Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services
The ability to quickly transmit information over long distances has become an important part of modern life. The Internet has changed the way people find and use information to communicate, work, shop, learn, and live.
Goods and services. Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services are the backbone of the Internet and provide the infrastructure for it to operate smoothly. By processing and storing data, and allowing people to access and sort these data, they facilitate the flow of information that has become vital to the economy.
Industry organization. Internet service providers (ISPs) directly connect people, businesses, and organizations to the Internet by routing data from one location to another. ISPs develop and maintain the physical, technical, and contractual connections and agreements needed for the internet to function. In order to maintain the necessary flow of data, ISPs use peering pointsphysical connections to the computer equipment of other ISPsto share networks. These connections provide a nearly unlimited number of potential pathways through which information can travel.
In addition to forming the infrastructure of the Internet, service providers must also connect with clients. These clients may range from individual homes to large office buildings. To allow end users to access their networks, establishments in the industry may provide them with proprietary software, user identification names, e-mail addresses, or equipment. Like telephone or electric service, ISPs offer access to customers on a subscription basis. They may also provide related services beyond Internet access, such as Web hosting, Web page design, and consulting services related to networking software and hardware.
While ISPs connect clients to the Internet by routing data, the physical connections that carry the information to end users are often the wires or cables of telecommunications establishments (the telecommunications industry is covered in a separate section of the Career Guide).
Web search portals canvas the Web to create databases of web pages and their corresponding Internet addresses. These databases can then be searched by typing key words into a prompt on the search portals Web site. These sites, commonly called search engines, enable users to sort through the huge amount of information on the Internet quickly. In order to find as much information as possible, search engines automatically follow every link on a Web page, catalogue each new page found, and store their location along with text that can be searched at a later point. Because the Internet offers such a vast array of sites, advanced algorithms must be developed to rank the results of a search according to their relevance. Some Web search portals also offer additional services, such as news, e-mail, maps, and local business directories. The key distinction of Web search portals is that the information is gathered automatically from across the Web, rather than manually edited and entered into a predetermined directory.
Data processing, hosting, and related services are involved primarily in handling large amounts of data for businesses, organizations, and individuals. Data hosting often takes the form of Web hosting, in which Web site content is placed on a server that allows it to be accessed by users over the Internet. While establishments in this industry host Web sites, the content is typically produced by someone else and then made accessible through the Web hosting service. Other data hosting services allow clients to place electronic data, such as streaming music and video or company databases, onto servers that can be accessed directly through specialized computer programs. An additional service provided by this industry is to store old data for archival purposes with no Internet access to it.
Data processing covers a broad range of data services, including data entry, conversion, and analysis. Organizations with large quantities of data on paper may turn to data processing services to enter the data, either by hand or with optical scanners, into a computer database. Similarly, clients may want old data files or several databases converted to a single, more easily accessible format. Aside from converting data to another format, data processing services also produce reports that summarize the data for better analysis by their clients. While most data hosting companies sell subscription services, data processing services companies often work on projects of defined scope.
Recent developments. The Internet is constantly expanding and evolving, and so are the industries associated with it. Many firms in the telecommunications and broadcasting industries now provide internet service (the telecommunications and broadcasting industries are covered in separate sections of the Career Guide). Technology is constantly changing and companies also are frequently upgrading their existing services, since most new services involve relatively low additional cost, and offering new services can attract or retain customers.
Hours. In 2006, workers in Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services averaged 37.3 hours per week, compared with 33.9 for all industries combined. While most worked a standard 40-hour workweek, about 20 percent worked 50 hours or more. About 8 percent worked part time, compared with 15 percent for all industries combined.
Jobs in many occupations in this industry have non-traditional schedules. Customer service representatives may work weekends, evenings, or holidays, and as a result, the occupation is well suited for flexible work schedules. At times, some computer specialists may be required to work unusual or long hours to fix problems or perform routine maintenance. In order to minimize the disruptive impact of scheduled maintenance and updates, many Internet service providers and data hosting services perform major work at night or on the weekends.
