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Science, and Computer Systems Managers
Source: General Services Administration
The majority of growth in these managerial occupations is caused by the rapid
expansion of employment in computer-related occupations.
These managers need the specialized technical skills possessed by their staff
to perform effectively.
Nature of the Work
Engineering, science, and computer systems managers plan, coordinate, and
direct research, development, design, production, and computer-related
activities. They supervise a staff which may include engineers, scientists,
technicians, computer specialists, and information technology workers, along
with support personnel.
Engineering, science, and computer systems managers determine scientific and
technical goals within broad outlines provided by top management. These goals
may include the redesigning of an aircraft, improvements in manufacturing
processes, the development of a large computer program, or advances in
scientific research. Managers make detailed plans for the accomplishment of
these goals—for example, working with their staff, they may develop the
overall concepts of new products or identify problems standing in the way of
project completion. They determine the cost of and equipment and personnel
needed for projects and programs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers,
technicians, computer specialists, information technology workers, and support
personnel to carry out specific parts of the projects. The managers supervise
these employees' work, and review their designs, programs, and reports. They
present ideas and projects to top management for approval or when seeking
additional funds for development.
Managers coordinate the activities of their unit with other units or
organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial,
industrial production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and
equipment and materials suppliers. They also establish working and
administrative procedures and policies.
Engineering managers supervise people who design and develop machinery,
products, systems, and processes; or direct and coordinate production,
operations, quality assurance, testing, or maintenance in industrial plants.
Many are plant engineers, who direct and coordinate the design, installation,
operation, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in industrial plants.
Others manage research and development teams that produce new products and
processes or improve existing ones.
Science managers oversee activities in agricultural science, chemistry,
biology, geology, meteorology, or physics. They manage research and
development projects and direct and coordinate experimentation, testing,
quality control, and production in research institutes and industrial plants.
Science managers are often involved in their own research in addition to
managing the work of others.
Computer systems managers direct and plan programming, computer operations,
and data processing, and coordinate the development of computer hardware,
systems design, and software. Top-level managers direct all computer-related
activities in an organization. They analyze the computer and data information
requirements of their organization and assign, schedule, and review the work
of systems analysts, computer programmers, and computer operators. They
determine personnel and computer hardware requirements, evaluate equipment
options, and make purchasing decisions.
Some engineering, science, and computer systems managers head a section of
scientists, engineers, or computer professionals and support staff. Above them
are heads of divisions composed of a number of sections. A few are directors
of research or of large laboratories.
Engineering, science, and computer systems managers spend most of their
time in an office. Some managers, however, may also work in laboratories or
industrial plants, where they are normally exposed to the same conditions as
research scientists and may occasionally be exposed to the same conditions as
production workers. Most managers work at least 40 hours a week and may work
much longer on occasion if meeting project deadlines. Some may experience
considerable pressure in meeting technical or scientific goals within a short
time or a tight budget.
Engineering, science, and computer systems managers held about 343,000 jobs
in 1996. Although these managers are found in almost all industries, about 38
percent are employed in manufacturing, especially in the industrial machinery
and equipment, electrical and electronic equipment, instruments, chemicals,
and transportation equipment industries. However, the two industries employing
the greatest number of these managers were engineering and architectural
services and computer and data processing services; each employed about 1 in
10 in 1996. The majority are most likely engineering managers, often managing
industrial research, development, and design projects. Others work for
government agencies, research and testing services, communications and
utilities companies, financial and insurance firms, and management and public
relations services companies.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
It is essential that engineering, science, and computer systems managers
have a base of technical knowledge that allows them to understand and guide
the work of their subordinates and to explain the work in non-technical terms
to senior management and potential customers. Therefore, experience as an
engineer, mathematician, scientist, or computer professional is usually
required to become an engineering, science, or computer systems manager.
Educational requirements are consequently similar to those for scientists,
engineers, and computer professionals.
Engineering managers first start as engineers. A bachelor's degree in
engineering from an accredited engineering program is acceptable for beginning
engineering jobs, but many engineers increase their chances for promotion to a
managerial position by obtaining a master's degree in engineering, engineering
management, or business administration. A degree in business administration or
engineering management is especially useful for becoming a general manager,
because these degree programs teach engineers about managing personnel and
technical and financial resources.
Science managers usually start as a chemist, physicist, biologist, or other
natural scientist. Most scientists engaged in basic research have a Ph.D.
degree. Some in applied research and other activities may have lesser degrees.
