Working in IT is one of the world's most challenging jobs — and not always in a good way. Here are five reasons why working in IT can really suck sometimes.
The reality show America's Toughest Jobs debuts on Monday. Contestants will be logging, oil drilling, building bridges, and bullfighting. All of those jobs are rough and flashy and that stuff makes for good television, but if you want to talk about the toughest jobs in America then I think IT deserves a place on the list.
I often tell people that working in IT is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and TechRepublic is here to make it a little easier for the 10 million IT pros on the planet. There's often not a lot of sympathy for IT as a hard job because IT workers are typically well paid, and it is a desk job, after all. So, I've put together the following list of five things that can make working in IT tortuous at times.
5. You get a lot of fingers pointed at you
When error messages pop up and system outages occur, employees and managers quickly start pointing fingers at IT and the pressure is intense to get things fixed quickly to keep users from losing productivity. That's part of the job and you have to always be prepared for it. In fact, some IT pros even get an adrenaline rush from this type of high-pressure stakes.
The problem is that IT pros hear loud and clear when things aren't working, but they rarely get much appreciation during the other 99% of the time when systems are running smoothly.
4. People assume you're an expert in all things tech
When you're an IT worker, non-techies tend to assume that you know everything about all tech subjects. For example, if you're a help desk technician you get questions about how the company's Web site is built. And if you're a Java developer you can expect to field questions about how to deal with spam and spyware on an employee's machine.
There are obviously tactful ways to handle this, but many IT pros can't help but get a little frustrated by this, or even feeling a little inadequate. Worse, because you're a techie, a lot of your co-workers will come to you for advice on buying PCs, digital cameras, and TVs. Some will even ask you to fix their PC for free or help troubleshoot a problem with their cable modem.
3. You have to continually re-train, on your own dime
I think it's fair to say that no profession on earth is changing faster than the IT field right now and that's not likely to change any time soon. The pace of development and innovation in hardware and software products is staggering. As a result, the knowledge that it takes just to keep your current job is always growing and morphing, and IT pros have to take responsibility for their continuing education or risk having their skills and knowledge become obsolete within a few short years.
This is a constant struggle. The big challenge is that many companies don't officially recognize this problem, and so IT pros have to use free resources like TechRepublic to stay current, or pay for training out of their own pockets. In the past, TechRepublic surveys have shown that over 50% of IT pros pay for their own training.
2. The hours are long and irregular
Lots of jobs in the knowledge economy require long hours, so it's not unique that many IT professionals — from developers to administrators to systems integrators — have to work overtime on a regular basis. However, what does set 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.
In addition, many IT pros have tasks that they need to do when there aren't as many users on the system. That means coming in early to run backup routines or staying late to update an application or patch a server after most of the users have logged off at the end of the day.
1. The job market is tumultuous and in transition
During the late 1990s, people flooded into IT, chasing the promise of $65K/year jobs that were going unfilled because of the lack of qualified candidates. IT professionals who were already in the field could hop jobs and get significant pay raises. IT pros were in demand. But, it didn't last. The dot com implosion and the wrap up of the Y2K fixes meant that a lot of tech jobs disappeared.
Since then, the off-shore outsourcing phenomenon and the H1B visa issue have put further strain on the IT job market in the U.S. and abroad. Many IT professionals run the risk of building their skills, experiences, and their careers, only to have their jobs shipped overseas to save costs. That means IT professionals have to be particularly adept at managing their own careers in order to avoid being unemployed or underemployed.
For the flip side of this argument, tune in next week for "Five things that make it great to work in IT."
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.