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Are all IT Staff doomed to Information Overload and Burnout?

By crisp ·
So I've been working at the same company for 5 years now, managing the IT infrastructure as the System Admin, Security Admin, Deployment Planner, Research person, Network Person and a whole range of other job roles that I don't care to mention.

I'm 27 years old now. Just over 2 years ago, the company I'm at went through some changes, which included a management buyout, moving away from being a subsidiary of a global multinational,(with hundereds of internation IT staff available for help),to a local owned and operated independent company.

With these changes came a huge change in my responsibilities and requirements for my job role.
Also during the change negotiations many people left fearing job cuts and other problems, my boss, and I were left from the original 4 people.

The new company required a complete revamp of its IT infrastructure, as being the far away blip on a multinationals screen does not lend itself to high IT budgets but rather hand me down hardware from all over the world.

It started with new domain registrations, New Lotus Domino Mail Infrastructure on new Servers, then went to Active Directory Rollout, New Antivirus and Firewalls, new internet service providers and upgraded network devices. Hard to believe, but completed single handed by myself and maintained till this day :-)?

Novell gone :-( M$ in... New SQL based ERP system, which was implemented over a 8 months by consultants which only worked on the ERP package and not the back end servers and SQL, that was left to me. Software Update Service, Trend Officescan, Serverprotect and Scanmail for Domino, Windows XP rollout and migration, Lotus Notes upgrades and setups, Terminal Servers and Test Environments for the ERP, LTO Tape drives and Arcserve Backups, Media Pools and off site tape storage. All the best practices harvested during hours and hours of late nights reading and learning, till the point when one's brain can't take any more.

At first I was happy to do this as it was a "new" company, and I was getting great experience doing this from scratch, plus I could finally install everything the Vulcan way, logically, in a way it made sense and had longevity. So I did it.

We then started with the first VPN remote office in another part of the country, then the second, 3, 4, 5, and soon time for me to fly internationally to set up a sales office overseas. We are 5 IT staff now including the IT manager, a System Analyst for the ERP and 2 support staff and myself.

Today there is VoIP, Spyware and Adware, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, PDA's !!!! Terminal services for the remote offices, URL filters to stop people accessing porn all day, antivirus updates from Trend the totally f*cked my entire network on a Saturday because of poorly tested pattern files... and the list keeps growing and growing. Average users skill sets are slipping further and further away from technology being advertised. Blackberries on TV one night and on my desk the next with the “I heard you can get e-mail on one of these..." Policies and procedures that are out of date before I've completed them, and Sarbanes Oxley and DRP and System Recovery Procedures.

This leads me to one thing, one problem, which I can’t find an answer for in this borderless job field. How we are going to avoid burnout I have now idea, no one can continue like this for too long, but it’s not stopping. Are we all doomed to suffer from this, with our unclear roles increased responsibilities, ever incomplete knowledge? I can't see how one can continue amassing huge amounts of information, just be up to date enough, or secure enough to do your daily job...

New technologies are being developed every day, and it does not take too long to hit the mainstream, there are new security flaws and considerations daily. Open source, closed source, tomato sauce…
So now that the data center has been rebuilt, with raised floors and Pyroshield gas, UPS’s and Rack based servers, which are totaling nearly 24, and hundreds of pc’s and 5 WAN offices with 2 Warehouses. There is so much more I can’t even bring myself to type it.
Just the content on the current home page of techrepublic would keep a decent, motivated admin busy for weeks…Unfortunately, I’ve lost my motivation.
Where are we going to end up? I imagine it is somewhere between firefighters and 'crisps'.

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Outsourcing NOT!

by ZenWarp In reply to Don?t work harder work sm ...

Bad consideration as just in a webcast yesterday called "Eight Competencies of a Successful Business Analyst" it was mentioned that 75% failure rate was due to Outsourcing. And I can confirm that this is the 'dirty' reality of outsourcing as more and more failed outsourcing ventures return to home base. read the news and digest the facts. a key to solving this issue might well be that we must become more 'Agile' in our approaches to IT solutions.

