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10 IT positions ranked by prestige

People often judge you by your job title -- as unfair as that may be. Alan Norton ranks 10 IT job roles based on the degree of respect they command.

Humans have an innate desire to categorize everything from animals to social status. We do so because it is how our brains simplify and understand a complex world. People may categorize or stereotype you based solely on your job title -- your prestige, or respect if you prefer, is determined by your position.

This class structure within IT is largely unspoken but real nonetheless. I will discuss it here and attempt to rank the following IT functions from most to least prestigious.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Systems analyst

The systems analyst is admired for his or her expertise in the multiple roles needed to build a successful system. They're self-supervised and independent, and managers get out of their way and let them do their job. They are envied for their autonomy, high pay, and challenging work. They earn admiration for their high level of education, knowledge, and accomplishments. This unique combination puts the systems analyst at the top of the list.

2: Programmer

The programmer enters the room and a hush falls across the crowd. One person with awe and reverence showing on his face whispers in a respectful hush, "That's the programmer who wrote the AI code!" Okay, programmers may not receive this amount of aggrandizement, but they are typically held in a special place of esteem.

To the average person, programmers do nothing short of magic. They make the Web come to life with a multitude of useful applications. They create new and strange virtual worlds. They enable computers to do everything from gaming to running essential functions of business. And they do so with mysterious and enigmatic languages known to only those select few who are the keepers of the code.

3: DBA

If you have done any database work at all and are fortunate enough to have a database administrator, you will appreciate the workload that the DBA removes from your plate. A smart developer learns early on that a good, experienced DBA is critical to the successful completion of the project. Part art and part science, DBAs' skills can have a significant impact on the performance of the systems they help develop and support.

4: Project lead

Project leads who get their hands dirty and help with all phases of the project lifecycle are respected for their technical as well as their management skills. The role is not given to newcomers. Only those with years of experience make it to project lead. This alone is enough to earn the high esteem of the other project team members.

5: System admin

Access rights granted by sysadmins are just a hurdle in the completion their peers' tasks. Sadly, the other good work they do goes unnoticed, primarily because even IT professionals have no clue what else they are responsible for. And all it takes is one bad experience trying to get system access for a user to lose any admiration for all system administrators.

6: IT manager

Unlike other professions, where manager would be at the top of the list, IT managers are hurt by the perception that they don't do the "real work." IT managers earn respect for their advancement up the career ladder, but this is offset by their perceived lack of technical skills. It may be unfair ,but managers lack IT cred. In addition, employees believe that their managers may have a general idea of their work but lack a detailed understanding of exactly what they do.

7: Network admin

Mention the words network admin to most, and these are the thoughts that are likely running through their head: "Isn't he the reason I can't see Facebook and Twitter? Sure, I get a blazing fast connection to the Internet, but what good is that if I can't get to Youtube? He's probably reading my email too!" No love there, and the network admin gets no love for the network being up, either -- only grief when it goes down.

8: Reporting specialist

When you get right down to it, the reporting specialist is nothing more than a glorified cleric, pulling data from the system, putting numbers into charts, and spitting out reams of paper in the process. If you have to deliver charts with bad numbers to your manager, you may need to use this time-honored phrase: "Don't shoot me. I'm Just the messenger!"

9: Technician

Never appreciated until a hardware or system emergency occurs, the lowly technician becomes associated with bad circumstances. You know there's trouble if the tech shows up. He or she may be given the moniker "hero for the day," but more often than not, users just want technicians to fix their system and be on their way. The uninformed may compare the technician's skills to the auto mechanic or the Maytag repairman. Usually in crisis mode, the high stress, low pay, and difficult hours typical of the technician do not garner much prestige.