Work environment. Most workers in this industry work in clean, quiet offices, and spend the majority of their time sitting at computer monitors. Even though major projects typically are tested before implementation, there may be periods of stress and long work hours before and after implementation deadlines. Similarly, long hours and intense work may be required to fix unexpected problems arising from system upgrades, viruses, or malicious attacks by computer hackers. The popularity of Web search portals has made them particularly attractive targets for hackers.
In 2006, there were 383,000 wage and salary jobs in Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services. Data processing, hosting, and related services accounted for about 68 percent of the jobs, with the other 32 percent in ISPs and Web search portals.
Due to the relatively low capital costs of equipment for data hosting services, and to the geographic distribution of ISPs, about 94 percent of establishments have fewer than 50 workers, and about 65 percent have fewer than 5 workers (chart 1). While this industry can be found in every State, employment is concentrated in a few areas. Just six StatesCalifornia, Texas, Florida, Virginia, New York, and Georgiaaccount for about 46 percent of industry employment.
Compared to the rest of the economy, this industry has a relatively young work force. Rapid employment growth in the 1990s created job opportunities for young workers with the latest technical skills, and as a result, a large portion of the industrys workers are in the 25-to-44 age range (table 1).
This industry employs a wide range of occupations. Professional and related occupations is the largest group and accounts for approximately 41 percent of wage and salary employment. The second largest group, office and administrative support occupations, makes up about 32 percent of jobs. An additional 17 percent of workers are in management, business, and financial occupations (table 2).
Professional and related occupations. Computer specialists develop and maintain the computer equipment and software programs that form the basis of the Internet. They make up the majority of professional and related occupations, and account for about 34 percent of the industry as a whole. Computer programmers write, test, and customize the detailed instructions, called programs or software, that computers follow to perform various functions such as connecting to the Internet or displaying a Web page. Using programming languages such as C++ or Java, they break down tasks into a logical series of simple commands for the computer to implement.
Computer software engineers analyze user needs to formulate software specifications, and then design, develop, test, and evaluate programs to meet these requirements. While computer software engineers must possess strong programming skills, they generally focus on developing programs, which are then coded by computer programmers.
Computer systems analysts develop customized computer systems and networks for clients. They work with organizations to solve problems by designing or tailoring systems to meet unique requirements and then implementing these systems. By customizing systems to specific tasks, they help their clients maximize the benefit from investment in hardware, software, and other resources.
Computer support specialists provide technical assistance to users who experience computer problems. They may provide support either to customers or to other employees within their own organization. Using automated diagnostic programs and their own technical knowledge, they analyze and solve problems with hardware, software, and systems. In this industry, they connect with users primarily through telephone calls and e-mail messages.
Office and administrative support occupations. Office and administrative support occupations are involved primarily with business process operations such as billing, recordkeeping, and customer service. Financial clerks, information and record clerks, and data entry keyers account for about 17 percent of industry employment. Financial clerks keep track of money, recording all amounts coming into or leaving a company. They perform a wide variety of financial recordkeeping duties, from preparing bills and invoices to computing wages for payroll records.
Information and record clerks process a variety of records, ranging from payrolls to information on the receipt of goods. Customer service representatives, which are included in information and record clerks, respond to customer inquiries and complaints. Some customer service representatives handle general questions and complaints, whereas others specialize in a particular area. In ISPs they help customers set up or discontinue Internet service, but their primary function is not sales. They generally connect with customers by telephone or e-mail.
Data entry keyers input lists of items, numbers, or other data into computers using keyboards or scanners. They also may manipulate existing data, edit current information, or proofread new entries to a database for accuracy. Nearly all data entry keyers in this industry are employed in data processing, hosting, and related services; relatively few work for ISPs or Web search portals.
Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers plan, coordinate, and direct the activities of computer specialists to ensure that the internal and external computer systems meet the needs of users or clients. Because the industry is primarily engaged in facilitating data transmission over the Internet, these managers work closely with top executives or clients to set schedules for implementing Web sites, performing system maintenance, or installing new hardware and software.