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Details Change, but the problem remains the same!

by DGIM In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

No: you don't have to burn out. It is a question of management, and that has not changed for a hundred years.
My grandfather designed automation machinery in the 20's, using cams and levers. My father did it with electronics and relays in the 40's/50's. I did it with computers in the 70's/80's, and my sons do it with networked databases now. The details of the technology change, but the real problems never change: people.
The job of an IT department is to provide a reliable, cost-effective service to support the users, and to manage projects professionally. Most of the latest toys are not cost-effective and, as you have learned, have high back-office costs which management are unaware of or will not admit. If you are being hounded by your users then you are being scape-goated for other management problems: no different from Finance being blamed for poor sales figures or production being blamed for out-of-date products.
Your management should listen to you, recognise the true costs of these toys, protect you from distractions, and set up procedures to allow you to do your job effectively.
If they will not do so, you have just learned something about your employer's future prospects, and should take steps to protect your own future.
My most recent experience of this comes from Marconi, which changed from being boring but well managed to being exciting, buying up companies across Europe and the USA, and following every fad that came around. It became perhaps the largest (non fraudulent) corporate collapse ever. As usual, those who jumped survived, those who worked hardest were hardest hit.
DGIM

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You Ain't Alone

by msmith In reply to Details Change, but the p ...

I too am a one man IT department. I only have one LAN and two WAN's to manage with about 135 nodes, and VoIP. Big difference is mine is in a hospital and I also am HIPAA Security Officer and Administrative Director of Cardio Pulmonary Services. I subscribe to the 40 hour week idea and come 4:00 PM daily I log out and go home. We can complain but then get labled. Guess we should be happy to have a job. It helps me to deny the administrator's wishes, because "I'm sorry that may take a week or so, due to higher prioirty projects."

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Been suffering this for over 10 years...

by hybrit In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

If it makes you feel any better, I've been fighting this battle for over 10 years! What really bothers me the most is the fact that most technical positions started requiring a bachelor's degree about 6 or 7 years ago (started with the IT boom at the end of the 90's) so I worked on that part time to get that. But in our line of work the worst is that everyone (i.e. companies) want us to be experts in a variety of products - not necessarily technologies per se - but no one wants to provide us with any training?

Whatever you learn in terms of product skills will be obsolete or undesirable in 5 years with the next major product release so you need CONSTANT training to be constantly effective - but again everyone wants it, but no one is willing to pay for it. So as an IT professional, why should I be spending thousands of my dollars and personal man-hours upgrading my skills each year just to maintain an average salary (if you're lucky)?

Seems to me that the employers are giving us all the short end of the stick. As an exanmple, I have been an IT consultant for the last 8 years, companies have charged anywhere from $75 to $150/hr for me to go on site depending on the type of work and the best I ever made in terms of pay was $35-40/hr (equivalent)! So what exactly is the company doing with the left over $35-110/hr! As I see it, they are making crap-loads of money for very little or no investment in me - their human asset - and I think it's border-line robbery.

Personally, any job that requires 24/7 support in the job description, I tell them to get lost or cough up the money - and I eventually learned the art of saying 'no' or 'I don't know and can't do it' without feeling guilty or embarrassed.

Funny thing is, in the last few years, I found that the more I refuse to be taken advantage of (ie. display confidence and stick to you convictions), the less hassle I get. While this doesn't solve the trianing issue, it certainly helps prevent being over worked.

The ultimate thing though is that you have to be willing to walk away from the job, and you'll then be amazed at how it changes your perceptions on work life and how you are percieved at your company...

Best of luck...

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

by johnsbx In reply to Been suffering this for o ...

IT is still not a recognised profession. I think it was the ancient Greeks that defined 5 professions; Army, Church, Law, Accounting and Medicine. Every thing fit under that. Engineering government and police under military, Schools under Church and so on. Professions were set up to define the services that were 'essential for the smooth operation of society. Setup by the Professionals to protect the consumer AND themselves. Try to sue a Lawyer, you sue the association, they stand together. HMOs define all prescribable proceedures. Military has structure out the ears..... Then there is IT. A fly by the seat of your pants kinda deal for the most part. Some small pockets of structure exist but they are often only in the largest and most clandestine situations. IT Started out in the military and was eventually taken over by accounting. Now it looks like the Lawyers and poliiticians are taking over IT. Soon, IT will have to be simplified to the 'dial-tone' level or perhaps expectations will finally start to change. When is soon. Is it when it becomes well known that IT workers start dropping off like Blade Runner 'Cyborges' after a certain amount of time? Sorta like Police and Nurse's do. I doubt it. It wont be until consumer starts to suffer. Perhaps like many of our for-fathers, IT workers will say enough is enough and organize.

