Data Processing Technicians

Although many tasks overlap with what is considered programming on the high end and data entry on the low end, there are basically two types of data processing occupations. Data processing technicians who work primarily with the daily activities of business, such as payroll and accounting, are one type. This work requires knowledge of business administration as well as specialized training in computer operations, programming concepts, and modern management accounting techniques. The second type is scientific data processing. Scientific data processing requires knowledge of mathematics, physical science, or engineering as well as specialized courses in analysis techniques, computer programming concepts, and statistical analysis.

A data processing technician in a medium-size or large company might be responsible for producing a sales report each week that summarizes and analyzes sales activity for a certain time period. A data processing technician programs the computer to convert the sales information into the necessary format and perform related calculations. The technician knows enough about computer programming to run these reports, but not necessarily enough to create large-scale computer programs from scratch.

The personnel in large data processing centers generally include machine operators and data processing technicians, who may in some cases also be called junior programmers, programmers, or senior programmers depending on their level of responsibility. Machine operators are usually not officially considered technicians, although some companies might give operators duties related to data processing. However, these positions are normally suitable as entry-level positions for individuals wishing to become technicians. Data processing technicians generally have more education and experience than do machine operators.

Business problems arise every day, and computer programs are designed to deal with them. Senior programmers and systems analysts first define the problem in detail and identify the relationships among all factors to be considered. They must know about different types of computers, computer languages, and data processing procedures.

Data processing technicians receive an analysis of the problem, the computer system and units to be used, and the required computer language as an assignment from the analyst and the senior programmer. The technicians then design the necessary flowcharts and input-output forms. They collect necessary data and fill in some details of the program, or set of instructions, to enter into the computer.

In addition to providing details for new programs, data processing technicians modify existing programs to meet new requirements or increase operating efficiency. A technician may share an office with as many as three or four other technicians or programmers. Technicians also spend considerable time in the computer room, checking on programs to be certain they have no errors and that the answers coming from the program are correct. They might also supervise machine operators or data entry clerks.

After the program runs for the first time, the programmers and technicians analyze the results. Quite often, a small error in programming can cause a big problem in results. It is the technician's responsibility to discover and correct mistakes, a process called debugging. When the debugging has been completed, the program is ready to run regularly, and the technicians can turn their attention to other problems.

Scientific or business data processing technicians spend most of their time studying data and methods of defining problems and solutions to problems that are specific to their field. For example, processing technicians in manufacturing study methods of inventory control, while those in banking study financial products offered by their bank. Data processing technicians also maintain a current and effective program library. The programs are always subject to considerable revisions and modifications, and this requires maintaining careful records.

In specialized jobs in the scientific data processing field, the technician may spend time in other departments where the computer programs control the final work to be done. This adds variety to the data processing technician's work.

Business data processing technicians may work in the accounting department with the business methods planning, study, and control managers. Here they help gather data or plan the collection, storage, and management of the data to provide the most needed and useful information for managing the business.

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