IT Policies

10 drawbacks to working in IT

People who are trying to break into IT don't always know what they're getting into. This list paints a realistic picture of what may lie ahead.

Like most IT pros I know, I occasionally have friends or family ask me to get them a job in IT. For some reason, a lot of the people who ask me this have a perception that everyone who works in IT is a millionaire or a billionaire. Aside from having an incorrect perception about IT salaries, few people outside IT seem to understand just how tough working in IT really is.

I realize that TechRepublic is frequented by IT pros, so you probably know all too well that there are both advantages and disadvantages to the job. My reason for writing this article is to give you something you can send to your friends the next time that they approach you with unrealistic expectations of working in IT.

1: The hours are long

There are all sorts of IT jobs, but most of them have one thing in common: They involve working long hours. If you want to work in IT, you better be prepared to work nights and weekends.

2: Your personal time will be interrupted

If you handle a critical support role within your organization, you will likely be tied to a cell phone. And that means you could be called upon to deal with an emergency at any given time. When I first started dating my wife, we were watching a movie at about two o'clock in the morning on a Friday night when I got called to deal with a system problem. Thankfully, she was a lot more understanding than some of the other women I had dated. I also once got a call in the middle of Christmas dinner. Working in IT can be almost like being a firefighter or a paramedic, in that you never know when an emergency will occur and you'll have to drop everything you're doing to deal with it.

3: You have to deal with a lot of angry people

One of the worst things about working in IT (especially for helpdesk roles) is that you encounter a lot of angry people. Almost everyone who calls you is upset because they have a problem and they expect you to fix it right now. Often, there is a great deal of hostility behind these calls. Those who are calling are under pressure to get a job done -- and the problem your system caused is preventing them from doing it.

4: Work tends to be deadline driven

Most IT jobs are deadline driven. For example, developers are under constant pressure to deliver code on time. Likewise, network administrators may be called upon to create user accounts or deploy and test new systems by a certain date. Oftentimes, the deadline is completely unreasonable for the amount of work that is involved in the task, but you are expected to meet the deadline anyway.

5: People expect you to fix their home computers

Another thing you are almost certain to run into is that your coworkers will expect you to fix problems with their personal electronics. Don't get me wrong -- I try to help as many people as I can. However, sometimes, you may simply be too busy to help somebody or they may not understand the implications of what they're asking. For example, I once had a user approach me about upgrading his Tandy 1000 (which was manufactured in 1988) so that it could run Windows XP. Oh yeah, and he wanted to keep the budget for the project under $200.

6: People lie to you all the time

When I first started working in IT, I had a pretty good idea what I was getting myself into. One thing that really surprised me, however, was how many people lie to you on a daily basis. I found out quickly that end users constantly lie about the nature of the problems they are having. After all, nobody wants to get in trouble, so end users try to cover up self-inflicted problems.

You can also expect to be lied to by vendors' technical support departments. I have lost count of the number of support technicians over the years who have told me that a problem is not related to their software, but rather to the computer's hardware or to the operating system. And of course I won't even begin to talk about the number of vendors who have lied to me in an effort to make a sale.

7: You have to keep your education current

The IT industry is constantly evolving. IT pros have to learn a tremendous amount of information so they can do their jobs, and that information becomes outdated quickly. The only way to keep your knowledge relevant is to make sure that you keep your education current.

This can be surprisingly difficult to do. Never mind all the complicated technical material you have to learn. The things that most often stand in the way of keeping your education current are the long hours you are already working and the ever-shrinking IT training budgets.

8: Things don't always work the way they're supposed to

Earlier, I mentioned that projects can be deadline driven and that the deadlines tend to be unreasonable. Believe me when I say that there is nothing worse than trying to complete a project by the deadline you have been given only to have things come to a grinding halt as a result of technical problems.

Computer systems are complicated, and sometimes in spite of your best efforts things just do not work the way they're supposed to. Something as simple as an inconsistent chip version on a series of system boards can derail an entire project. Naturally, it's up to you to find the problem and fix it.

