Leadership

10 dirty little secrets you should know about working in IT

Anyone who's been in the tech field for a while knows that IT harbors a few surprises - and not all of them are good ones. TechRepublic editor in chief Jason Hiner put together this list of some hidden aspects of the IT profession.

If you are preparing for a career in IT or are new to IT, many of the "dirty little secrets" listed below may surprise you because we don't usually talk about them out loud. If you are an IT veteran, you've probably encountered most of these issues and have a few of your own to add -- and please, by all means, take a moment to add them to the discussion. Most of these secrets are aimed at network administrators, IT managers, and desktop support professionals. This list is not aimed at developers and programmers -- they have their own set of additional dirty little secrets -- but some of these will apply to them as well.

This article originally appeared as an entry in our Tech Sanity Check blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

10: The pay in IT is good compared to many other professions, but since they pay you well, they often think they own you

Although the pay for IT professionals is not as great as it was before the dot-com flameout and the IT backlash in 2001-2002, IT workers still make very good money compared to many other professions (at least the ones that require only an associate's or bachelor's degree). And there is every reason to believe that IT pros will continue to be in demand in the coming decades, as technology continues to play a growing role in business and society. However, because IT professionals can be so expensive, some companies treat IT pros like they own them. If you have to answer a tech call at 9:00 PM because someone is working late, you hear, "That's just part of the job." If you need to work six hours on a Saturday to deploy a software update to avoid downtime during business hours, you get, "There's no comp time for that since you're on salary. That's why we pay you the big bucks!"

9: It will be your fault when users make silly errors

Some users will angrily snap at you when they are frustrated. They will yell, "What's wrong with this thing!" or "This computer is NOT working!" or (my personal favorite), "What did you do to the computers?" In fact, the problem is that they accidentally deleted the Internet Explorer icon from the desktop, or unplugged the mouse from the back of the computer with their foot, or spilled their coffee on the keyboard.

8: You will go from goat to hero and back again multiple times within any given day

When you miraculously fix something that had been keeping multiple employees from being able to work for the past 10 minutes -- and they don't realize how simple the fix really was -- you will become the hero of the moment and everyone's favorite employee. But they'll conveniently forget about your hero anointment a few hours later when they have trouble printing because of a network slowdown. You'll become enemy No. 1 at that moment. Then, if you show users a handy little Microsoft Outlook trick before the end of the day, you'll quickly return to hero status.

7: Certifications won't always help you become a better technologist, but they can help you land a better job or a pay raise

Headhunters and human resources departments love IT certifications. They make it easy to match up job candidates with job openings. They also make it easy for HR to screen candidates. You'll hear a lot of veteran IT pros whine about techies who were hired based on certifications but who don't have the experience to effectively do the job. They are often right. That has happened in plenty of places. But certifications do open up your career options. They show that you are organized and ambitious and have a desire to educate yourself and expand your skills. If you are an experienced IT pro and have certifications to match your experience, you will find yourself to be extremely marketable. Tech certifications are simply a way to prove your baseline knowledge and to market yourself as a professional. However, most of them are not a good indicator of how good you will be at the job.

6: Your nontechnical co-workers will use you as personal tech support for their home PCs

Your co-workers (and your friends, family, and neighbors) will view you as their personal tech support department for their home PCs and home networks. They'll e-mail you, call you, and/or stop by your office to talk about how to deal with the virus that took over their home PC and the wireless router that stopped working after the last power outage and to ask you how to put their photos and videos on the Web for their grandparents in Iowa to view them.

Some of them might even ask you if they can bring in their home PC to the office for you to fix it. The polite ones will offer to pay you, but some of them will just hope or expect you can help them for free. Helping these folks can be rewarding, but you have to be careful about where to draw the line and know when to decline. For help, take a look at "10 ways to decline a request for free tech support."

5: Vendors and consultants will take all the credit when things work well and will blame you when things go wrong

Working with IT consultants is an important part of the job and can be one of the more challenging things to manage. Consultants bring niche expertise to help you deploy specialized systems, and when everything works right, it's a great partnership. But you have to be careful. When things go wrong, some consultants will try to push the blame off on you by arguing that their solution works great everywhere else so it must be a problem with the local IT infrastructure. Conversely, when a project is wildly successful, there are consultants who will try to take all of the credit and ignore the substantial work you did to customize and implement the solution for your company.

