Last Updated: January 28, 2020
Computer information researchers study and solve problems in computing. They assess data, develop new techniques, and improve existing computer systems used in industries such as business, science, and medicine. Computer information researchers may specialize in robotics, data science, or programming, working closely with computer engineers and programming professionals.
As individuals who bridge the gap between computing and how humans employ technology, computer information researchers focus on efficiency and accessibility. Technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills give computer information researchers opportunities to work as managers and leaders in the field. Industry-specific credentials further enhance their career growth and earning potential, as well.
What Does a Computer Information Researcher Do?
Computer information researchers work at the forefront of computing technology and human-computer interactions. They study and analyze problems in organizations, using computing technology to provide efficient solutions. These professionals may evaluate the effectiveness of existing computing technologies and work to improve them. Their daily tasks include testing software system operations or user needs, analyzing the results, and presenting those results to stakeholders or at academic conferences.
As technology develops, demand for computer information researchers and similar occupations will increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs in computer information research to grow by 16% between 2018 and 2028 -- much faster than the national average growth rate for all occupations.
Key Hard Skills
By studying computer and information technology, learners build hard skills and gain foundational knowledge to engineer hardware, develop software, and solve complex computing problems. Quantifiable hard skills for computer science professionals include advanced mathematics, computational theory application, and proficiency in programming languages like Java.
- Software Development: Software development is the process of designing, creating, programming, developing, troubleshooting, and fixing software components. This encompasses everything from the conception of software that fulfills a particular purpose to its final production. Software development also includes maintaining and writing source code.
- Machine Learning: Machine learning uses algorithms and statistical models to improve how a computer system performs specific tasks. Computer and information research scientists build mathematical models to forecast and govern behaviors when explicit programming for a given task is not feasible.
- UNIX: UNIX is a family of multiuser operating systems and a convenient platform for programmers to develop software and run code to share with colleagues. Professionals consider UNIX the first portable operating system, and it is written almost entirely in the C programming language. It can reach across various platforms.
- C: C is a procedural programming language developed for writing operating systems. Its key capabilities include providing low-level access to memory and language constructs that match machine instructions. It requires minimal run-time support. C was designed to be cross-platform compatible, and users can compile it for various computer platforms and operating systems without significant changes to its source code.
- Java: Java is a general-purpose programming language often used by application developers. One of the most popular programming languages, particularly for client-server web applications, Java shares some of its syntax with C and C++.
- Data Analysis: Data analysis refers to compiling, modeling, and inspecting data to discover insights and use them to inform decision-making. Computer information researchers may use statistical analysis or a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to draw conclusions about how effectively a program or software is running and how to improve it.
Key Soft Skills
Soft skills factor heavily into professional and personal relationships. Associated with personality, attitudes, and motivation, soft skills demonstrate the ability to work with others, manage resources and time, and practice leadership. Soft skills for computer information research professionals include patience, problem-solving, and communication.
- Analytics: Analytical skills reflect an intuitive curiosity and creativity. By collecting data and logically breaking down complex problems and concepts, computer information researchers gain insight into problems and issues as they relate to computing. Analytical skills facilitate organization, diagnostics, and reporting, key elements of information researcher roles.
- Communication: Communication skills include the ability to express ideas in written, verbal, and nonverbal formats, allowing computer information researchers to clarify and summarize complex concepts in a succinct, accessible way. Nonverbal communication skills include active listening, maintaining eye contact, and appropriate body movements and posture.
- Problem-solving: To solve problems, computer information researchers identify, define, and analyze issues and concerns related to computer technology. Problem-solving involves evaluation of data and proposing solutions to obstacles. Problem-solvers may work independently or brainstorm with colleagues to find innovative strategies for handling issues. Effective problem-solvers experiment and test potential solutions.
- Attention to Detail: Professionals must be thorough when assessing data, articulating ideas, and carrying out tasks. For computer information researchers, attention to detail involves careful application of complex computational theories and mathematical principles. Information researchers demonstrate attention to detail by defining and performing experiments, maintaining protocols, and explaining findings accurately.
- Critical Thinking: Critical thinking skills draw heavily on analysis and interpretation to arrive at some form of judgement. Critical thinkers remain skeptical and rational while resisting bias. Critical thinking also involves observation, reflection, and explanation. Computer information researchers benefit from critical thinking skills, which allow them to embrace new ideas about how to solve computer-related problems.
Computer information researchers assess computer technologies to find innovative uses and applications. They also explore existing technologies to make them more efficient and effective, improving overall user experience in the process.
These researchers work with computer engineers, software developers, and comparable computer-related professionals to solve complex problems. They may develop new tools and methods for computer use, design experiments to test systems capabilities, and report their findings to employers and academic colleagues alike.
Computer information researchers focusing on data science develop algorithms to detect and build patterns, while robotics-oriented researchers work to improve machine performance in the physical world. Other computer information researchers may write new programming languages to address software writing challenges.
What Degree Level Do I Need to Be a Computer Information Researcher?
A master’s degree best serves aspiring computer information researchers. Individuals with graduate degrees in computer science, information technology, or a related discipline develop the hard skills necessary for the role.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Computer Information Researcher?
Most master’s degrees comprise two years of coursework. Online programs may follow accelerated formats, which learners can complete in as little as 12 months, while part-time students can earn their degrees in 3-5 years.
How Much Does a Computer Information Researcher Make?
Wages for computer information research professionals vary by location and industry. According to the BLS, computer information research scientists earned an annual median salary of $118,370 as of 2018.
What Do Entry-Level Computer Information Researchers Do?
Entry-level computer information researchers work alongside fellow researchers to address problems and issues related to computer technologies. In academic settings, they perform experiments and publish their findings. In industry, they work with engineers and scientists to implement change.
Computer Information Researcher Salary Information
The federal government and computer systems design firms employ the most computer information researchers. The scientific research and development services industry features the highest concentration of information research professionals, while navigational and measuring control instrument manufacturing offers the profession's highest salaries.
The state with the most computer information researchers, California, ranks No. 5 among states with the field's top salaries. Computer information researchers in Washington earned the highest annual mean wage as of 2018, bringing home over $143,000 annually.
Salary varies by location, with metropolitan areas offering the highest wages for information researchers. The San Jose, CA, metropolitan area led the way in wages in 2018, with annual mean salaries approaching $168,000. In top-paying nonmetropolitan areas like northeast Virginia, information researchers earned just under $112,000 annually.
According to PayScale, computer information research scientists with more than five years in the profession greatly boost their earning potential. Entry-level researchers earned $102,000 annually, while their counterparts with 5-9 years of experience took home roughly $112,000. With 10-19 years in the field, information researchers earned a median annual salary exceeding $148,000.
Computer Information Researchers by Job Level
|Entry Level (0-12 Months)||$99,686|
|Early Career (1-4 Years)||$102,860|
|Mid-Career (5-9 Years)||$111,182|
|Experienced (10-19 Years)||$148,158|
How to Become a Computer Information Researcher
Earn Your Degree
No degrees focus specifically on computer information research, so most computer and information research scientists obtain credentials in related fields like computer science, computer/software engineering, or information systems. Researcher roles typically require candidates to hold advanced degrees.
According to the BLS, most computer information researcher positions require at least a master's degree in computer science or a related field, though some positions with the federal government require only a bachelor's degree. An advanced degree qualifies candidates for more job opportunities and higher potential salaries. Students can earn bachelor's and master's degrees in subjects related to computer information research, like computer science and computer engineering, online.
Prospective computer information research scientists who need flexibility to balance their studies with other obligations should consider pursuing their degrees online.
Computer information researchers gain valuable experience while earning graduate degrees in computer-related disciplines. Students aspiring to work in biomedical information research take coursework in biology, chemistry, or a comparable science, plus technology courses. Researchers pursuing positions with the federal government benefit from studying public administration, law, or political science.
Employers prefer candidates with experience researching subjects that apply directly to organizational goals. Publications in the field also provide computer information researchers with a solid foundation to demonstrate their expertise in an aspect of the field.
Information researchers with 5-10 years of experience can advance into mid-level roles, potentially becoming computer and information systems managers. Systems managers oversee their organizations' computer-related activities.
A graduate degree in computer science, information technology, or a related discipline sets the groundwork for careers in computer information research. Additional credentials build on that knowledge, even supplementing potential gaps.
Not all positions require information researchers to hold credentials beyond a degree, but earning a certificate demonstrates dedication to the field, keeps professionals current, and enhances one’s resume.
Information researchers who want a stronger background in programming languages may benefit from a certificate in Java or C++, while researchers focusing on data protection might pursue industry credentials in information systems security.
Types of Careers in Computer Information Research
Career opportunities for information research professionals vary by industry and location. The federal government employs the most computer information research professionals, facilitating high levels of employment in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
Top-paying industries include navigational and measuring instrument manufacturing, aerospace products and parts manufacturing, and telecommunications. With coursework or a degree in engineering or supply chain management, information researchers increase their job opportunities in these sectors. A master’s degree also provides avenues for information researchers to advance into leadership positions in companies across industries.
Careers for Computer Information Research Graduates
Computer and Information Systems Manager
Computer and information systems managers supervise computer-related activities in an organization or company. They plan, implement, and maintain software and hardware practices while assessing costs and efficacy as they relate to organizational need.
Median Annual Salary: $142,530
Computer and Information Research Scientist
Computer and information research scientists analyze and solve problems relating to computer technology. They collect data to develop theories and models for increasing efficiency, eliminating obstacles, and innovating existing practices.
Median Annual Salary: $118,370
Computer programmers use programming languages to write code for computer applications and software programs. They test code, fixing errors as needed. They work with software developers and engineers to create instructions a computer can follow.
Median Annual Salary: $84,280
Computer Systems Analyst
These professionals study computer systems and procedures to find methods for increased efficiency and efficacy. They combine business and information technology acumen to assess costs, infrastructure needs, and computer functionality within their companies and organizations.
Median Annual Salary: $88,740
Computer Hardware Engineer
Computer hardware engineers design, develop, and test computer systems and components. They research existing hardware and make improvements or create entirely new processors, networks, routers, and memory devices. Computer hardware engineers test their designs and make adjustments as needed.
Median Annual Salary: $114,600
Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects design and build communication networks. Networks may be local area, wide area, or Intranets. They also take business, information security, and new technologies into account when installing hardware and software for data traffic and potential growth.
Median Annual Salary: $109,020
Where Can I Work as a Computer Information Researcher?
Computer information researchers have knowledge and skills applicable to careers in government, business, and information technology. With high levels of employment in the federal government, Maryland, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C. area boast high concentrations of information research professionals. Prolific computer and information technology activities in California also bode well for information researchers.
California employs the largest number of computer information research scientists, topping 7,000 in 2018. The largest concentrations of information research professionals reside on the East Coast, but Washington offers the highest salaries for the field. Computer information research scientists earned an annual mean wage exceeding $143,000 in Washington as of 2018.
Alabama, Idaho, and New Mexico also provide lucrative opportunities for information researchers. With salaries ranging from $136,000 to over $138,000, these three states greatly exceed the national annual mean wage of $123,850.
|States With the Highest Employment Level of Computer Information Researchers (Applications)||Number of Computer Information Researchers (Applications) Employed|
|Top Paying States for Computer Information Researchers||Annual Mean Wage|
The federal government employs over 8,000 computer information researchers, the most among domestic industries. Computer systems design services and scientific research and development rank No. 2 and 3 at 6,410 and 5,070, respectively.
Computer information researchers earn the highest salaries in manufacturing industries. Companies that make navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments offered annual mean wages exceeding $170,000 as of 2018. Aerospace products and parts manufacturing and computer equipment manufacturing ranked among the five highest-paying industries for the field, as well.
|Industries With the Highest Level of Employment for Computer Information Researchers||Number of Computer Information Researchers (Applications) Employed|
|Federal Executive Branch||8,040|
|Computer Systems Design and Related Services||6,410|
|Scientific Research and Development Services||5,070|
|Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools||1,890|
Continuing Education for Computer Information Researchers
By participating in continuing education programs, information researchers gain new skills, remain current in the field, and build their professional portfolios. Professional organizations like the International Web Association offers continuing education coursework, plus certificates and diplomas through colleges and universities around the nation.
Some employers may encourage computer information researchers to earn credentials through educational organizations and online platforms like Udacity and Bloc. Udacity offers free courses, university credit classes, and nanodegrees, while Bloc links students with mentors in areas such as web development and software design.
