CXO

Life as a manager of a small IT department: Members love it and hate it

Will it hurt your career if you are a generalist in a small IT department instead of learning the latest specialized skills in IT? Learn what TechRepublic members are saying about being the big fish in a small pond.


You’ve got the important-sounding title and the corner office. So why does your phone ring when the fax machine won’t work? It’s all part of the job description when you manage a small IT department. Your co-workers don’t see you as a member of “management,” they view your role as “the person who fixes things that don’t work.”

In a recent article, a TechRepublic member explained how he was responsible for repairing “anything electronic,” including the VCR. Mark D. Gonzales oversees one staff member in the IT department of a county office in Pueblo, CO.

“I enjoy having my hands on a little bit of everything. My days are rarely typical; that is what makes my job so interesting. One day I need to be an expert at LAN/WAN environments, and the next I am a software-training specialist,” wrote Gonzales.

Beware of loading toner in the printer
Gonzales touched off a debate among members about the advantages and disadvantages of being a generalist—especially in a small IT department. Some members recommended ways to avoid accepting non-management tasks.

“It would help to educate your co-workers so that they will feel better empowered to handle these non-essential issues. When the IT manager does everything, he stands to lose his ability to concentrate on actually managing.”
—jahcal

Another member suggested a way to work as a generalist without harming your career.

“I don't think it’s a matter of what's best for everyone as it is what's best for you. I manage a team where some of the people are narrowly focused on technology, and I am happy that they are. I also have people that have a wide range of good skills.…The way I approach my career is to broaden my base of knowledge while, at the same time, deepening some of my 'core' competencies. So my breadth of skills is widening, but the depth of some of those skills is also deepening.”
—Brian

At least one member expressed mixed emotions. Pguerra is an MIS manager for a small department and though he said he loves the work, he has a long list of responsibilities that put extreme demands on his time.

“Our shop has an administrator and myself. The two of us are responsible for everything electronic, moveable, plugged in, turned on, and broken, as well as every should-have-worked solution.”
—pguerra

Job satisfaction means wearing many hats
Most often, the posted comments from readers exalted the benefits of being a big fish in a small pond.

“I'd need both sides of my [business] card to list my REAL job. If it has anything at all to do with our computers or the network, they call me. So, I'm a generalist, too. The only thing I don't do is programming, and my boss is hinting that I ought to learn Java. I really enjoy it. Being a general IT person means that I get to sample lots of facets of the career field, and I have the run of the building. Not being chained into a cubicle is one of the best parts of my job.”
—LorieJ

“I don't want to be a business analyst; all I want to do is play with the shiny toys. A generalist, I feel, is better positioned to become an integral part of a business, understanding the business logic and flows, and being able to support it at a business-cum-IT level.”
Yamabushi

“I now look after PC problems (SW + HW), Netware/Networking problems, as well as AS400 maintenance and problems, and anything else electrical, such as our projector. I love this role, as every day is a new challenge because you never know what the SEU's have broken or corrupted.”
—Steve Smalley

TechRepublic member Pete described his career move to a small IT department as a beneficial psychological shift.

“I worked for an extremely large, privately-held rental car company. At that location, size equals misery and constant meetings, and CYA held up all opportunities to advance our projects. The department's size and attitude was stifling and depressing. I am now EXTREMELY happy in a very small company with five IS employees. I feel that I am only limited by my [level of] determination and our hectic schedule.”
—Pete
We appreciate your comments that are posted to articles and the letters you send. To add to this discussion, post a comment or send us an e-mail to suggest future topics.

Editor's Picks