4: You'll spend far more time babysitting old technologies than implementing new ones

One of the most attractive things about working in IT is the idea that we'll get to play with the latest cutting edge technologies. However, that's not usually the case in most IT jobs. The truth is that IT professionals typically spend far more time maintaining, babysitting, and nursing established technologies than implementing new ones. Even IT consultants, who may work with more of the latest and greatest technologies, tend to work primarily with established, proven solutions rather than the real cutting edge stuff.

3: Veteran IT professionals are often the biggest roadblock to implementing new technologies

A lot of companies could implement more cutting edge stuff than they do. There are plenty of times when upgrading or replacing software or infrastructure can potentially save money and/or increase productivity and profitability. However, it's often the case that one of the largest roadblocks to migrating to new technologies is not budget constraints or management objections -- it's the veteran techies in the IT department. Once they have something up and running, they are reluctant to change it. This can be a good thing because their jobs depend on keeping the infrastructure stable, but they also use that as an excuse to not spend the time to learn new things or stretch themselves in new directions. They get lazy, complacent, and self-satisfied.

2: Some IT professionals deploy technologies that do more to consolidate their own power than to help the business

Another subtle but blameworthy thing that some IT professionals do is select and implement technologies based on how well those technologies make the business dependent on the IT pros to run them, rather than which ones are truly best for the business itself. For example, IT pros might select a solution that requires more specialized skills to maintain instead of a more turnkey solution. Or an IT manager might have more of a Linux/UNIX background and so chooses a Linux-based solution over a Windows solution, even though the Windows solution is a better business decision (or, vice versa, a Windows admin might bypass a Linux-based appliance, for example). Excuses and justifications are often given for this type of behavior, but most of them are disingenuous.

1: IT pros frequently use jargon to confuse nontechnical business managers and hide the fact that they screwed up

All IT pros -- even the very best -- screw things up once in a while. This is a profession where a lot is at stake and the systems that are being managed are complex and often difficult to integrate. However, not all IT pros are good at admitting when they make a mistake. Many of them take advantage of the fact that business managers (and even some high-level technical managers) don't have a good understanding of technology, and so the techies will use jargon to confuse them (and cover up the truth) when explaining why a problem or an outage occurred. For example, to tell a business manager why a financial application went down for three hours, the techie might say, "We had a blue screen of death on the SQL Server that runs that app. Damn Microsoft!" What the techie would fail to mention was that the BSOD was caused by a driver update he applied to the server without first testing it on a staging machine.

Your turn

Does your experience match up with the situations described here? What other dirty little secrets about working in IT do you think should be added to this list?

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

596 comments
lmlisak
lmlisak

Secret 11. Someone from another part of your I.T. organization will throw you under the bus when given the     chance.

Secret 12 Corporate HR will change the rules on your requirements to get that promotion or getup to a higher grade level for that promotion.

Secret 13. All bet s are off on your career when you are part of a merger/acquisition.

Secret 14 The I.T. Person that runs the unsponsored gambling pool will never lose their job.


Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Here's some more with a developer slant. Except from Tony's Developer Aphorisms No software survives contact with a user. You could have done it better if you'd had the time, so it was obviously your fault for not getting it. 80% of the work you do on an application is after some poor fool bought it. Change is a given. The biggest technological achievement in IT is the moving goal post. If you can't read your own code next month, everybody else had more chance yesterday. Knowing how to write code in language does not mean you can program. The first casualties in a software project are documentation and quality. Quick fixes are long term faults. Get the data structure right, coding is easy.

photoj
photoj

I think you hit the nail squarely on the head Jason, I have experienced almost all points raised and maybe have found myself in the #1 position myself.

jdclyde
jdclyde

How many are on-call? How many people that are not officially on-call, still get calls at home? I have been lucky to avoid getting a company Nextel. When they first offered them to us, a few co-workers jumped for them, thinking it made them cool. Almost a status thing. I passed. Now they are the ones that get calls 10 minutes after they leave for the day with stupid little questions that users forgot to ask before the tech left, or get the middle of the night calls. I get NO calls. poor lonely me? I don't think so.... B-) Oh, and a subnote on #3. Don't go into IT if you don't plan to constantly learn new things. I know someone that used to be a GOD in Novell, but got to the point of "they aren't paying me to read on my own time". He has been unemployed for about two years now....

