Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don’t Quit IT Because of Your IT Job

I love the TechRepublic website, and my last Monday morning’s reading included Jack Wallen’s “10 Reasons for Quitting IT” article. Lots of comments and suggestions—some of them humorous like farming and Buddhist monk, etc., but some of them observations from some pretty frustrated IT folks. As someone who has moved around for most of his IT career (production manager in database/imaging service bureau, IT manager, CIO in several places, storage industry executive leadership, now working for CompTIA doing R&D on future technology certifications), I thought long and hard after Jack’s article—should I quit my IT job?
The article cites a number of characteristics about the IT market, and is dead-on accurate. But let me offer a qualified alternative response—don’t quit IT because of your IT job! We’ll look at some of the factors listed why someone would leave, and I’ll give my take on it.
1. Stress. The author states “It’s a rare occasion that someone will have a job in the IT field where there isn’t stress.” Yes, there are long hours, the need to keep up your skills, make sure you are better than you used to be, and people wanting free tech advice. All in all, there’s got to be some stress there (I remember way too many “magic upgrade weekends”, upset c-level folks, and suits who just didn’t get it but had power over my life. Stress, stress, stress—I even started grinding my teeth at night in my last job in the storage industry hey—can you get workman’s comp for that?).
All I can say is, “Welcome to the real world, pal!” — where things break and systems don’t work like the vendors said they would; where you are the only person who understands all the moving parts; where people are impatient and sometimes rude; and where the pace of change is frenetic. Instead of running away to some la-la land where there is no stress, figure out how to thrive in this environment, because that’s what IT is all about.
Continual learning, constant improvement, and the satisfaction of a job well done is why I LOVE information technology. The stress can be there, but that’s why I walk my dogs, love my wife, pray at church and have some outside interests. I also think about what Bill Murray (playing Dr. Peter Venckman) said to his secretary in the movie Ghost Busters (the first movie—you know, the only good one), “someone of your caliber should have no problem finding a top flight job in the housekeeping or food service industry.” You want a no-stress job? Hard to find any of them out there that put real food on the table.  The key is to de-stress your present IT job or find another IT job in a healthier environment.
2. People (in general). The writer had some traumatic experiences as a consultant in IT. He observes, “That is not to say that people, in general, are bad. It’s just that when you have your IT hat on, people seem to look at you in a different light. You are both savior and sinner in one stressed-out package . . . I’ve found myself getting taken advantage of, used, abused, unpaid, underpaid, unappreciated, and more.”
Well. I can hear the responses from folks in just about every job in every field, complaining about people, about being unappreciated, taken advantage of, etc. Yes, one of the unfortunate things about IT jobs is that you have to deal with people.
I remember as a CIO having one of my best bench techs leave our organization. During the exit interview, I asked if there was anything I could do to make him change his mind. He requested, “I wish you had a windowless room where you could shove broken systems through a slot, and I could fix them and shoo them out through the slot.”
In other words, we want an IT job without people. Short of forest ranger, nighttime security guard or island castaway, it’s hard to find a good job that doesn’t involve people. Key for me in my IT career is to manage your relationships, expect respect and address it productively when you don’t get it. (Passive-aggressive brooding, retreat, gossip and overall griping are not helpful strategies for either you or the people around you).    
3. Technology. The author concludes that the state of technology is hopeless: “Every day is a battle to keep PCs and systems working. Some days you win that battle, some days you lose it. The days you win are always lost in the pile of days you lose.”
Got to say, as a former president, “I feel your pain.” Technology is one of those areas where Murphy’s Law seems to be a constant. I always remember what one boss told me a long time ago—“Embrace the madness!”
I always act surprised when everything works and am prepared for failure. Good back-ups, tested restores, worst-case scenarios whirling around, over-extending project completion dates, under-promising everything and over-delivering every chance I can—folks understand how finicky technology can be (at least most of them do), but most of them also can see how hard you are working to make tech work—and I believe we have better hardware and software, better systems and more transparency into systems.  Maybe it takes the perspective of a few decades in this field, but it really is getting better.
4. The Cloud. The author observes that “clients and end-users want the cloud to be some magical experience that will make all their work easier, better and faster. If only they knew the truth.”
Yes, we know it’s not magic—but we also know that cloud computing has the power to be a truly transformative technology game-changer for many businesses. That’s why a good many people have been asking CompTIA to develop a credential to help IT professionals separate the truth from the hype with respect to cloud—stand by for some good news on that front.
I would imagine that the IT folks who can’t figure out how to thoughtfully integrate cloud-based options may find themselves “being retired” instead of quitting—so better to get in front of this trend that be adversely “rained on” by cloud computing. It’s here, and it’s here to stay—and although we can also complain about gravity, but we still have to deal with it.
5. Respect. The author’s observation is, “The general public has a bad taste in its mouth for IT professionals. Why? There are many reasons. They’ve been burned before. They’ve been ripped off before. They’ve had consultants who only seemed to want to sell them bigger and better things. So long has this gone on, and so jaded has the public become, that IT pros have a hard time earning respect.”
Okay, and I would say the same thing about doctors, lawyers, politicians, preachers, car salesman and guys working at the local 7-11. I think the general public still gets excited when a new iPad or Android-powered smartphone comes out. I think kids still get jazzed about collaborating via videoconferencing technology to their peers worldwide. I still think it’s cool that we have RFID tags now on scalpels so surgeons can count the number they start with and finish with (and not leave any of them “behind”—cue the lawyers).
Got to tell you—I think IT is one of the greatest jobs in the world. I have had the joy of seeing businesses solve challenges, of government serving taxpayers better, of teachers educating students more effectively, and of people from all over the world learning something from each other’s experience. Folks don’t respect you? Sometimes it may be because you give them permission to treat you that way.
So no, I would not quit my IT job. Maybe I would find a better IT job (the market is starting to pick up now), or perhaps consider a different IT vertical—the days of sitting around a data center or bench tech environment may be limited as IT moves into other professionals. Perhaps healthcare IT, green IT or some other applied vertical practice area might be the right approach. And yes, CompTIA is doing good work developing credentials programs for those careers. I might work on the inside, get a more positive perspective on my job (I know there are many laid-off IT pros who wished they could get another shot), or work on a “self upgrade”—education, training, hobby, relationship-building, etc. 
For me, I love working in IT, and would recommend it as a rewarding career to any middle schooler or high schooler out there. Has IT lost some of its “mojo”? Perhaps. I think we let it get away, or we get busy on other things. But like Austin Powers, who had to discover he had his mojo all along, IT professionals should stop and realize just how cool their jobs can be.

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