What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Systems Analyst?

computer systems analyst degrees

If you’re torn between pursuing a technical computer degree and breaking into the world of business, a career as a computer systems analyst could be the perfect compromise. These professionals use their technology skills and business know-how to develop computer systems that help businesses better organize and manage information. Their work requires them to understand and configure both hardware and software to create complete and efficient computer systems that benefit the organization. Computer systems analysts have the skills to modify and update existing systems and develop new ones. In addition to allowing candidates to merge both interests, the profession includes advantages like a comfortable salary, a promising job outlook, and job satisfaction.

An Undergraduate Degree in a Computer-Related Subject

First and foremost, an aspiring computer systems analyst will need to learn about computers. Most candidates develop their knowledge through a formal college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as information science. Majoring in information science will provide students with a strong foundation in both technology and business, including coursework in database design, software development, project management, and social psychology, according to U.S. News & World Report.

While an information sciences degree path is often preferable, computer science is another popular choice for aspiring computer systems analysts. Although a computer science degree program can prepare students for this career, computer scientists and computer system analysts serve different roles. A degree program in computer science often won’t have the same focus on business that a degree in information technology does.

Not every computer systems analyst prepares for the career by studying computers. Even a degree in business or liberal arts can be a starting point for this career path, as long as the student also cultivates some computer programming or information technology skills, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.

Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree

Often, computer systems analysts continue their education beyond their undergraduate studies. Some choose to advance their careers by earning a graduate degree, most commonly a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Even professionals who don’t pursue an advanced degree often take classes to keep up-to-date on ever-evolving computer technology. Computer systems analysts can also enhance their career opportunities by taking courses related to their business niche, like finance or health management, according to the BLS. 

Important Qualities for Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts hold degrees that have prepared them for the technical work the occupation requires. However, certain qualities are essential to the job that may not be specifically taught in the classroom. Below are some important skills and qualities every computer systems analyst should have.

Creativity

The role of a computer systems analyst requires good problem-solving skills and a talent for innovation. Finding unique solutions to problems requires creativity. Computer systems analysts must be able to “think outside the box” and solve issues that they may never have encountered. Being creative helps one find innovative solutions.

Effective communication skills

Computer systems analysts often work as the go-between with IT and management. Working between two departments requires effective communication skills. The role requires a strong ability to communicate complex problems in a way that both individuals with a strong background in information technology and those with no background in IT will understand. Communication is not always verbal. In some instances, a computer systems analyst will be required to draft a report or send a memo that can effectively communicate challenges and issues.

Strong analytical skills

As the job title suggests, a computer systems analyst should have strong analytical skills. Analysts spend time studying an organization’s computer systems, networks, and procedures. They design solutions to help the organization operate in an effective, efficient manner. The role often requires interpretation of complex information and analysis of problems. In order to decide how to best move forward with a problem, a computer systems analyst must diagnose the issue and create a solution. Strong analytical skills help computer systems analysts navigate their occupation with success.

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Systems Analyst

Job Outlook for Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts can look forward to increasing opportunities in this field over the next decade, as BLS predicts a seven percent job growth through 2029. Factors like the salary, demand, and flexibility led U.S. News & World Report to rank the occupation highly on several career lists, including best STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs, best technology jobs, the 100 best jobs, and best paying jobs.

As organizations and businesses increase their reliance on information technology (IT), computer systems analysts will be needed to design and install the latest computer systems. The highest job growth, according to BLS, is anticipated in healthcare fields. With the implementation of electronic health records, e-prescriptions, and other types of healthcare information technology improvements, more computer systems analysts will be needed.

Recent employment projections from BLS indicate about 46,600 new jobs for computer systems analysts will be added through 2029. Employment numbers should grow from 632,400 total computer systems analyst jobs to 679,000 jobs. Since the occupation is highly competitive, having specialized training and skills in a specific field of IT is helpful in securing a position. For example, a medical center hiring a computer systems analyst may want an individual with a background or coursework in healthcare management. Individuals with specialized training should see the best job prospects. Specialized training can come from earning a specialization in a particular area of interest while enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program.

According to BLS, candidates with a strong background in business should see the best job prospects, as organizations view their IT department as an extension of their organization’s business needs. Due to this projection, some programs are offering another degree, such as the MBA, as part of a computer systems analyst training program.

Pay for Computer Systems Analysts

Work as a computer systems analyst can be both lucrative and fulfilling. These professionals earn a median salary of $93,730 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS reports the lowest 10 percent of earners working as computer systems analysts made less than $56,510, while the highest 10 percent of earners made over $152,000.