10: Help desk analyst

Help desk analysts are the Rodney Dangerfields of the IT world. The people answering the phone on the help desk get no respect from clients or other IT professionals. They are expected to solve as many problems as possible at tier one but are not paid the wages befitting that level of technical expertise. When the phone rings, there is almost always an unhappy customer on the line. Help desk analysts take unwarranted verbal abuse for circumstances beyond their control and are rarely recognized for their efforts. Their performance is typically measured by the number of calls they take and complete per hour -- not exactly a formula for friendly verbal banter, low stress, and thoughtful problem resolution. Respect? Even Rodney Dangerfield got more respect without the added stress.

The bottom line

Much of what I have written is totally unfair to the IT professional. Unfortunately, I believe it's how many people perceive the IT roles I have listed -- and perceptions can be difficult to overcome. While it is true that stereotypes and perceptions often predetermine prestige, it is equally true that prestige can be earned in the most mundane of jobs as well as lost by those in the most respected of jobs.

Unlike the social classes of Victorian England, where right of birth was the sole determinant of one's class, the working classes of IT are open to all who are talented enough and industrious enough to achieve them. The reporting specialist, or any other IT role for that matter, can be a stepping stone to a better paying position with higher prestige. For example, I turned my reporting position into a developer's role by automating the weekly charts. If you are looking to climb the prestige ladder, you can do the same. You only need to be clever enough and wise enough to recognize and seize the opportunities that present themselves.

I am reminded of the old joke where the body parts get together to decide which is most important and therefore should lead. One of the morals of the story is that all of the body parts are important. If you have a job that is low on the prestige ladder, you should walk proudly with your head held high. You know how hard you work. You know the unique skills required to do your job. You know how important you are to the overall success of the company. Never let anyone, including me, tell you otherwise.

About

Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a wri...

155 comments
rhyous
rhyous

Technical Support Engineers are not all the same. There is an inclination in the industry to look down on Technical Support Engineers. This article didn???t exactly identify the Technical Support Engineer role, but it was unfortunately encompassed in the bottom two positions with the lowest prestige, Technical and Help Desk Analyst. Should a Technical Support Engineer have the lowest prestige of all technical jobs in the industry? If you think so, you might want to reconsider after read this. http://www.rhyous.com/2011/08/05/why-technical-support-engineers-are-not-all-the-same/

cricket4b
cricket4b

So where does the person fit in that has to do most all of the IT stuff? My official title is "Office Manager", but I create new users, add printers, troubleshoot PC's from Win98SE to Win7, manage the VOIP phones, oversee most anything having to do with connectivity. I also am quite proficient with Office to aid users with formatting in Word, formulas in Excel, etc. I do have an outside support team that I can call. But where does this fit into the above hierarchy?

Mandolinface
Mandolinface

Technical writing is a greatly undervalued function. We're often the last hired and first let go. Many department heads understand the cost benefits of professionally written and maintained documentation that keeps everyone on the same page. However, when a budget crunch comes, managers start to think, "Maybe I can get one of the programmers to write the manual." It compounds the problem that, often, people who tire of their own fields (or can't get work) start calling themselves technical writers without going back to school to learn all the minutia of modern technical communications. I believe many companies can derive increased quality and financial benefit from attaching greater value to documentation and by learning what to look for in a technical writer. By the way, I think you meant to say the reporting specialist is a "glorified clerk," not "glorified cleric."

gaurav.jaz
gaurav.jaz

these days testing is a very important part. Quality Analyst shoudl also be included.

jorglct
jorglct

Hey I don t see a Security Network Specialist?

Marko_Shiva_Pavlovic
Marko_Shiva_Pavlovic

CTO and CIO beside and Product Managers but I mostly value programmers I'm programmer too !

thomabry
thomabry

In my humble opinion, There is no more prestige in IT. Most of us lost our Deity status long ago when IT classes were offered as elective courses in High School.

acheron05
acheron05

Think you forgot these elite bad boys (and girls)... They should rank almost at the top especially considering DREs are the continuation of the business in some dire instances! I can't think of any other positions within IT where multiple expertise and heavy cross skilling is critical/essential, other than maybe strategic level management.