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

Your points illustrate what i was thinking: The IT body who: Has an unnatural relationship with a creaking old system, it's a sacred cow: "you'll never find another system that'll do what we need" - well maybe 10 years ago, but that's the last time (s)he looked at the marketplace. Says "It's finished" when there's no documentation or user manual and is in a state that should rightly be termed 'ready for beta testing'. Puts bits of "temporary" code in to cope with "exceptional" circumstances (s)he didn't think of in the first place. Blames the users when they commit ordinary human errors the system should be able to trap. (So you've never typed last year in a date at the beginning of January? Congratulations, you may be unique!) Looks down on non-IT staff's lack of IT expertise - either speaking to them as if they were idiots or blinding them with jargon they have no reason to know. Can you do all their jobs? Designs a system without reference to the knowledge and experience of the people 'at the coal face' who actually do the job. Do you really think the Financial Director knows how to post and reconcile credit card receipts? (I speak as a Financial Director.) If we want mutual respect between ourselves and the staff with whom we work, it is open to us to help the wheel turn.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I'm hoping to eventually publish a separate version for developers, although I won't be writing it.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I hope that means that you liked it. :-)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I get Christmas off! (Supposedly vacations too, but that's another story!) I do, however, have an understanding supervisor who says "We'll worry about it when it happens" when I tell him I'm going to an evening function and may not answer calls immediately. Edit: Oh, and your Novell friend should be able to find a job as a net admin in a school district somewhere. I can think of six in my immediate area that use Netware and Groupwise.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Dirty little secret....company cell phones or blackberries/treos are not a perk, they are a leash. Having one doesn't mean, you've arrived, it means, I value your contribution so much, I need to call you whenever I want. A Blackberry means, I expect you to keep up with email. James

Scott
Scott

If a system has been in place for 10 years, the business has probably built many of it's core processes around that system. How many times have you been frustrated by a customer sevice rep who can't help you out because "the computer won't let me do it"? At some point over that 10 year period, the computer system and the business process became one. Furthermore, it probably took 10 years of tweaking to get that "old, aging system" (which has been continually updated) to finally work the way it's "supposed" to. As for "it's finished", I've never seen a software developer impose a deadline. Those always come from the business side. Temporary bits of code are bad. Bad, bad, bad. Given their preference, most software developers I know would rather spend a few weeks (or months) figuring out why some piece of functionality was overlooked, how it relates to other business processes, and how to integrate the functionality into the system without breaking anything. Again, it's typically the business analyst who has a timeline of "fix it by tomorrow or we'll go out of business". How some piece of functionality that is critical to the life of the business didn't get noticed until just now is, quite frankly, beyond my comprehension. It's true that many software developers (and IT folks in general) blame users for not knowing as much as they do. Mistakes happen, and there needs to be a way to fix it. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to throw your last point back in your lap. Is it really IT's job to get in front of the people who actually do the job, or is that the job of the Financial Director? Too often the business analyst (who has no idea how to post and reconcile credit card receipts) is the one telling the software devs how that functionality should work. When the users see it, and hate it, it's somehow the software team's fault. For some reason many businesses offload selecting/designing software to the IT department. Shouldn't software be selected/designed by the people who will be using it? In short, I respect the business analyst who has taken the time to "analyze" their own business and can communicate coherent specifications to me. I don't respect one who tells me a different story every day, depending on which direction the wind is blowing.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Points addressed in order It's creaking and ten years old because it was good enough for the last nine. Nope it's finished because some fool promised it for today Why would I think of it, you told me order number was a number. Who said we don't need a QA department? How am I meant to explain why a double precision floating point value lacks accuracy. I tell you it isn't, you point to all the numbers after the decimal point. So now it gets technical. Why didn't you just take my word for it? Now that I've seen happen, usually when the business hires a shiny new grad who cost half of what I do to 'save' money. Mutual respect, or mutual disrespect, you get what you give. I've absolutely no idea how to be a financial director, I know a heck of a lot about development though. You do the numbers , I'll do the code, we'll both be happier.

jalee1011
jalee1011

Hey everyone. I am relatively new to TR however I am finding that the articles are top notch, some downright hilarious and the forums and users to be very knowledgeable. I have a great example for this. I, like many other college students, was taken in by the lure of 6 figure incomes that are advertised at college. I was a self-proclaimed techie... loved the robots, the programming classes, math etc... So I enrolled in at Michigan Tech, took an entry level job as a Technical Intern within a few years and here is where my dream was stomped on like a hairy spider by a housewife... My third night at my new job, I had a dream my phone was ringing. I even dream I threw it at the clock that read 3:17am. Then my dream of the phone kept repeating itself... Three times. I woke up to find the damn phone ringing and my lovely boss demanding that I "Get my ass in my office in 15 minutes..." Well, during the course of my virgin year in IT I realized that 6 figures, hell even a good 5 figure comes from working like a donkey on a mountain. :) Needless to say, 3 years later, I had a different and more experienced perspective to share!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

You know, the ones who get called in to fix all the bugs then get to hear "It was perfectly fine when we got it, what did YOU do to it?" Yeah, it was fine becasuse some idiot hadn't yet found the way to make the system hiccup by entering in 15 values never intended for processing and the developer wrote "sunny day" error handling.