9: You may have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy

In the 20 years or so I have worked in IT, there has always been a certain amount of office politics and corporate bureaucracy to deal with. Of course, that is the case with most jobs. However, in the last several years, the bureaucracy has been taken to a whole new level. Corporate scandals such as the Enron incident have led to IT professionals being forced to comply with numerous federal regulations. These regulations almost always make IT projects more difficult, time consuming, and expensive.

10: Your job is to make yourself obsolete

When I first started working as a network administrator, a longtime friend told me something I will never forget. He said that my job was to make myself obsolete. I didn't really understand what he meant at the time, but he was absolutely right. An IT pro's job is to make everything work perfectly. However, if everything did work perfectly, IT pros would not be needed.

Over the years, I have had plenty of people tell me that as long as you work in IT, you never have to worry about being out of work. However, some of the latest generation of management products make it practical for small numbers of people to manage huge numbers of systems. Likewise, a lot of IT positions are going away as systems are being outsourced to the cloud. Even though the IT industry itself probably isn't going away anytime soon, having IT knowledge is by no means a guarantee of employment.

Additional reading

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

33 comments
Darrell.Kirby
Darrell.Kirby

I have seen a variety of people leave the profession due to the hours. I have had a pager(earlier days) or a Cell since I have been in this career. It is par for the course. Some careers are certainly more demanding and IT is one of them. I always tell my students or others looking to get into IT to be realistic. If you want certain types of jobs (Admin, Engineer) than expect to be on call. The bigger the salary, the higher the expectations. There are certainly areas in IT that circumvents this; Programming, Web Design, PM, etc. Sure, you will work long hours but you are rarely On Call. Constantly updating your skills, this goes without saying. Update or become obsolete.

chdchan
chdchan

Doze off the day and wait to work when all others left.

open_source_user_01
open_source_user_01

The word of attrition I remember hearing it and was thinking to myself the context in which it was used was basically throwing you into the lions den. ITIL basically is another (metrics) counter on paper to make management minions look good. I remember the first time hearing about it, then I remember having to apply for my same job position in the same company (to be on the ITIL) team. Just because big companies praise ITIL means nothing, these same big companies will outsource YOUR job to India without batting an eyelash. Service Jobs are now becoming extinct, first it was the manufacturing and by the way manufacturing jobs include 'fast food' jobs. The Government reclassified ALL manufacturing jobs to include 'fast food' joints like Burger King since they are manufacturing a product. The economy is like a castle built on sand, the waves are crashing in and the minions/media and the rest throw more sand at the castle. The US economy is headed for collapse it is inevitable you cannot outsource every job, import 100% of goods from China and expect anything good to come from it. There are tens of thousands of IT people if not hundreds of thousands of them with skill sets far superior to mine. The companies do NOT want Americans to fill these jobs they import people from India with H1B visas and so on. People can listen to the media talking about people rushing out to buy CHINA made trinkets by the drove. No one with any common-sense can say that 15 TRILLION in debt and billions added each day will last forever. Keep your skill sets up to date and don't rearrange chairs on the Titanic. ***NOTE I remember a big India outsourcing company being brought in and they were at the table in a conference room looking out into the room I worked in. They were calculating how much money the company was going to save by gutting all of the jobs. Well it failed miserably, the laws protecting data made this project go down a rat hole along with the millions of dollars they wasted just for it to fail. Imagine if the company would have invested the millions in educating the people already employed and/or new data center gear. Another great example of how corrupt management minions can be when it is your lively hood on the line not theirs. I got another offer with another company and left.

flores.cm
flores.cm

Probably should not have read this article and comments on a Monday morning. All too true and now I am depressed. At least I feel like I am not alone.