janpirate
janpirate

wow .. i think salary most important then rank ;p

rwolbert2002
rwolbert2002

As a Client Services Supervisor (Help Desk Lead) in the International Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, I frequently encountered opposition from Network and System Administrators who thought or at least imagined that I was encroaching on their territory by taking care of client issues that they were "too busy" to handle. In other words, they considered the issues beneath them even though they directly involved server or network related issues. Hats off to those Help Desk Administrators for the help they provide users and the abuse they put up with from below as well as from above.

joeller
joeller

I assume that clerk was meant. However in many senses the report specialist is in fact a cleric; high priest of useful data. The manager wants a prayer to the system to deliver data that determines the position of the company, the department or the project and in many cases justifies its continued funding. The High Priest formulates this desire into the proper prayer format and makes the burnt sacrifice to the system. In response to a proper prayer, the system delivers data formated in a useful form that can be understood by the least tech savvy management person, translated into the financial, or business adminstrative language that they need to deliver their message. In my experience the report specialist needs to have a DBA's understanding of SQL, and the structure of the data; and more than DBA's understanding of the significance of various data elements to the decision makers. They have to have a foot in both worlds, and anyone who has tried to work like that can appreciate how difficult it can be. I have to be a developer, a dba, a manager, and a report specialist in my senior engineer position. It is not easy to switch mindsets every couple of hours to in order to fulfill the current need.

dicklaw
dicklaw

My actual title for many years throughout the development of transisters and digital omputers (from analog types) to Digital control systems for industrial plants was "Senior Support Engineer". This sould seem to entail design and development of braziers and jock straps. as Sr I had my choice. Richard Law (91 years of age).

HBC_IT
HBC_IT

I have not been in the IT profession very long, retired from one job were I was in charge of anywere from 10 to 800 people. Was able to build, fix, and maintain computers so was offered a job at a family owned business. In my opinion if you are looking for "prestige" you are in the wrong profession, IT, regardless of what level, are the "unsong heroes" when things are working and the "villians" when they are not. I have an official title "Network System Engineer" but I call myself the repair man because i am the one that keeps things running or fixes them when they break and I take pride in that but do not look for any "recognition". As far as management oh yes you have to learn how to manage, if you do not know your people and know thier strengths and weaknesses it will cause you grief all day long. It is also good to roll up your sleves and get in the trenches with your staff every now an then, most will respect you for it, however what is even more inportant then that is to LISTEN to your staff. just my two cents

EchoVector
EchoVector

.....debugs funky code when the programmer can't find his mistake(s), gets the servers running again when the sys admin can't work out the problems, sorts out the database issues when the DBA is completely bamboozled, manages to sort out the dodgy plant wiring when the field techs give up over the mass of spaghetti and ancient unmarkd cables, makes the third paty apps play nice with the desktop systems when the support guys give up in disgust, keeps the vendors in line, helps the department manager write policy and specs, designs, implements and maintains the network infrastructure and security and keeps interdepartmental issues from becoming flashpoints and eruptive volcanoes of perpetual conflict? You know. "That guy". As in, "I can't work this out to save me arse......I bet "that guy" can get it to go.......... There aren't a huge number of us, but there are enough that I think we deserve a proper title and a place on the chart. Us sorry bastards upon who's desk the unsolvable problems from every other department ultimately land, and land with a sincere expectation of getting solved. And we do solve them. How about a proper title for us, eh? The rest of you lot out there, you know who you are. Speak up. No shame in asking for a bit of high hand now and again, for what we do. Cheers!

webmaster
webmaster

11. Receptionist 12. Janitor 13. QA What, no love for testers?

warren.weinmeyer
warren.weinmeyer

Though it's often just a title to say someone's earning more $$$ than the others, the real architects, whether Enterprise, Solution or Software, I would say come at the top of the list.

BitHammer
BitHammer

That's the picture brought to mind by the use of the word "cleric" to describe them! I don't usually pick on spelling or word usage, but that image was just too funny!

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

" About Alan Norton Alan has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a writer for TechRepublic. " You are going to have a very short tenure as a writer if you let your 'tude infest your writing.... I have worked with many so-called " special;ists " in companies like the ones you describe... When they try to get back into the job market, they act as if their S**T doesn't stink and that THEY are DOING THE COMPANY A FAVOR by hiring them! It usually takes about six months to break down this pattern...if the company lasts that long because most of the company loses it's morale and good people start to bail out. HR and management ( usually ) won't admit the mistake. and become puzzled as to why the company implodes. Me, when I am working for such a company, I only give ONE warning about the situation...then I polish up the resume and bail out. It took just two similar incidents in my Engineering career to figure this response out. I won't tell you who....those companies are no longer in business. P.S.: mentioning your ME WALL is a symptom of the problem.. Some of the best people I've worked with keep their background low key...and EARN the respect by doing a competent job FIRST.....

lfh003
lfh003

I have read over all the comments and everyone is stuck on their LAN...what about the Internetworking people? Without the CCNA/CCNP, nobody is going anywhere. "I tell ya, I don't get no respect." We'll see how single-minded and open-minded you guys can be after this post. 2

dcolbert
dcolbert

A really GOOD network admin absolutely sits ABOVE the IT Manager, and frequently sits above the System Engineer, potentially on par with analysts, programmers and DBAs. A good network engineer is responsible for the firewall, for appliances that round-robin, load balance and provide high availability, for network monitoring and security. The ability to do stateful packet inspection of all traffic on the LAN is awesome power that even analysts, programmers and DBAs don't want to cross. I mean, when you get down to it, the physical transport layer is where you get to ask, "who owns barter-town" and it is easiest to say, "embargo on". This is where hacks, exploits and malware begin. This is the expertise by which Anonymous launches attacks. I think you've seriously undervalued the informal prestige of working at the network layer. I think the trick is that it is comprised of some of the most complex systems in the enterprise, and a lot of people working at this level aren't very good. I think a lot of this is organizational - it depends on your team. At Intel we had a lead network engineer who was a God among IT workers. His systems walked on water and made everthing more pleasant for the entire tema. Our DBA couldn't write a stored procedure that could select * from escape where table = wet paper bag. The respect level was appropriately adjusted. I've never had a lot of respect for project leads. It seems like the place where people with substandard tech skills hide and instead focus on soft administration and policy issues that require good organizational and people skills but not a lot of tech savvy. I mean, they do their part - and they're generally well connected organizationally - but they're more like leeche, er... pilot-fish, in the IT industry. At least, that has been my experience.

information
information

Since I've been in this field for sometime, 1 through 3 seems be dead on from my experience. I've held several titles in the other categories, and your statements (rank) gave me a chuckle. This is a keeper. Thanks Alan.

nilemat
nilemat

what about Solution Architects ?