BLS also reports that the median annual wage for computer systems analysts varies depending on the industry. The top-paying industries include: information, management of companies and enterprises, computer systems design and related occupations, finance and insurance, and government. A breakdown of pay for each of these industries is as follows:

Information: $96,430
Management of companies and enterprises: $96,170
Computer systems design: $96,040
Finance and insurance: $94,040
Government: $82,560

The highest-paying industry for this occupation is information; however, both management of companies and computer systems design offer comparable wages. Computer systems analysts working in government earn the lowest wages among the top five industries.

Another factor impacting earnings for computer systems analysts is geographic location. The top-paying areas for this occupation include California, Virginia, New York, Washington, and the District of Columbia. In California, the annual mean wage reported by the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (2020) was $115,760. Other top wages include $113,340 in Virginia, $111,150 in New York, $109,400 in Washington, and $108,470 in the District of Columbia. Wages also vary by metropolitan areas. High-paying metro areas include San Jose, California, where the annual mean wage was $133,970; and San Francisco, California, where the mean wage was over $125,000. Other top-paying metro areas include Houston, Texas; Greeley, Colorado; and both Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, California.

In addition to top-paying metro areas, computer systems analysts working in certain non-metro areas can enjoy competitive salaries. According to BLS, the top-paying non-metro areas include Northeast Virginia ($93,680), Alaska ($93,270), Western Washington ($92,730), Northwest Illinois ($92,450), and Central East New York ($92,200).

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Systems Analyst

Training and Advancement

In the IT field, training and experience can help analysts move up the ladder. With experience, computer systems analysts may advance to the role of team leader or project manager. As a project manager, you will lead a team of analysts. Larger organizations offer advancement opportunities beyond the project manager role. With enough experience and training, you may qualify to advance to an IT director or chief technology officer (CTO) position.

Chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) are some of the highest technology experts in an organization. They are top executives who focus solely on a company’s business or technological aspects. CIOs determine technology and information goals and oversee those goals to completion. CTOs evaluate new technology and decide how it can help benefit the organization.

Chief information officers often work on a specific area within an organization, such as information systems or electronic data processing. However, most of their focus is on big-picture problems. In small organizations, the CIO works directly with the IT department, often overseeing day-to-day activities, but in larger organizations, the CIO may have less direct control of the IT department and rely solely on managers. In organizations without a CIO, a CTO generally oversees the technology strategies of the business. In an organization with both a CIO and a CTO, the CTO focuses more on technical expertise and less on business aspects.

As stated above, CTOs, or chief technology officers, evaluate and determine the technological needs of an organization. Often, when both a CTO and CIO are present, the CTO reports directly to the CIO. CTOs recommend technology solutions that support the CIO’s policies and goals. Chief technology officers also determine overall strategies for the technology of the firm and present new ideas to the organization’s top executives.

Additional advancement opportunities for computer systems analysts with experience and education may include a less executive role, such as IT director or IT security manager. IT directors and MIS directors are responsible for their organization’s information technology departments. They directly supervise IT employees and oversee the financial aspects of the department. The role of an IT security manager includes data security and overseeing an organization’s network. This person is also responsible for supervising investigations when there is a network security breach or violation.

With advancement, earnings increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer and information systems managers, such as IT directors and IT security managers, is about $151,000. BLS reports the lowest 10 percent earned less than $91,000, and the highest 10 percent of earners made over $208,000. Most of these roles require full-time employment, working at least 40 hours per week, though overtime is likely. When problems arise, managers are needed to work more than 40 hours per week to handle issues, meet goals, and come up with solutions.

Top-paying industries for computer and information systems managers, as reported by BLS, include information, computer systems design, finance and insurance, management of companies and enterprises, and manufacturing. Managers in these top-paying industries earn $166,770 (information industry), $157,580 (computer systems design and related services), $155,760 (finance and insurance), $152,480 (management of companies and enterprises), and $150,930 (manufacturing).

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Systems Analyst

Types of Computer Systems Analysts

Programmer analysts
A programmer analyst designs, updates, and debugs system software. They are responsible for creating applications tailored to an organization’s needs. Programmer analysts code more than any other type of computer systems analyst, so having superior coding skills is necessary. In addition to coding, programmer analysts work closely with business analysts and management teams to determine the needs of businesses and the applications that are needed to carry out tasks.

Software quality assurance (QA) analysts
Quality assurance analysts, sometimes referred to as QA analysts, diagnose and test problems in the systems they design. Software QA analysts make sure that critical requirements are met with the software they design. They are responsible for writing up reports and recommending to management ways to improve systems and software.

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BDP Staff
June 2021

This concludes our article on the best degree path for becoming a computer systems analyst.

Brenda Rufener
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Julie McCaulley
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Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief