Being in IT for my entire career, parents and young college
students frequently ask me whether I think it’s worth it for them to pursue a
career in IT. The last time someone asked me that, I had to really stop and
think about what my answer was. Let’s assume that the person is mentally tough
enough to be in the field, and knows that there is rarely such a thing as a
40-hour workweek. Instead, let’s focus on the issue of whether they will be
able to get a job. Although the IT job market has rebounded nicely from the
recession, there are still a lot of challenges to breaking in to a career in IT.

One of the challenges, especially for recent college grads,
is the decreasing number of entry level IT jobs in major American corporations.
Many large US companies have outsourced help desk, application support, and
programming jobs. And companies that haven’t outsourced these jobs are trying
to fill them with fewer and fewer people. In the past, these entry-level jobs
were where new IT professionals could break in to the industry with a large
company and get that much needed real-world experience. Now that there are less
of these jobs, how does a young college graduate break into the field?

While it might not be the ideal job situation, young
graduates could try and get a job with an IT vendor or IT services company as a
“road warrior.” These jobs deal mostly with traveling to remote
client sites and providing on-site support, upgrades, and maintenance to their
systems. Usually, these jobs consist of network and pc support, but they can
also involve application type support. Depending on the type of company you
work for, you may also get the type of hands-on experience that may lead to
better jobs as a network engineer, security specialist, or application support
leader. The pay is not always great, but it does provide exposure to a broad
range of IT skills.

A second option is to try to land a programming job at an IT
vendor or a company in an industry that works with processing a large amount of
data (i.e., publishing, financial services, insurance). These companies may be
more likely to hire entry level programmers because they have a lot of custom
development needs in areas where the level of complexity may not be as great as
other industries. Pay is usually a little better on the programming side of IT,
and it opens up a lot more doors than the hardware side.

In my opinion, the safest option is go get a second degree,
or at least minor in finance or accounting, in addition to computer science. With
all the Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues around today (and in the foreseeable
future), there is no shortage of compliance related IT jobs. Heavily regulated
industries will continue to have compliance related needs for decades ahead.
While it may be difficult for existing out of work IT pros to put food on the
table and go back to school for a finance degree, young college students are in
the perfect position to add the skill set to their resume in order to better position
themselves down the road.

The strategies listed above show that there are still ways
for entry level IT professionals to land a job. But there’s more to the story. When
you see the off-shoring trend continuing, and you see research from Gartner that predicts that by 2010, the number of IT staff
in the profession will fall by 15 percent, it makes you wonder if there really
will be opportunities out there for our children. However, at a recent
Microsoft annual gathering with university researchers, executives again
bemoaned the lack of computer scientists, both globally and in the United
States. Gates added that it is clear the industry is losing talented girls and
women at many stages of their academic career, and that there probably is no
single solution. “I don’t know the magic answer,” Gates said.

p>I’m not sure I agree that there
even is a shortage. Just look in your local want adds
and compare the number of job openings to what there used to be not too long
ago.I find it laughable that Bill Gates recently mentioned that
he couldn’t understand why more college students are not enrolling in computer
science programs. With off-shoring trends, the growing number of
unemployed experienced IT professionals, long hours, 24/7 support requirements,
stagnant wages, and a continuing attitude by management towards IT as just a
cost center, it’s no wonder college students choose other professions over a
life in IT.

Part of the problem, say both
academics and Microsoft executives, is that the technology field just hasn’t
done a good job of positioning itself as hip and exciting. There needs to be
more of a sense of romance and magic, says Kevin Schofield, general manager of
Microsoft Research communications and strategy.

What? I don’t think that’s what’s
going through the heads of potential computer science students who are choosing
other fields, or the legions of current IT professionals who are leaving IT to
pursue a career in a field that allows them the ability to lead a more balanced
life. Look at finance. I still don’t think anyone has made accounting or being
a CFO sexy, but that hasn’t stopped students from getting those finance
degrees. Why?  Because it is still
relatively easy to land a good paying finance related job.

So what was the answer to the question of whether a career
in IT is worth it?  I replied, “I don’t
know. Whatever you choose, I wish you luck..”  What would you have said?