Computer Operator

Computer operators work with mainframes, minicomputers, or personal computer networks. They make sure these types of machines are used properly and efficiently by various users. Their duties vary greatly, but usually they control a mainframe digital computer or a group of minicomputers, using written instructions from programmers, users, or operations managers. Computer operators may load tapes, disks or paper into computer equipment, monitor and respond to error messages, and keep detailed logs of their activities while at their workstation. They may also assist systems analysts with the maintenance and debugging of the system. An increasing number of computer programmers are working on personal computes or minicomputers linked together by local area networks or multi-user systems.

Job Skills

Besides being analytical and technical experts, computer operators should also be flexible and willing to learn and adapt. They must be ready to deal with new or unique problems that a computer is not designed to handle. They should be good at communicating with programmers, users, and other operators. Because they may receive little or no direct supervision, computer operators must be able to work independently.


In 2002, computer operators earned a median annual salary of $29,650. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $18,610, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $46,780. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of computer operators:

  • Management of companies and enterprises - $32,770
  • Computer systems design and related services - 30,280
  • General medical and surgical hospitals - 28,310
  • Data processing, hosting, and related services - 27,440
  • Depository credit intermediation - 24,160

Training and Education

The main quality employers of computer operators look for in a candidate is prior work experience using the specific type of equipment the employer uses. Computer operators usually receive on-the-job training, the length of which varies with the type of job and the prior experience of the employee. Formal training is becoming more common as a requirement, due to changes in technology and an increase in automation. A degree through a community or technical college is recommended. The U.S. Armed Forces, as well as some computer manufacturers, offer formal training in computer operation. For those interested in advancement to managerial positions, a bachelor's degree can be very useful.


In 2002, computer operators held about 499,000 jobs. Industries employing computer operators included government, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, data processing serves and finance and insurance. Because more companies are choosing to contract out their data processing operations, computer operators will be employed by firms in computer systems design and related services.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, the number of computer operators is expected to decline. Advances in technology have yielded computer hardware and software that is capable of automating more tasks, and that is considerably more user-friendly. This has greatly reduced the need for computer operators. Because of this, computer operators will monitor a greater number of systems and be responsible for solving more complicated problems. Some computer operators whose jobs become obsolete due to automation may be reassigned to support staff, while others who have updated their skills and participated in training may move into network administration and technical support.

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