Jason Hiner: Working in IT is one of the world's most challenging jobs -- and not always in a good way. To build and sustain a thriving IT organization, leaders need to understand the problems of the profession so that they can take steps to keep morale -- and employee retention -- as high as possible.
I'm Jason Hiner, and today on Sanity Savers for IT executives, I'll discuss five of the worst things about working in the IT field and suggest ways that IT leaders can help to overcome them so that your IT department can work to its full potential.
Number 5: A lot fingers get pointed in your direction
When error messages pop up and system outages occur, employees and managers quickly start pointing fingers at IT. The pressure to get things fixed quickly -- and to avoid costly downtime -- can be intense.
Not all IT pros mind working under that pressure, but it's still demoralizing to hear from users and management only when something isn't working.
As an IT leader, you can support your team's efforts by regularly acknowledging their successes and reminding the rest of the organization that 99 percent of the time, IT keeps the systems running smoothly.
Number 4: People assume IT pros are experts in all things tech
Non-techies tend to assume that your IT staff knows everything about all tech subjects. For example, your help desk technician may get questions about how the company s Web site is built. And your Java developer might have to field questions about how to deal with spam and spyware. Worst of all, co-workers may plague your team for advice on buying PCs and digital cameras, or ask them to troubleshoot a problem with their cable modem at home.
IT pros can't help but get a little frustrated by this -- and you've probably run into it yourself. Make sure your staff knows some tactful ways to deflect these questions and requests. You may also want to run a little interference for them in the form of a policy restricting requests for non-work-related tech support.
Number 3: IT pros have to continually re-train
I think it's fair to say that no profession on earth is changing faster than the IT field right now. The pace of development and innovation in hardware and software products is staggering. As a result, IT pros have to take responsibility for their continuing education or risk having their skills and knowledge become obsolete within a few short years.
The big challenge is that many companies don't officially recognize this problem, so IT pros have to use free resources or pay for training out of their own pockets. In the past, TechRepublic surveys have shown that more than 50 percent of IT pros pay for their own training.
If there's no room in your budget for training, make it a priority to find ways to get staff members the education they need to stay current. Whether that means pointing to them to free or affordable resources, finding them a mentor, greenlighting space for a test lab, or tweaking their schedule so they can attend a free a low-cost seminar, you'll wind up with more loyal employees who can make greater contributions to your organization.
Number two: The hours are long and irregular
Lots of jobs in the knowledge economy require long hours, and working overtime on a regular basis is not unique to IT. What sets IT apart is the scattered irregularity of those hours. Most IT workers are always on call, or are at least part of an on-call rotation in case critical systems go down during off-hours.
And since a lot of projects need to occur when there aren't many users on the system, the IT staff has to come in early to run backup routines or stay late to update an application or patch a server.
This is the nature of the profession, and you don't have much control over that. What you CAN do, though, is make sure someone stays on top of scheduling so that the burden is spread out among the staff members. The potential for burnout and bad feelings is fairly high, so this is an area that requires management attention, flexibility -- and a healthy measure of regularly expressed gratitude.
Number 1: The IT job market is tumultuous
During the late 1990s, people flooded into IT, chasing the promise of lucrative jobs that were going unfilled because of the lack of qualified candidates. IT pros were in high demand -- but the demand didn't last. The dot com implosion and the wrap-up of the Y2K fixes signaled the end of many tech jobs.
Since then, off-shore outsourcing trends and the H1B visa issue have put further strain on the IT job market in the United States and abroad. Today, IT pros have to be particularly adept at managing their own careers to stay afloat -- and IT leaders must be equally adept at assessing the needs of the organization so they can hire the RIGHT talent to support its tech initiatives.
It can also be valuable to create a strong retraining program so that if your department changes platforms, for example, you can retrain talented employees whose specialized skills are no longer a match for the company's new platform.
I often tell people that working in IT is one of the toughest jobs in the world. There's not a lot of sympathy for IT pros because they're typically well paid, and it is a desk job, after all. But the smart IT leader knows better. It's essential to understand and minimize the challenges facing today's IT workers in order to build a great team.
I'm Jason Hiner and this has been an episode of Sanity Savers for IT Executives. For more, go to sanity.techrepublic.com. And if you have feedback or your own sanity savings tips, e-mail them to us at email@example.com. If we use one of your tips on the show, we'll send you a TechRepublic coffee mug. Thanks for watching. See you next time.