Computer Systems Design IndustryJanuary 4, 2023
The private-sector computer systems design industry lost 500 jobs (-3%) during the pandemic recession. Although that is a significant loss of jobs, it pales in comparison to job losses during the high-tech recession of 2001 when Oregon’s computer system design industry shed 3,500 jobs from 2000 to 2003, 30% of its workforce. On the good news side, the industry added back those 500 lost jobs during the pandemic by December 2021. By July 2022 the industry had added 700 additional jobs and was at a new peak of 17,900 jobs. Computer systems design is the industry that writes the software that runs computers, designs the integration of software and hardware, and operates data processing facilities.
After the bursting of the tech bubble in 2001, the need for the industry quickly resumed and growth continued much as it had before the bubble. The average growth of employment in the industry since 2003 has been 4.2% per year.
The Great Recession caused only small job losses in the computer systems design industry. Annual average employment fell by only 100 in 2009 to 9,600 jobs total. Growth resumed in 2010. The industry added 7,500 jobs (+70%) from its low point in 2009 to a new peak of 17,100 in 2019. It then fell some due to the COVID-19 pandemic before its new peak in 2022.
The total number of private-sector businesses in the industry changed little from 2015 to 2018, but it increased by about 100 in 2019 to 2,626. In 2021, the number of businesses increased again to 2,916, although about 800 of these businesses reported no employment that year. There are also a handful of local and state government units in this industry, and they have about 600 employees.
The private-sector computer systems design industry paid an annual average wage of $136,341 in Oregon in 2021, an increase of 8.2% from 2020. Its total payroll was more than $2.3 billion. Wage growth in the industry was 5.1% per year on average from 2011 through 2021.
Growth is expected to continue for the industry. A forecast by the Oregon Employment Department predicts that the industry will add 4,100 jobs from 2020 to 2030 and end up with a total of 20,800 jobs in the final year. That is growth of 25% over 10 years, much faster than the expected employment growth of 16% for all industries combined in Oregon.
There were 2,578 worksites with one or more employees on an annual average basis in the computer systems design industry in 2021. Most are fairly small. Only 556 of these worksites had more than four employees on an annual average basis. Just 305 firms had 10 or more employees. The largest 1% of the worksites had nearly one-third of the total industry’s employment.
The different parts of the industry tend to favor somewhat different-sized worksites. The broad computer systems design industry actually contains four sub industries: custom computer programming, computer systems design services, computer facilities management, and other related computer services.
The custom computer programming sub industry has many worksites, but it is dominated by small ones. About 82% had one to four employees in 2021, and only 1% had 100 or more employees. This sub industry had 43% of the total employment in the whole computer systems design industry. The worksites in the catch-all other computer related services sub industry also tended to be small. About 79% had one to four employees in 2021, and the sub industry had no really large employers. It was also the smallest of the sub industries with only 5% of the total industry employment.
The computer system design services sub industry had a few more of the larger worksites, 10% had five to nine employees, and 16% had 10 to 99 employees. It also had 45% of the employment in the whole computer systems design industry.
The computer facilities management sub industry had the largest share of the bigger employers. Only 54% of its worksites had one to four employees in 2021. About 18% had five to nine employees, and 23% had 10 to 99 employees. It accounted for only 7% of the broad industry’s employment.
It appears that some worksites in the broad industry are actually the information technology sections of businesses that are primarily in other industries. For example, a large health care provider might have its IT section organized as a stand-alone worksite that is included in this broad computer-related industry.
The average wages paid in 2021 by the four sub industries in the private sector were all higher than the average wage for all industries in Oregon. The custom programming firms paid $138,737 on average, the computer systems design services firms paid an annual average wage of $137,356, the other computer related services firms paid $123,452, and the computer facilities management firms paid $113,111 on average.
The computer systems design industry is dominated, not surprisingly, by people working in computer occupations. Computer occupations account for about 58% of the industry’s employment. More than 175 different occupations worked in the industry in Oregon in 2020. Software developers and quality assurance analysts was the single most common occupation working in the industry, followed by computer and information systems managers.
How important are job titles in the industry? Not very, according to former software engineer Kevin Johnsrude of Corvallis. “When hiring someone, people in the industry are more interested in what you have done and can do,” Johnsrude stated, “and less interested in what your last job title was.” Although job titles are often not standard across different firms in the industry, there is a tendency to use the terms “developer” and “engineer” to denote more responsibility and independence and the terms “programmer” and “coder” for people who receive more direction. Johnsrude also noted that a person’s formal education wasn’t as important as the skills they had acquired.
Although computer occupations are by far the most common ones in the industry, there are other types of jobs, of course. Management occupations accounted for 17% of the industry’s employment in 2020, business/finance occupations accounted for 9%, and office occupations comprised 5%.
What is it like working in the computer systems design industry? Johnsrude stated that there are pluses and challenges. “It is a great opportunity to invent and create,” he said. On the other hand, the work culture varies greatly among firms. People who are drawn to computer programming may create a work culture that is considerably different from a typical office environment. Another issue is turnover and the difficulty of retaining talented staff.
Overall though, Johnsrude emphasized the opportunities that the industry offers. Although many developers have four-year college degrees, it is possible to get into the industry with community college courses or even just online training. Many university students start their careers with one or two internships. Most new developers work closely with mentors for their first year on the job. Working at a startup business or starting your own business is also common for people starting out. The website stackoverflow.com provides survey results that give insight into software development professionals and their skills.
Software development requires lifelong learning of new technologies. The constant innovation in computers and software drives the industry to be open, flexible, and adaptable. It provides a great opportunity for workers with the same qualities.