Not long ago, “smart” was only used to describe new cellphone technology.
But this holiday season consumers will be clamoring for a wide range of products billed as “home automation devices,” from the Amazon Echo to the Google Home and more. The latest and greatest gadgets communicate with everything from your fridge to your thermostat, connections made possible thanks to advances in home wireless networking.
But who sets up, maintains and troubleshoots that network of valuable information for a homeowner not able to do it themselves?
David Waletzko, who owns and operates the Community Technology Center in Albany, said computer user support professionals are in great demand due to the complexity of home networks and the public’s growing lack of interest in learning new technology.
“When a lot of this network technology first came out, everybody got interested in it and knew a few things about what to do,” Waletzko said. “But the technology has advanced so much now that not many people touch that stuff anymore. They don’t want to touch it, it’s above and beyond their heads. So It’s come full circle now where they need a lot more support.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, demand for computer user support professionals is on the rise, with available positions in the field expected to grow by more than 11 percent over the next 10 years in central Minnesota. The same can be said for computer network support specialists, a career expected to grow by nearly 15 percent.
The St. Cloud Times reports that DEED’s Central Minnesota data shows a median wage of $45,550 per year for careers in computer user support, while the average network support specialist earns $60,106 annually. Both occupations typically require an associate’s degree and/or some level of on-the-job training. Students can choose to advance to a four-year program that opens up careers such as a computer systems analyst. That job carried an average regional salary of $71,847, with an expected growth rate of 16.5 percent.
Waletzko has responded to his industry’s need for skilled workers by partnering with the Albany school district to host a student intern beginning in the spring. His first intern will be his nephew, Sam Scherping, a senior at Albany High School who has already been accepted to North Dakota State University’s four-year computer science program.
Scherping and Waletzko both said the most important step to raising interest in computer support careers is getting students engaged at the high school level or earlier.
“It’s not that (schools) don’t get the word out, because they do have women in STEM program where they try to get more girls interested,” Scherping said. “And they have the robotics team and Science Bowl. So it’s not that they don’t get the word out, it’s just that nobody is really interested in it. I know for robotics people say they aren’t smart enough for it. Well, I’m in regular-level math and we just engineered a robot that’s going to St. Louis where the world’s competition is.”
Waletzko said that while ambition and drive are lacking from some of today’s high school graduates, he feels the schools could be teaching computers more.
“Most of the high schools are only teaching at the application level, there is no hardware,” Waletzko said. “I think just like a basic math course where you teach basic, simple addition, there needs to be a computer class that just discusses basic networking and how a computer works and functions.”