I've said it over and over again: A career in IT support is as challenging as it is rewarding. For some, the rewards far exceed the challenges. For others, the challenges overshadow the rewards and fill their lives with an unlimited supply of stress. Either way, there is always a light at the end of that long, dark tunnel— whether the tunnel spans your career, your week, your workday, or this very minute. Here are 10 "lights" to help you through the harder times.
1: The "aha" moment
At some point, those end users are finally going to hear your words and understand exactly what you've been trying to tell them for years. When that happens, they'll no longer install those coupon toolbars, click to open untrusted files, share confidential data, or use the password "password" for everything they need to authenticate against. When you finally reach that milestone, toss your hands in the air and do a victory dance like never before. You've fought the hard battle and you've won.
2: The successful migration
There are some tasks IT workers love and some they dread. Most everyone dreads a server migration. So much could go wrong. On top of that, you're looking at working long, irregular hours where sleep might well be cast aside in lieu of making budgetary and time-constraint goals. However, even a migration, the job eventually comes to an end. When you do finally succeed, the benefits you will reap will be great. You will no longer have to constantly worry about when that server will choke and die. Your company will enjoy a much more robust and reliable hardware/software combination. That is worth every moment spent on the project.
3: The job market
You might be in a terribly stressful situation at the moment. But for every outstanding IT pro, there are jobs available. In this field you do not have to sell yourself short. If you happen to be truly unhappy in your position, you most likely have the skills necessary to travel. Start putting out feelers for another gig. Even if you don't land something right away, the very idea of looking will go a long way toward bolstering your mood and firing up the light at the end of that tunnel.
4: Virtual machines
Thanks to the magic of VMs, the light at the end of the tunnel is never really as far away as you think. One of your virtual servers goes haywire? Spin up the snapshot you took that morning or previous night. Need another server? Clone a VM. If you have the hardware to support it, spin it up. Virtual machine technology has become one of the brightest spots on the IT horizon in years.
There are times when a vacation is the only means of recharging your batteries. Here's the problem: Many IT pros neglect it. Either that or they take work with them (in the form of remoting into servers and such). Take every second of your vacation time and take it with a vengeance. Make sure you do not have dangling duties that call you back. Ensure that your staff can handle everything thrown at them. In other words, don't take work with you to the beach or the mountains... or wherever you opt to go.
6: The end of the day
Sometimes your psyche simply can't make it to vacation. When that happens, you have to spot that righteous hour that serves as a demarcation point between work and, well, not working. We've all had those days when 5 or 6 PM can't come soon enough. You can always help yourself out with this by planning something special at the end of your work day, even if it's just meeting up with friends or your spouse for a drink. I used to have a ritual. At the end of every work day, I would remove my watch. When that happened, I was no longer allowed to so much as think about work. It helped me on many occasions.
You very well may not enjoy working with some of your fellow employees. But there are always one or two people who make the day go by with a bit more joy. When you find yourself in that dark tunnel, you might just need to give yourself a break and visit with those who make you laugh or those have an uncanny ability to prop you up when you're feeling down. There is nothing wrong with leaning on another person every now and then. It could get you through the end of the day. And that's all that matters.
8: The inevitability of tech failures
This may seem like an odd turn on the old "light at the end of the tunnel" idea. However, when you remind yourself that all tech eventually fails, it makes it easier to stomach those failures. It's most likely not your fault. Entropy has a lot to do with failure, especially when moving parts are involved. This might be small comfort, but at least you can hang your hat on that tiny pinprick of light.
9: Migration to web
One of the small victories I've celebrated over the last few years has been the migration away from QuickBooks client-based tools to the web. The web version of QuickBooks holds none of the massive issues the client-based iteration had. As much as some might balk about software-as a-service (SaaS), this is one instance where the SaaS version is far superior. Anyone who has had to manage a QuickBooks client/server relationship knows just how stressful that can be.
When all else fails...retire. Some people just can't stomach the stress and frustration of the IT career. I've heard from a lot of such people, and the only solution for them is to get out before it's too late. There is no shame to be had in this move. Just make sure that if you retire from IT you have something to fall into. Otherwise, you'll just wind up back in the profession that caused you to lose your hair in the first place.
Finding the light
Don't get me wrong. IT can be a rewarding career. After all, you are front and center of helping to make business actually happen. Without you, your company would falter and flounder in the shadows of inefficiency. And sometimes, that knowledge alone is the only light you need.
What gets you through the end of the day or the week? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.