msimms
msimms

...for being in an occupation with great demand. In that environment, you can call your shots...quit and move-on, etc. That's how IT contracting was 15 years ago. Heck, I remember one gig where there was a personality or character-trait problem with me, and the agency called me and said "well, that didn't work-out, go to this company tomorrow". That's how easy it was. Recently, I signed another contract, this time I'm essentially paying not one agency fee, but TWO. I had to sign 10 separate legal documents, submit to a drug test, get a background check, and had all of my references checked. Finally, despite going thru the expense of establishing an LLC, they would not let me use it....I had to go "W2" for this contract. Finally, all of this, for just a short-term "stinker"....3 months, high pressure and low pay. The lawyers and agencies have decimated a once prosperous occupation. Other than being a landscape laborer, I don't think there is anything else closer to "slave labor" than the business I am in. Finally, I'm too old to become a nurse.

scrubbysue
scrubbysue

My nursing career and IT work sounds very similar. Dealing with angry ppl. in our case, b/c they're angry they have an unexplained illness, a required procedure they don't want to undergo, rising health care costs, you name it. In addition, expecting to "fix it" is a common every day occurrence. Not to mention OUR requirements for complying with Federal, State and Local regulations, keeping your education current (another requirement btw to keep our licenses) etc. In addition, my new job role is being our lT person for our facility. I am by NO means an expert. But, if I looked at my job every day like this? I would never get out of bed. I am grateful to be doing something I was called to do. As a customer, I am grateful for those knowledgeable, patient IT ppl. that have helped walk me through quite a few system issues. Seems like a never-ending problem. I appreciate the honesty but, my dad did IT most of his life and although aggravated he taught me "every thing with a grain of salt" LOL and always reply with "No problem!" yeeeeahhh...right! LOL

SFNative
SFNative

"the problem your system caused" If you're going to be tongue in cheek, you should use quotes or italics or something.

scottlysle
scottlysle

Per item 4, I don't believe I have ever seen a schedule that was based upon the length of time actually required to do the work; they are generally driven by some external event that has no basis in reality (the old, "We have to go to a trade show next month so we want it working by then" sort of scenario). Then there is always the assumption too that one can meet some ridiculous schedule by pouring more people into the job; that old saying, "too many cooks spoils the broth" generally holds true. There is another thing that might be added to the list; it is the notion that if one is a master of one form of technology that they are a master of all. I would imagine that we have all been tasked with fixing things that are not within our specific areas of expertise (and it would be quite difficult to become an expert at everything - hardware, software, network, different programming languages, different operating systems, and so forth). I thought the point on being lied too is quite valid as well; vendors lying to non-technical management types has probably cost many of us dearly. When working on ridiculous schedules (item 4), the notion often arises that we can buy our way of trouble by obtaining some golden bullet, third party solution to simplify the work. Every vendor of such a product generally offers up affirmations that their product will integrate seamlessly with everything and will require no additional work to make the integration happen - I've yet to see that happen - often I have seen that the integration of a third party product takes longer and may well be more of a headache than creating a custom solution to solve a particular problem.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Granted, when a customer scapegoats you because the company put out a POS software package that they want the IT department to install outright, there is a problem... end users seem to think IT departments are useless, which is one fundamental reason why big problems occur... they try to end run and do things solely at the behest of a convincing marketer... Just wait until "cloud computing" gets bought, hook like and sinker...

rolondro
rolondro

You also have to remember that IT is likely the highest Capex and Opex the company has and therefore under constant financial and operational scrutiny - likely by the CFO and COO. This means a lot of tough critical discussions often supplanted with ignorance and arm chair IT experts chiming in about the latest craze to cut cost i.e. cloud, outsourcing etc. This usually leads to significant knee-jerking and then panic by IT line managers and ultimately fear of failure to implement or change anything. This of course flies in the face the urgent requirement to set up a site ???next month??? whereby there is no time for due diligence. As for ITIL, I am a strong believer in the framework as I have seen it work well ??? just look at IBM, Intel, Cisco, HP, GE - they all use it. The problem is once again, the executive level only hears the cost savings aspect without understanding the true cost and time of implementation or the ROI based on better service delivery and all that means. A strong CIO who reports directly to the CEO is very important in managing this all too common problem.

msimms
msimms

where if one gig didn't work-out, the agency would just send me to another client site...almost the next day. NOW LOOK AT THE PROCESS OF GETTING EVEN A CONTRACT !!! :(From dice.com) Interview process: a. Phone interview to start b. In person interview with subset of our team and our IT consultant c. Small test project to judge skill set d. Broader interview with other members of our team for team fit purposes e. Background checks, educational verification and reference checking are required THIS IS NOT A FULL TIME JOB WITH BENEFITS. THAT PROCESS IS EVEN TOUGHER.

