical scientists contribute to scholarly research in all disciplines.
- Robots: Computer information scientists design robots, creating programs that control and orient their movement and interactions with the world.
- International development: Technical researchers can employ their skills to help governments and NGO’s conduct developmental projects. Their work helps organizations accurately determine which locales need aid and coordinates how to use resources efficiently.
How much do computer information researchers make?
Experts predict that the demand for technical researchers will increase by 15% through 2022, exceeding the average growth rate across all industries. In 2014, the median annual wage for computer information researchers was $113,190. Top earners made over $165,000 per year, while 10th percentile salaries were $66,030.
Average Salaries, 2004-2012
- $113,190 2014
- $103,670 2012
- $103,150 2010
- $100,900 2008
- $96,440 2006
- $88,020 2004
Highest Paying Metropolitan Areas for Computer Information Researchers
|City||Avg. Annual Salary||Pay Difference vs. National Average ($102,617)|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$139,670||+$37,053|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||$128,130||+$25,513|
|Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division||$125,800||+$23,183|
|San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division||$124,070||+$21,453|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES
States with the Highest Concentrations of Computer Information Researchers
|State||Employment per 1,000 people||Employment||Avg. Annual Salary|
|District of Columbia||0.82||550||$118,390|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - OES
Pay by Experience
Avg. Annual Salary
How do I become a computer information researcher?
Most computer information research positions require graduate study. In many cases, workers need a Ph.D in computer science or a closely-related field, which usually requires four to five years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs only require a master’s degree; these programs typically take a year or two to complete.
Computer information researchers almost always have formal training. Their jobs require a detailed knowledge of math, computer systems and programming languages, a set of skills people rarely develop on their own. Furthermore, workers in the field need strong analytical, communication and critical thinking skills, and must be creative and logical thinkers. These abilities are much easier to obtain in school than anywhere else.
Below, we’ve made a roadmap that both current students and college graduates can follow as they pursue a position in the field:
I Have Completed my Undergraduate Degree
Consider pursuing an internship in computer science before grad school
- Secure an internship after completing your bachelor’s degree to determine whether or not this career path is right for you.
- There are plenty of jobs available for individuals with a bachelor’s in computer science, and spending a year working in the field can help you develop your long-term professional interests.
Decide if you want a Ph.D
- Consider which research subfield interests you. Some specialties, such as biomedical science or communications development, require extended study in other disciplines and will take longer to complete.
- If you want to work for the federal government, you may not need a Ph.D.
Apply for graduate study in computer science
- Once you decide to attend graduate school, you need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), write a personal statement, obtain letters of recommendation and send transcripts to schools of interest.
- Apply to several schools, mixing ambitious applications with a “safety” school in your home state.
- Speak to professional computer scientists for referrals to top programs.
- Apply for scholarships and fellowships intended for graduate students in STEM fields.
I’m Currently an Undergraduate
Take introductory CS courses
- Enroll in a few introductory courses to see if you like computer science. Popular classes include:
- Introductory Programming
- Computer Systems and Architecture
- Computer Graphics
- Calculus I
- Current Trends and Projects in Computer Science
Get to know professors and professionals in the field
- Ask your professors about the field and what it takes to get the job you want. Possible questions may include:
- What can I read to learn more about the field?
- What can I do to earn an internship in computer science?
- Are there any skills that I can acquire outside of the classroom that would help me professionally?
- Find local professionals who can teach you about the field. If possible, shadow one of them at their job.
- Remember that building relationships with professors and other professionals early on makes it easier to ask for recommendation letters for graduate school later.
- If earning a postsecondary degree appeals to you, take as many prerequisites for prospective programs as possible while you’re an undergraduate.
- Consider which graduate programs interest you as early as possible. The earlier you connect and network, the more you can tailor your studies to suit the program you eventually want to apply to.
- Graduate school is arduous: make sure you get a feel for the kind of work you’d have to do in a quality graduate program before applying to schools.
Computer and information research scientists in large companies are often promoted to managerial roles after a few years. Managers work with other professionals and oversee the systems and technological needs of entire organizations.
There are also several certification options available to professionals looking to expand their skill sets. Certificates help you get the specialized knowledge that some positions require, and at the very least, offer prospective employers proof of your technical abilities.
If you want more information on the field, please browse our resources below. Here you’ll find community forums, professional development opportunities and job boards.