JDSAL
JDSAL

Here's my two cents from a managers pov: techies that get tunnel vision with a new technology and refuse to see anything else. BTW, I own everyone on this forum thus far with my TR registration date! haha

tv_p
tv_p

Your call will be answered, in the order which it is received.... ding...ding...

jdclyde
jdclyde

"tether"..... I walk out that door, I am gone!

cwhull
cwhull

dont control it embrace it

Absolutely
Absolutely

Holy crap, Tony, I've noticed you funny before, but I never knew you're THAT funny!! My favorite: "How am I meant to explain why a double precision floating point value lacks accuracy. I tell you it isn't, you point to all the numbers after the decimal point. So now it gets technical. Why didn't you just take my word for it?"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

does my boss? I'm a big fan of always validating input. Oh a null object will never be passed in to the code is never true. Can't be passed in maybe. Will be sometime for some reason, absolutely guaranteed.

alaniane
alaniane

As a programmer, you need to be practically paranoid about inputs. If an input can crash the system, it will be found usually within minutes of release by some user. I just fixed a proc that another programmer wrote which made the assumption that a date field would either be null or contain numbers. Someone found a way of entering 'xxxxxx' into the field. Also, keep a printed copy of every spec submitted to you because inevitably the reason that program does not give the expected results is because you implemented the spec wrong (it is never because the user changed the spec without thinking through the consequences).

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Was doing a contract for a little inventory control app. Got the spec basically a database schema from the devlopment manager. InvoiceNumber int Passed the app for beta test, can't put 1786564A in the invoice number field. Assumption, development manager knew to check that numbers are numbers. If I'd have been collecting the requirements, I would n't have missed that (again :D)

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

We had a saying in our group at my last place of employment. "the specs are the specs except for when they're not" "Yes, this field will ALWAYS have numbers in it..." (then after it's delivered) "Oh, except for our customers from Elbonia, where they prefer a letter prefix." (after revisions) "oh! and the Elbonians might sometimes have a suffix that is a character too..." (more revisions) "WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG!!! CAN'T YOU PEOPLE FOLLOW SIMPLE SPECS???!!!!" (must..control...fist...of...death)

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The six figures include those to the right of the decimal point.

Mr L
Mr L

I'ld like to offer him a job...we're always looking for creative folks. :)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No bears in the UK, apart from Zoos and teddies :D

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

We called them developers.... To illustrate the difference.... A developer and a maintenance coder decide to go on a hunting trip. They decide to share the work. The developer would go out and bring a bear back to the cabin and the maintenance coder would gut and clean it. After the developer is gone for an hour, the maintenance coder hears a frantic pounding on the door. he opens it and sees the developer with a bear rushing towards him, at the last second, the developer jumps to the side, and the bear rushes past him and into the cabin. The developer closes the door and says... "I did my job"

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You mean like this? ONERROR GOTO Error . . . :Error GOTO Top . . . :^0

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

You hear rumours everynow and then. Like the one who was spotted with a family of yeti living on the back of the Loch Ness monster. I can't personally vouch for their existance though.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Glad you liked it then! I was afraid you thought the piece itself was overly preachy.

Mr L
Mr L

.. Job role: IT Department Manager Location: MENOMONEE FALLS, Wisconsin Member since:August 1999 ? My newsletter subscriptions ? Edit profile .. Interesting thread here, Jason...but wow, some bitter people.

rortgiesen
rortgiesen

We only had 0's, 1's weren't invented yet....

rortgiesen
rortgiesen

It's true that does occur, but it also occurs that I am not always open to new ideas either, preferring to stick with proven methods and technologies. Sometimes (sometimes...) old ways are proven to be better than new and improved, ask Coke about NewCoke... It's a tough decision, and not always obvious which is better.