The occupations in Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services require a variety of educational levels and specialized training. About 61 percent of workers held college degrees in 2006, while 20 percent had some college education and another 18 percent held high school diplomas. Entry-level computer and management positions in the industry, however, often require a bachelors degree in a computer-related field.
Professional and related occupations. Educational requirements have been less rigid for computer specialists than for most other occupations. In the early days of the Internet and Web, many employers struggled to meet ballooning demand for technical workers. However, the growing number of qualified workers and the reduction of demand for computer specialists in recent years have led employers to look for more education and experience when hiring. While employers may seek workers with high-demand skills regardless of formal training in the short term, such conditions, if they do arise, are unlikely to last long. The general trend has been toward greater demand for workers with computer-related college degrees and more experience. Those with bachelors degrees in computer-related fields also enjoy greater opportunities for advancement to managerial positions.
Computer programmers typically hold a bachelors degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems. Those without bachelors degrees or degrees in other fields generally take additional courses in computer programming methods and languages. The needs of employers vary extensively and change over time, so a 2-year degree or certificate, coupled with the right programming knowledge, may be sufficient for some positions. Entry-level programmers usually start by updating existing code, then advance to more difficult programming. Computer programmers with general business experience may become systems analysts.
Computer software engineers usually have at least a bachelors degree in computer science, software engineering, or computer information systems. Educational requirements vary, however, with some workers holding advanced degrees in technical fields, and others simply earning certifications offered by systems software vendors. Experience working with a broad range of computer systems is valued highly by employers. Because computer software engineers often work closely with computer programmers, communications skills are important in this occupation.
Computer systems analysts and database administrators typically hold a bachelors degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems (MIS). Many computer systems analysts hold advanced degrees in business administration or technical fields, and becoming certified in various types of systems software may provide a competitive advantage. Relevant work experience also is very important and can be obtained by participating in internship or co-op programs, or by working in related occupations. Systems analysts may begin working on one aspect of a system, and with experience advance to more complex systems.
Computer support specialists usually need only an associate degree in a computer-related field and experience with computers. They also must possess strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills, as troubleshooting and helping others are their main job functions. Computer support specialists may advance by developing expertise in a particular area, with job promotions typically depending more on performance than on formal education. Some become applications developers, using their troubleshooting experience to design products to be more reliable and user-friendly.
As advances in the computer field continue, all computer specialists must keep abreast of developing technologies to remain competitive. Obtaining technical certification is a way in which workers can demonstrate their competency to employers. Certification can be obtained voluntarily through many organizations, and many vendors now offer certification to professionals who work with their products.
Office and administrative support occupations. Office and administrative support occupations generally require only a high school diploma, but this may vary by occupation and firm. Although some positions may require previous experience in the occupation or industry, many of these jobs are entry level. Some workers in these occupations are college graduates who accept entry-level clerical positions to get into the industry or into a particular company. Most companies fill office and administrative support supervisory and managerial positions by promoting individuals within their organization, so those who acquire additional skills, experience, and training improve their opportunities for advancement. However, a college degree often is required for advancement to management ranks.
Customer service representatives typically need only a high school diploma or its equivalent. Because they constantly interact with customers, good interpersonal skills are essential for success in this occupation. Both verbal and written communications skills are important, as these workers may address inquiries by telephone, in person, through e-mail, or by letter. Customer service representatives represent the companies for which they work, so employers place great emphasis on a friendly and professional demeanor, as well as the ability to remain patient when dealing with difficult or angry customers. Nearly all employers provide training in basic customer service skills and company-specific services, policies, and systems. Strong problem-solving abilities and basic computer knowledge also are important.
Data entry keyers typically hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and usually are hired based on their typing speed. Familiarity with basic computer operations and with word processing, spreadsheet, and database software is highly desirable. The skills required by data entry keyers can be developed by taking high school, community college, or business school courses; by working for temporary help agencies; and by making use of self-teaching aids. Attention to detail is important in this occupation, as are spelling, punctuation, and grammar skills.