Myself, after 20 years in IT, have just spent a year recovering(time off, gave me a chance to certify with Exchange 2003) from from 2 year job of 7x24 support for a company with 120 users, 5 Global offices and one other 9-5'r to help me. $80k/yr they gave me was ok but no over time. The company was growing fast, they new radical change was coming. I was the band-aid to run it on the cheap until they made there big move, brought in a new VP, team and consulting group. I saw it comming, no supprises. But this situation is not unique to me. Many companies I've seen fly by seat of there pants. But now, particularily with adoptation of many more complex directory based applications this are gonna change. For instance, one used to be able to learn the operational components of a Novell or Microsoft NT environment in a matter weeks. Now with AD and other directory services, GPOs, security requirements, VOIP, ERP, CRM, Webs, recovery, combined with increasing regulation it takes years to learn to manage and signifigant IT structure. I predict that if IT is not substantially simplified to the dial tone level in a few years that consumer demand for IT professionals will sky rocket. The question is what will IT Professionals do then.

Also, (not a shill but) I have found comfort in going through MindTools.com. They have a test for burnout. They define it as a state of mind induced into a worker after prolonged exposure to critical situations where the worker feels out of control. Much of their work is focused on Police, Fire and Nurses but find it applicable to IT workers.

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What do you want your life to be like?

by Just an opinion In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

I have been in the IT field since 1998, although in the high tech service field since 1973. I enjoy the variability and the learning curve. This was and continutes to be a conscious choice for me to run this race, as I am able to balance my career with my life needs. You should consider what your lifestyle needs are first, then evaluate if this fits your job/career. The most important decision as we get wiser is "What do we want our life to be like?" Each of us make choices to fit our career into this picture, versus the other way around.

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Overload and Burnout

by beads In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

Absolutely! The market to overhire and overwork is simply part of the normal DP/IS/IT cycle for the past 25+ years that I have been in the industry. Right now IT is struggling to set a new course and to level out.

Much like yourself I have everything you described above: Notes, Trend (same pattern file problem), 2003, International client base, everything but the ERP. I do this by myself supporting nearly 100,000 client base. Then again, its my company to loose so no one is going to complain if I spend 60+ hours a week working on the networks.

Do people burn out of the DP/IS/IT fields? Absolutely! I used to look at the "old guys" who looked so drawn out and technically stuck in there jobs back in the late 70's and 80's and thinking - it'll 'NEVER' happen to me. The field was still so young and ever changing. How could you ever possibly get bored? Well... the simple answer isn't the boredom its the constant challenge of learning every new threat, new technology, new methodology, new people, new products. The list goes on and on. You get this and stagant to lowering wages, more duties and seemingly less time to do it.

Heres what I have consistantly seen over the past many years. A.) Many people leave the field, especially CS grads after 3-5 years. In fact CS grads are likely to change career fields about five times, on average, over thier own career cycles. Only new social workers have a higher turnover for a major career change. B.) Next 'burnout' level comes at around 9-10 years. If you make it past this point your probably going to stay in the field for life. C.) 20 years seems to be the next hurdle as many can't take the pressure any more though few people make to this level there is a significant drop as old skills aren't updated and folks leave the industry. D.) The 25+ crowd. If you've been doing this without burnout or taking a break from the field you have become my personal hero/heroine! Hats off to you for your dedication and persistance as your a better person than I am, by far! Everyone needs to take a break from the field and do something else for a while. Its very refreshing and much more interesting when you come back. Plus, it gives you, depending on what you did for a while, a new perspective on IT. For me I spent a couple of years as a COO (Chief Operations Officer) for a mid-sized company before starting this business. This after 10 years as network Manager, Director of IT and lastly as a CTO. The insight was amazing and IT though still a very tough nut to crack, isn't atleast making me want to crack as well.