First-level science managers are usually specialists in the work they
supervise. For example, the manager of a group of physicists doing optical
research is almost always a physicist who is an expert in optics. Many
scientific research firms are started and managed by scientists who obtain
funding to build a staff and purchase technology to pursue their research
agenda, with the goal of eventually developing a commercially successful
Most computer systems managers have been systems analysts, although some may
have experience as computer engineers, programmers, operators, or other
computer specialties. There is no universally accepted way of preparing for a
job as a systems analyst. Many have degrees in computer or information
science, computer information systems, or data processing and have experience
as computer programmers. A bachelor's degree is usually required and a
graduate degree is often preferred by employers. However, a few computer
systems managers have associate degrees. A typical career advancement
progression in a large organization would be from programmer to
programmer/analyst, to systems analyst, and then to project leader or senior
analyst. The first real managerial position might be as project manager,
programming supervisor, systems supervisor, or software manager.
In addition to educational requirements, scientists, engineers, or computer
specialists must demonstrate above-average technical skills to be considered
for a promotion to manager. Superiors also look for leadership and
communication skills, as well as managerial attributes such as the ability to
make rational decisions, to manage time well, organize and coordinate work
effectively, establish good working and personal relationships, and motivate
others. Also, a successful manager must have the desire to perform management
functions. Many scientists, engineers, and computer specialists want to be
promoted but actually prefer doing technical work.
Some scientists and engineers become managers in marketing, personnel,
purchasing, or other areas, or become general managers.
Employment of engineering, science, and computer systems managers is
expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through
the year 2006. Underlying much of the growth of managers in science and
engineering are competitive pressures and advancing technologies which force
companies to update and improve products more frequently. Research and
investment in plants and equipment to expand output of goods and services and
to raise productivity will also add to employment requirements for science and
engineering managers involved in research and development, design, and the
operation and maintenance of production facilities.
Employment of computer systems managers will increase rapidly due to the
fast-paced expansion of the computer and data processing services industry and
the increased employment of computer systems analysts. Large computer centers
are consolidating or closing as small computers become more powerful,
resulting in fewer opportunities for computer systems managers at these
centers. As the economy expands and as advances in technology lead to broader
applications for computers, however, opportunities will increase and
employment should grow rapidly.
Opportunities for those who wish to become engineering, science, and computer
systems managers should be closely related to the growth of the occupations
they supervise and the industries in which they are found. (See the statements
on natural scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and computer
scientists, computer engineers, and systems analysts elsewhere in the
Handbook.) Because many engineers, natural scientists, and computer
specialists are eligible for management and seek promotion, there may be
substantial competition for these openings.
Many of the industries which employ engineers and scientists derive a large
portion of their business from defense contracts. Because defense expenditures
are being reduced, employment has declined and the job outlook for managers is
not as favorable in these industries, compared to less defense-oriented
Earnings for engineering, science, and computer systems managers vary by
specialty and level of management. According to 1996 data, science and
engineering managers had average salaries that ranged from $41,000 to well
over $100,000 for the most senior managers in large organizations. According
to Robert Half International, computer systems managers earned salaries
ranging from $33,000 to well over $100,000, depending on establishment size.
Managers often earn about 15 to 25 percent more than those they directly
supervise, although there are cases in which some employees are paid more than
the manager who supervises them. This is especially true in research fields.
According to a survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas, lower-level
engineering managers had median annual earnings of $84,200 in 1995, with the
middle half earning between $76,300 and $92,800. The highest-level engineering
managers had median annual earnings of $117,000, with the middle half earning
between $104,000 and $133,000. Beginning systems analysts managers had median
annual earnings of $60,900, with the middle half earning between $55,100 and
$67,000. The most senior systems analysts managers had median annual earnings
of $84,200, with the middle half earning between $76,200 and $92,000.
In addition, engineering, science, and computer systems managers, especially
those at higher levels, often are provided with more benefits (such as expense
accounts, stock option plans, and bonuses) than non-managerial workers in
The work of engineering, science, and computer systems managers is closely
related to that of engineers, natural scientists, computer personnel, and
mathematicians. It is also related to the work of other managers, especially
general managers and top executives.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about a career as an engineering, science, or computer
systems manager, contact the sources of additional information for engineers,
natural scientists, and computer occupations that are listed in statements on
these occupations elsewhere in the Handbook.
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