Financial, information and record, and general office clerks commonly need at least a high school diploma. For financial clerks, particularly those working in bookkeeping and accounting, an associate degree often is required. While basic computer knowledge and general office skills are required for all clerks, good interpersonal skills are particularly important for those whose work involves frequent interaction with the public. Nearly all financial, information and record, and general office clerks receive some on-the-job training, and learn company procedures under the guidance of a supervisor or other senior worker. With experience and training, clerks may be promoted to supervisory or specialist positions.
Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers typically have a bachelors degree and several years of experience in computer occupations, particularly as computer systems analysts. However, many employers prefer those with advanced degrees in business administration (MBA) or information systems management. In addition to technical knowledge, they must possess strong business and communication skills.
While growth rates will vary by sector, employment is projected to increase by 14 percent for the industry as a whole. Job growth will lead to excellent opportunities in data processing, hosting, and related services and in web search portals, but declines will create competition for positions in Internet service providers.
Employment change. Wage and salary employment in Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services is expected to increase by 14 percent between 2006 and 2016, faster than the 11 percent projected for all industries combined. This growth will vary by industry sector, with data processing, hosting, and related services growing at 33 percent, and Internet service providers and Web search portals declining by 27 percent.
As the information revolution advances, the amount of data in use continues to grow. Companies will turn to data processing, hosting, and related services firms to organize, store, analyze, and interpret this data. In addition, the number of Web sites in operation will grow as the number of Internet users continues to increase. Many businesses and individuals wish to establish web sites, but do not have the necessary hardware, so they will use the services of data hosting firms. The need for increased information security also will require advanced technical solutions, resulting in further job growth within the industry.
Employment in Internet services providers will decline despite growth in the number of web sites online and an increase in the number of internet users. As the industry continues to consolidate, and a small number of national providers begin to service a larger portion of Internet users, fewer workers will be needed to meet the needs of the industry. In addition, telephone and cable companies offer broadband services to an increasing number of consumers, so more of the workers associated with providing internet access will be classified in either the telecommunications or broadcasting industries (see sections on theses industries elsewhere in the Career Guide).
Employment of Web search portals, conversely, should increase rapidly. Growth will result from consumers demand for more efficient search functions, and the expanding array of services continued to be offered by Web search portals. This growth will have little impact on the industry as a whole, however, as Web search portals represent only a small portion of employment.
Job prospects. Job prospects should be excellent in data processing, hosting, and related services and in web search portals. Job openings will result from rapid employment growth, and from the need to replace workers who leave the industry. Prospects will be best for computer specialists such as computer software engineers, computer systems analysts, and network and computer system administrators. Applicants for jobs in Internet service providers should face competition as employment declines will limit the number of openings.
Industry earnings. In 2006, nonsupervisory workers in Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services earned $809 per week on average, compared with an average of $568 for all industries combined. Workers in Internet service providers and Web search portals averaged $914, the highest earnings in this industry. Those in data processing, hosting, and related services earned less, an average of $763 per week.
Like those of the entire workforce, earnings also varied considerably by occupation, with workers in professional occupations earning more than those in office and administrative support occupations. For example, customer service representatives and computer software engineers, systems softwarethe two largest occupations in the industryhad median hourly earnings of $14.15 and $39.88, respectively. As in other industries, managers had higher earnings because they have greater responsibilities and are more experienced than their staffs. Median hourly earnings for specific occupations within the industry are shown in table 3.
Benefits and union membership. Workers in the Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services industry generally receive paid sick and vacation leave and health insurance, and many employers contribute to pension plans and life insurance.
Unionization is rare in the industry. In 2006 virtually no workers were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with 13 percent of workers throughout private industry.
Further information about computer careers is available from:
Information on the following occupations can be found in the 2008-09 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook:
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Internet service providers, Web search portals, and data processing services, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs055.htm (visited September 17, 2008 ).
Last Modified Date: March 4, 2008