Computer Systems Design Industry

by Brian Rooney

July 1, 2024

The computer systems design industry is a large tech industry in Oregon that had almost 4,200 establishments, employed over 17,000 workers and paid $2.5 billion in payroll in 2023. This is the industry that writes the software that runs computers, designs the integration of software and hardware, and operates data processing facilities. Some of the services that can be found in the industry include custom computer programming, software installation, and computer hardware or software consulting.

Employment Trends and Payroll

The decade from 1990 to 2000 was a period of strong job growth in Oregon and especially for the computer systems design industry. While employment in Oregon overall grew by 31%, the computer systems design industry added 8,400 jobs for a growth rate of roughly 260%, reaching 11,600 jobs.

Then came the dot-com bust of 2001, a downward correction after years of strong growth in tech. Oregon’s computer systems design industry shed 3,500 jobs from 2000 to 2003, 30% of its workforce. After the bursting of the tech bubble, the need for the industry quickly resumed and growth continued much as it had before the bubble. The average growth since 2003 has been 4.0% per year.
Graph showing Oregon's Computer Systems Design Industry

The Great Recession caused only small job losses in the industry. Annual average employment fell by 100 in 2009 to 9,600 jobs total. Growth resumed in 2010. The industry then added 7,500 jobs (+78%) from its low point in 2009 to a new peak of 17,100 in 2019.

The pandemic recession was relatively mild for the industry. Between its peak and low point in the spring of 2020, it only fell by 400 jobs (-2.3%) compared to Oregon’s total private payroll employment, which shed 238,400 jobs (-17%). As the pandemic moved more of daily life indoors and online, demand grew for tech-related services. The computer systems design industry quickly added back those 400 jobs it lost by July 2021.  By July 2022 the industry had added 800 additional jobs and was at a new peak of 18,000 jobs.

Since then, the data show the industry losing jobs, dropping back to 17,500 in 2023. Some of those losses are likely related to a broader tech correction as some of the pandemic related demand subsidies.

The private-sector computer systems design services industry pays much higher wages on average than the overall Oregon total with an annual average wage of $141,152 compared to $68,326 in 2023. Its total payroll was almost $2.5 billion. Wage growth has generally stayed above inflation in recent years. Wage growth in the industry was 4.6% per year on average from 2013 through 2023 while the national consumer price index for urban consumers had average annual increases of 3.2% over the same period.

Growth is expected to continue for the industry. A forecast by the Oregon Employment Department predicts that the industry will add 3,600 jobs from 2022 to 2032 and end up with a total of 21,300 jobs in the final year. That is growth of 20% over 10 years, much faster than the expected employment growth of 10% for all industries combined in Oregon.

Industry Structure

There were 3,188 worksites with one or more employees on an annual average basis in the computer systems design industry in 2023. Most are small. Only 763 of these worksites had more than four employees on an annual average basis. Just 329 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 2005 worksites with one or more employees, but it is dominated by small ones. About 83% had one to four employees in 2023, and less than 1% had 100 or more employees. This sub industry had 46% 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 83% had one to four employees in 2023, and the sub industry only had one employer with 100 or more workers. It was also the smallest of the sub industries with only 6% of the total industry employment.

The computer system design services sub industry had a few more of the larger worksites, 11% had five to nine employees, and 14% had 10 to 99 employees. It was the second largest subindustry with 41% 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 61% of its worksites had one to four employees in 2023. About 14% had five to nine employees, and 25% had 10 or more employees. It accounted for only 7% of the broad industry’s employment.

It appears that some worksites in the computer systems design 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 2023 by the four sub industries in the private sector were all higher than the average wage for all industries in Oregon. The custom computer programming subindustry paid $151,528 on average, other computer related services paid $141,046, computer systems design services paid an annual average wage of $132,087, and computer facilities management paid $130,168 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. People worked in more than 106 different occupations in the industry in Oregon in 2022. Software developers was the single most common occupation working in the industry, followed by computer and information systems managers.
Table showing Selected Occupations in Oregon's Computer Systems Design Industry

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 18% of the industry’s employment in 2022, business/finance occupations accounted for 12%, 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 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.

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