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

My experience over 42 years of professional IT work -- in sometimes less than professional environments, dysfunctional, actually -- is that it used to be decades ago is what counted was your technical skills and what you could do. Innovative sophisticated problem solving skills which could "save" an organization might not have been publically acknowledged, but there was an underlying honor and respect. In the last decade, particularly, things have really gone downhill, seriously degraded and gone sideways: Those who have a high degree of technological skills who can do marvelous amazing things are treated with utter contempt by narcissistic sociopathic ethically challenged management and their sychophantic lackies. If you haven't learned to lie successfully by the age of five (as outlined by the study by those fun guys at the University of Toronto), you have no place in the modern IT venue populated with those who are immoral, unethical and illegal: You are doomed. It is just business and you are an object to be manipulated for whatever some dimwitted manager wants it to be according to his or her pathetic agenda. The end justifies the means, don't get caught and don't try to get something for nothing: Get everything for nothing. We have problems here -- shrinking budgets, people demanding higher up the food chain, wanting to know JUST HOW IT IS GOING TO PROVE ITS WORTH! Ah, all these pressures. So little time. So much to do. All those empty promises of glorious projects which keep changing direction as gutless weaklings sit down with customers and Agile Program on the fly without thought of design nor -- as it turns out -- any documentation for the final product. Throw out process and ignore ITIL, because it doesn't fit the vision of being fleet of foot, shuffling the truth at pretigious speeds to produce more glossy but empty applications. I don't suppose that it will all come crashing down one day. The clients and users have gotten used to the mediocre with things that just don't work right, crashing at unexpected times and those updates which have to be withdrawn because everything stops working. Expensive in-house solutions which could be bought off the shelf for pennies on the dollar are ignored in what amounts to management empire building for a comfortable tomorrow based on deception. Respect? Forget it. Some day, business and government (a specialized supposedly non profit business) will wake up and dispense with all these magnificent development and support structures in favor of off-the-shelf products used like utilities like (the telephone used to be) cell phones and i-pods with Google and whatever else. Outsourcing will escalate as it has been. IT jobs in all but third and fourth world countries will disappear in favor of outsourcing to third and fourth world business, with their sweatshops not unlike garment manufacturers. Will children under 8 be answering the phones from remote parts of the world with an accent which is undecipherable? We may have already harbingers of the future. I would say -- and this is just me, understand -- that if you have any respect in IT, enjoy it while you can, but after all that it is said and done it makes you money to support yourself. Anything beyond that wondrous moment is inconsequential in spite of Maslow's pyramid of needs, because respect is quite a distant second in needs to feeding yourself. My advice is to get a life outside work and use serious emotional insulation from your work environment. You'll live longer (and, probably, more happily and 'successfully' whatever that means to you).

dchoman
dchoman

Really? All this is obvious, but also overly stereotypical.

Ole88
Ole88

I have found, just recently at my job, that when the chips are down (and budgets too) that employers look for someone that can fill combination roles. I am due to be tapped for a Programmer/Analyst position. I like the challenge of designing a system, then working on the code for it. When a person can fill multiple roles and also work well with others to leverage the best of abilities on a team, they tend to get noticed when given the chance to showcase - which I have done recently. I can be harder for IT Pros who are in a distributed department, like mine. I am at a satellite location and was overlooked for many years. When the right managers found out what I was capable of, I took the opportunity to shine and showcase my abilities. It really doesn't matter what job you do, it has more to do with knowing what you are capable of, constantly updating your abilities and being truthful when you are asked questions like "can this be done?" That is when you get the admiration and prestige no matter where you work or what your job title is.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

IT Consultant, Software Consultant, Network Consultant and more! The word "consultant" USED to carry a lot of prestige until everyone suddenly became a "consultant". Now it's just a title given to someone when nothing else fits.

james.pezzella
james.pezzella

What about solutions and enterprise architects ?

Rob37n
Rob37n

The very best DBAs have three standard responses to any question they are asked. Yes, yes you can't have that because it will foul up everything for everyone else. No, no you're not having that and asking every week for it isn't going to make it happen as you know for a fact it will mess up everything for everyone else and make the entire database unreadable. Depends, ok you might have a good idea here, lets work on it and come up with a plan that means it will work and allow everyone else to keep on working.

shash_m
shash_m

Btw, I have seen many guys with big and impressive IT titles but lacking in knowledge. And I have seen some geeks doing excellent job being happy with normal title and many times its paychecks that matters.

nctram
nctram

So, does this mean that Testers and the whole QA department dont get respected at all? Not in the top 10? Well, there goes the saying - 'Teachers and Testers have the most thankless job of all'

GuyTom
GuyTom

All the mentioned jobs are important because they are delivering their products to the end clients, the users. But who trains the users to use all this lovely new software/hardware? A Trainer. So often ignored in a rollout or project the first contact and realtime use will be dictated by a Trainer. Next time would all the other most important jobs and professions remember that the Trainer can make or break a project by their enthusiasm, or lack of it, knowledge, support they get and dare I say, the amount they are paid. If you were to buy a fantastic luxury car and have it delivered by a the cheapest method you can, by a driver not supported in knowing when, to whom and how, with no knowledge of the product and it's developments, then you would not be pleased. This so often happens. Remember who first speaks to the real users .......

robertgbryan
robertgbryan

I guess qa is at the bottom of the list... Poor qa testers....

tirvine
tirvine

The system architect? According to the Matrix anyway. I mean look at all that buggy code the programmers came up with - cats crossing your path twice indeed .. rubbish.