JDSAL
JDSAL

can you even remember what TR was like back then? lol

Borg_Tribble
Borg_Tribble

Bah - Nov. 2nd here. I feel like such a noob. Number six, for sure. My wife's grandfather is in his mid-80s and ALWAYS has a question or two for me about his PC when we go over. This has been going on since the days of his killer 486.

No User
No User

I registered in 99 and a couple times since and I had my account toasted. I know that the first one got toasted after the first flip of TechRepublic. I had a bazillion tech points that I lost. The good news is they never amounted to anything. I kinda thought that after a couple posts about tech points being worthless had something to do with it. At any rate I think a lot of people's accounts got toasted. I know I was one of the first wave to sign up.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I had an earlier ID, I think from 1999. I can't remember why I had to create a new one. You might be able to look up my old one. James

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

We were the high priests and we had the respect. International BUSINESS Machines made the business happen by replacing an office full of people that wrote in books all day. ( yes, a movie was made about it ) Then we " Fell from Grace " with the advent of the PC. We were just the common folk, like anyone else. The fear of working with the " monster chained in the glass room " was replaced with contempt. I watched that happen . I was the hardware person like Scotty, the miracle worker and I had to add to the time required to get things done simply because of the unforseen. I always delivered, but on MY terms, as I defined what I could do or NOT do. I acted as a manager ( I got the training ) of MY time and remained efficient, but I have been thrown under the bus many times because a COST center is the first to go in this modern age of bean counters. ( quarter to quarter profits are important; long term stability isn't anymore ) funny thing is, when I had moved on, I get calls from my ex co- workers about how the company is falling apart; 6 months later, they have been bought out or gone...... Yes, I've been around since the beginning and built my IMSAI 8080. .I have worked with everything from microchips to Cray supercomputers and everything in between. I was part of this industry that has matured. Yes, outsourcing has happened. It appears that is the wave of the future. That is why I stayed in hardware; it is harder to outsource that. But that had an end run solution: TIER support systems, with useless first level support, implemented scripts and stupidity at all levels of a customer interface. My dealings with AT&T was a good example: I knew more about their DSL system than THEY did. ( I knew people that had designed the hardware ) I watched them LIE about their problems, and I finally confronted them about them. I changed the ISP; I still had to deal with the same idiots at the hardware level though; the ISP got an eye-opener..... I finally have gotten out of the whole system. I didn't like where it was heading. Things have got to change, or the infrastructure is going to collapse just like that I-35 bridge in the Minneapple ( yes, I saw the neglect back in the 1980s; we have a similar neglect in IT now ) It was fun when the emphasis was " get 'er done ". Not so fun when " It's all about the money ". Mammon is a fickle god to pray to. Everyone needs to read their history a bit more. You will learn quite a bit from history.

Dilberter
Dilberter

My Date is so old it was originally sent in on a 80-column punch card! Date Started-1975. here's another number- XX) IT managers and professionals allowing company managers to purchase any old piece of software that looks good ( from out-of-house ) because they don't want to be chewed out for "They or [He ] is Always Obstructing Us!" We ended up with Mail Sort software that threw away all names with dashes or Apostrophe's [ Goodbye O'Brien ]. I had to write code in my own program to spoon-feed this software names with O Brien so that it would accept it. (XXI) Personel Managers who interview veterans for jobs [ to get the US Dept. of labor form filled out ]. They look good to the US govt "For interviewing veterans". But they didn't really have a job opening and were just interviewing you; because you need practise on your interviewing Skills and , being unemployed; you have loads of time to waste, anyway!!?? Sometimes they will buy you lunch and then tell you that you just don't fit in after dessert!. ( XXII ) Personnel Managers who make sure you have 15 years experience in the discipline they supposedly need--Then when you get the job; the manager has you doing installations and cleaning the bathroom!!

Falconeer
Falconeer

I was in doing a non-related IT job in South America (flying). When I returned I just couldn't remember the darn old login (read ID) I had used. ergo, 2006. Musta' been the altitude :) Anyways' flying is about as profitable as IT and the similarities are 'YOU CAN CRASH'?!! But, unlike IT, it was a lot of fun while it lasted. BOL

Freebird54
Freebird54

but TR lost my registration along the way somewhere, and I didn't then come back 'til recently... :) It's not like anything changed! (apart from everything)

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

That's one of the earliest ones that I've seen recently, aside from the handful of people who have worked at TR since the beginning.

jdclyde
jdclyde

hey there, how you holding up? do I have to go find someone named heather so we can play with the leather? :0

CuteElf
CuteElf

It rhymes with Leather! and Heather! CuteElf