ManoaHI
ManoaHI

A number of business units will "sell" their idea of a project by saying that they could cut headcount and get rid of some people. Most people don't see that the business wants to cut headcount they think it is an IT initiative to eliminate their jobs. No popularity contest there and on top of that, they become really uncooperative, duh. You have to find the people who are not going to leave.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

No one has ever asked me to fix their home computer. Why? Because my world is/was not PC centric. 15 years later my wife still has not forgiven me for taking a support call just moments before the wedding began; not ours, her youngest son. She also has not forgiven me for a late Valentine's Day dinner because one of the systems was not working and it was my responsibilty to either fix it, or replace it with another then configure the new one. I can still remember being asked to cancel vacation plans, or work on a holiday, or at night, or on weekends. It was never my job to make myself obsolete; it was my job to make certain the end users and clients were supported and happy.

rduncan
rduncan

When it comes to things technical some people have a natural ability and are suited to IT some people have no business in IT yet they will fill some kind of quasi role within the department. The 'Technical' work load or hard graft is not equally spread. Basically you don't get the recognition for doing jobs that take- more preparation, more technical ability, and more specific skill sets. i.e. your paypack is the same as other colleagues but your skill set and workload are worlds apart. Natural ability shouldn't be taken for granted. Great Post!

Quackula
Quackula

#11. Your job gets outsourced. #12. Your job gets outsourced again. #13. Your job gets outsourced yet again

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

...#6 gets even better when IT members start lying to one another.

Marcus55901
Marcus55901

Anyone here young enough to remember college? In college they fill your head with visions of software as an exciting career - you'll develop fascinating new algorithms, solve important problems, invent new uses for computers that change the face of society. Then you get a job and reality sets in. Corporate IT wants you to spend the next 30 or 40 years getting data into a database through some forms, and out of the database through some other forms. And you'll spend half of that time filling out forms asking for permission or absolution.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I agree in lot of this items. I'm contacted every single weekend and during vacations for remote fixes, lot of people in the office ask me to help them with home devices (not only pcs but almost everything you connect to the wall). The good side is I have appreciation from about every single one in the office and all who left the office always keep in touch to ask me for service in the future.

Englebert
Englebert

An IT person is considered the pariah of the corporation. Whereas other business departments intermingle with each other, when it comes to the IT department, a wall of tension and mistrust is built. IT is always glanced upon as ' those guys' by customers who couldn't care a cahoot about how late they work at night keeping their systems up and running. The entire nature of IT does not jive with corporate society, where the razor sharp skills of an IT person fails to mesh with groups dealing with ambiguity, inconsistencies and inefficiencies.

VirtualPro
VirtualPro

I've been in the business for over 30 years and you hit the nail on the head with each point. The business has changed and while its been good to me - I would not recommend it for anybody looking to start a career. If you are willing to work through all of the pains you mentioned it may not be enough - add Job Security to the list. You can find yourself on the street because there is no longer a loyalty to the employee; a change in technology, project getting killed or very big in IT is outsourcing and off-shoring! I've seen a lot of people put their life into this - all to disappear in a flash.

stewart
stewart

1. Don't expect people to say "Thank You". No matter how brilliant you think you were in fixing the problem or how much time you spent, they wouldn't understand (or care). 2. Expect to be noticed only when something goes wrong! Like a plumber, no one notices until the toilet backs up. Then it is an emergency. 3. Whatever schedule you set for yourself on any given day, expect someone else's agenda to supercede yours.

open_source_user_01
open_source_user_01

ITIL is just another way Management can create jobs for their little crony kiss up friends. In the real world things break, do you really need a 1 hour long thesis or listening to some dumb arse talk about 'in theory'. When you start hearing people say 'in theory' they are IDIOTS, and the famous phrase 'tell me what you need to know'. Someone full of themselves will take you down the toilet with them, because they have absolutely nothing to back up what they are saying other than leeching off others. ITIL should recruit all of the 'resident experts' because it would be the epic fail of a lifetime and END the stupid exercise in futile efforts.