JJFitz
JJFitz

I think I would qualify the list as "Prestige within the IT community". Most people outside of IT don't know the difference between a Systems Analyst and a DBA. When non-IT people have a problem with their computer, they generally don't know who to turn to. They just put in a ticket. For the most part, they hold the CIO or the Director of IT in higher esteem because he or she is ultimately responsible for getting it fixed.

adamblevins
adamblevins

Currently I'm an IT Manager, but I worked my way up from Component Level Tech., Help Desk, Network Engineer, Web Designer, Technical Lead, Project Coordinator, Sr. Project Manager to finally... IT Manager. Do I remember Ohms Law, SQL statements, subnetting and Risk Analysis? Yes. Do I miss any of them? No. :) I've run into this lack of respect when entering new teams but find that once your team realizes that you were once in their shoes...and worked your way to many levels beyond...that its all good.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Someone who faithfully reads and transfers numbers from one place to the other without error. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Clerics I prefer your analysis though. It's brilliant and so true! Kudos to you for thinking deeper than the surface. I was a 'glorified cleric' my entire career. In the beginning, circa 1985, I copied numbers to spreadsheets and charts. Later, I did a lot more sophisticated work, including exactly what you mention, to automate both charts and reports. To many though, I was "the keeper of the numbers" - a glorified cleric.

chief.arktk
chief.arktk

As many earlier on have mentioned that honesty is a key to integrity then using a 'stolen' term like architect in your title puts the position in question. They are more like the reclamation 'engineers' that pick up in front of my house every week. TIC ;-)

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

But observation and experience. The one constant in my career has been reporting - at times only reporting. And, yes, those client/server systems all had reporting functionality. Perhaps I am letting my 'bias' show by stating that reporting specialists get little or no prestige. I believe it is usually accurate for those unfortunate few who get stuck in that role. I ended up working a great deal of my career as a systems analyst and programmer because I learned early on where I wanted to be and worked hard to get there. From my experience it is true that those roles garner the most prestige and the most pay.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

You just made my day! I am glad to read that you 'get it' and appreciate the lighter side of the article.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

You have a great attitude. There are people who can put Gear A on Shaft B 40 hours a week and love it. I don't think most IT professionals fit into that category though. They would be bored in the first hour. Changing jobs and roles is challenging and increases your value to an employer. If you can do more than one job you have a bit of immunity when the pink slips fly. Self esteem and prestige will follow.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Hello JJ Fitz. You are right. DBA, systems analyst, manager and project lead are roles only the most knowledgeable user would understand but IT professionals should understand. Users have a pretty good idea who programs their games, answers their call for help, blocks the Internet, fixes their computer and generates their reports.

joeller
joeller

Personally I had never heard cleric used in that sense hence my assumption of a misspelling. However, I am confused by the link you provide as it defines cleric as cler??ic (klrk) n. A member of the clergy. Was that the correct link you intended to provide or am I seeing a different definition due to location. (e.g. US vs UK)

joeller
joeller

;-D As soon as you said cleric I had the image of either a Bishop or a pagan High Priest in all of his vestments transmitting the prayers of his congregation to the Deity, in this case represented by the Database Server.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Under Word History it mentions that the clergy in the Middle Ages were the only class who could read and write and were often employed as scribes, secretaries and notaries. It is this vision of a scribe faithfully and tediously copying one book after another that I am referring to. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_did_monks_copy_books Some images: http://www.google.com/search?um=1&hl=en&complete=0&biw=1023&bih=628&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=monk+cleric+scribe&btnG=Search And this is a classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IgH2M02xek Edit: Change Usages to History, capitalized Middle Ages and added the second link