Continuing Education Resources
- Udacity Udacity offers courses in computer-related subjects such as programming and development, cloud computing, data science, and autonomous systems. Learners access mentorship, career coaching, and practical experience opportunities.
- Bloc Bloc offers online bootcamps structured in phases. During the first phase, students complete foundation classes. The second stage includes a project during which learners and their mentors work together.
- DevOps Institute A leader in continuous learning, the DevOps institute offers competency-based certifications and two non-certification programs. Learners receive access to more than 160 hours of online material.
- Microsoft Certifications Microsoft provides certifications in categories such as core infrastructure, business applications, and application building. Designed to enhance skills, Microsoft Certifications meet the needs of developers, administrators, architects, and researchers.
Professional Development Resources
- National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Program The National Science Foundation RTN Program supports graduate students in their efforts to develop and implement new models for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program remains dedicated to workforce development, strategic collaboration, and interdisciplinary research efforts.
- IEEE Computer Society Summer Research and Internships Summer internship opportunities offered through IEEE allow students to gain experience at industry leaders like Apple and institutional powerhouses like the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Summer research programs support scholarly activities for students who demonstrate financial need.
- ACM Learning Center The ACM Learning Center includes resources for lifelong learning and professional development, including books, course information, and case study data. Through the ACM Learning Center, students can receive funding to attend the organization’s distinguished speakers event.
- CRA Career Building for Researchers Researchers benefit from the CRA’s resources for career building, best practice memos, and collaboration. The CRA offers information on government affairs, community consortia, and policy-related news, as well.
How Do I Find a Job in Computer Information Research?
Job fairs, college and university career service offices, and industry events give computer information researchers opportunities to network and find positions in their field. Online communities formed through professional organizations also extend career options, building connections among like-minded information research professionals.
Websites such as LinkedIn provide extensive job listings with career guidance, salary data, and employer information. With online repositories to post resumes, accomplishments, and professional skills, these sites provide resources for job-seekers to find positions and recruiters to find candidates.
CRA Job Board
The CRA Job Board provides comprehensive listings for computer scientists, engineers, and researchers. Individuals can submit resumes and search the CRA’s applicant database, as well.
IEEE Computer Society Job Board
Computer professionals can create a profile on the IEEE Computer Society job board, where they can also explore career resources and search for jobs by location and title. The site also offers resume templates and information on open positions in computer-related fields.
DevOps Institute Job Board
The DevOps Institute job board engages with career-seekers and employers alike. Members enjoy access to information on positions specifically geared toward software development and information technology operations.
Offered through the American Mathematical Society, MathJobs.Org lists open positions at mathematical institutions around the world. Employers and applicants in academia, industry, and research enjoy access to advertising and database resources.
Professional Resources for Computer Information Researchers
Professional organizations bring together computer scholars and practitioners to collaborate, network, and advance their knowledge. Many associations and organizations offer professional development opportunities, continuing education programs, scholarships and grants, and online membership databases. Additional resources include career information, job listings, and publication materials.
Annual conferences, discussion forums, and listservs facilitate conversations among information researchers. By building online and face-to-face communities, professional organizations allow computer information researchers to exchange ideas and promote innovation in the field.
- Computing Research Association Affiliated with professional organizations across computing, laboratories and industry partners, and academic institutions, the CRA represents the computing research community. It provides career resources, access to government advocacy initiatives, and events for scholars and practitioners in the field.
- Association for Computing Machinery As the world’s largest computing society, ACM serves to strengthen the discipline by uniting educators, researchers, and professionals. ACM features members around the world who benefit from career development, networking, and continuing education resources. Additional benefits include access to special interest groups, publications, and voting membership in the association.
- IEEE Computer Society As a professional society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the IEEE Computer Society advances the theory, practice, and application of computer and information processing science and technology. Members can join as researchers, faculty, practitioners, or students with additional industrial partnerships. Members receive newsletters, access to the IEEE digital library, and career resources.
- Association for Women in Computing Founded in 1978, the AWC was the first organization for women in computing professionals. It fosters professional growth through networking, technical and career-oriented programs, and mentorship opportunities. Members can join as chapters or individuals.
- Institution of Engineering and Technology Linking engineering and technology, the IET facilitates integrity, excellence, and teamwork across disciplines. Members receive access to the IET’s libraries and archives, publications, and television channel, plus career guidance and professional support.