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

Back in the day when a system was down or on the verge of failure the IT guy could simply fix it. Then some geniuses invented ITIL. Now you need a plan, plus a back out plan, and it needs to be approved and approved again through each level of management. God forbid if you didn't cross a t or dot an i it gets sent back to you all while the system is down or about to go down the toilet. FYI I'm ITIL v3 certified and it is a total crock of $hit. IT worked fine before ITIL came along. It's just a useless money sucking cert.

itlaunchpad
itlaunchpad

Here's another one I've run into over the years: the best case scenario is that everything works as expected. There's really no way to achieve more than 100%! In some professions, like sales, you can do more that what's expected of you and really "wow" whoever is in charge. The only exception I can think of for IT is perhaps improving performance without using up additional budget, but that's rare since almost every project is over budget.

waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

Many of the above negatives could be mitigated by setting expectations: 1. I work 40 hours per week. If I work more than 40 hours then I am compensated by time off next week or overtime pay or bonus at the end ofthe year. 4. Unreasonable deadlines are countered by detailed project plans. Which of the requirements do you want delayed? None. OK, I need to contract additional people for this project. 5. If I fix your PC, I will charge you $50 per hour. Oh! Glad you decided to buy a new PC. 7. Part of my 40 hours per week is spent keeping myself current. 8. Project Management 101 says that there is always contingency in budget and schedule. 9. This new government regulation will cost our company $100,000 and 50 person days of effort. Employers will grumble initially but in the end you will be considered brilliant. Our IT guy always delivers on time and on budget and always knows the latest technology. Maybe we should promote him to manage all the projects around here? If all IT people did this, there could be no adverse consequences. If we fire this IT person, the next one will the same.

tbmay
tbmay

....are established standards. Nobody gets to be a nurse without education and certification. Anybody can call themselves an I.T. pro, regardless of how good they are or what they know. Am I advocating for a change? No. But this is an apples to oranges comparison. I have family members with 2 year degrees in something health related making substantially more than many with masters in CS....or....or for that matter....many other things.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

ITIL, as with all paradigms, is a useful scaffolding. But it's not a blind panacea. As you alluded to, the devil is in the details, and the executive level is blinded by short-term cost-control only. Even when engineers and others cite cautions, they can be overruled. And I will never use another HP product ever again. Whatever else they're doing, quality has been plummeting over the last 6+ years... not just for product quality, which is absent, but customer service (which is the department companies loathe because they blindly treat it as having no value as well...)

msimms
msimms

My big mistakes as an IT contractor: (1) not charging more for my services....you gotta make hay while the sun shines (2) underestimating the power of the agencies and the negative impact on my income As a result, I'm in the twilight of my career and not well-off at all. Unless you are with Oracle, Google, IBM, HP, CSC....either as an employee or contractor...FORGET IT....You will definitely find yourself struggling....low pay and high pressure. Trust me on this.

tbmay
tbmay

....including the ones I have. I'm no better or worse for them....it's only to answer the "Are you certified?" question. But, what the heck. Inefficiency abounds in the world of 2011....why should anybody be shock when an organization creates a self serving certification. Government operations create goals that have nothing to do with their purpose for the sole reason of not meeting those goals to ask for more money and power. None of this makes good sense....unless you're the one benefiting.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

All nice ideas but they generally fly in the face of reality.

tbmay
tbmay

...if frogs had wings..... As long as there's a supply of people who have mouths to feed and feet to shoe, you can expect the market to exploit that.

rolondro
rolondro

HP almost bankrupted themselves when the bought EDS and they are making the employees finance the whole deal by dropping salaries and increasing workload. HP has a history of pulling up just before they crash and i presume they will do so again.

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