For those who have the luxury of a 40 hour work week - kudos to you. I really mean it! I have never been able to solve that problem. Probably the biggest reason is that I am ever so curious that I always want to tinker with things a bit to make them just a bit better. That and most upgrades require me to wait till after normal working hours to take major systems offline. Since I do everything IT myself, the buck pretty much stops with me.

How to avoid the eventual burn-out cycle? Well, its strictly my opinion but based on experience - you can't fully contain it. Heres some things that will help.

First, delegate as much of the really rote tasks to a subordinate. Someone you can mentor, teach and train. I saw more than a few posts above saying that you need to convince management you need assistance. Best argument: You, like anyone else, cannot be in two places at once and expect everything to be done in a timely manner.

Second, automate as much as you can and allow for the emergency situations best you can. If it was forseen, it probably wouldn't be an emergency in the first place, now would it? Lack of prior planning does not constitute an emergency...

Third, training helps a great deal. This industry is so huge that no one, and I mean no one, is an expert on much of anything anymore. We may know lot of stuff but unless you have the luxury of truely specializing and one person shops are not an example of a specialist, your a very knowledgable generalist. Don't feel as though you need to know every last detail about every last product. Feel good. No, feel great about your compentincy of what you do know and work from there. Anyone who expects you to know everything is a down right fool.

One of the greatest mistake I have seen happen in the culture of IT is that too many folks feel the need to cultivate thier own knowledge but not share any of it! Huge pet peeve on my part. Since, we already know that only 'Bullwinkle the Moose' is Mr. Knowitall. Cut the crap! The best way to pass on information is to share information. If your the only person who knows how to run a particular system or fix this box or that. Your only hurting those around you and it forces others to reinvent the wheel later if your not available, run over by a bus, etc. Sharing information is critical. Thats why we call IT, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY! Catchy isn't it? Theres that word again: Infor-ma-tion. Share it freely with those who need it. Its also an amazing way to help build teams and teams can do things that an individual cannot hope to succeed at doing. A good team will be there to pick the individual slack when that person falls down. IT isn't always good at teamwork as much of the work is valued as the individual. Thus a self-fulfilling prophecy: I need to do everything my self so people will respect my IT skills and management will find me more valuable then others when the economy faulters. Its also a good way to burn out.

Fourth. Take that vacation time and use it to your advantage. Nothing sets management into motion when something goes wrong and your 'unavailable'. For that matter. Either don't take your cell phone or don't at the very least don't answer email, phones, PDAs, carrier pigeon flights or messenger guys on bikes while on vacation. If management really cares about your long term viability they should leave you alone while on holiday. If they don't or insist on being able to call you day and night then tell them not to charge you for the vacation time until they leave you alone.

Well, I know people are going to disagree with the posting above and thats fine. I can only say what my experience has been. Yours will of course be very different. No one has the same exact carrer path - especially in IT.

No matter how you play it. You have to manage your time, energy and stress level appropriately and ensure that the right people both above and below you understand what any one person is capable of achieving on any given day. Set those expectations but don't set them so high that they become unattainable. Keep learning, adjusting and training (yourself and others) and you will learn to deal with the stress and strain of working in the IT field.

When it really starts to become more than normal work - take a break from the field and do something else for awhile. If your bright enough to be in the field for any length of time you can probably do just about anything.

Hope that helps!

- beads

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Go to work for a vendor

by broeck.coleman In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

Go to the dark side and work for a vendor. You'll make more money, focus less on technology and more on relationships, meet many more people to expand your network, and you won't deal with middle of the night pages from some remote server.

While sales is no cake walk, salespeople are very happy to work with someone that has your background since you've been in the trenches with this stuff.

I made the move from IT operations to IT sales about eight years ago and I'm very glad I did. Just find a company who's product sells itself, who's #1 in their market, and who people like to work with.

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A problem of perception vs reality

by zaferus In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

I've been pondering this lately as well for the last few years. I've been in IT for almost 13 years and it seems to me to be getting worse for expectations, timelines and intolerance for problems.

My theory is that it's a combination of companies advertising technology as "snap-in", along with an "instant" world. This with large misunderstandings about IT and the complexities that envelop it makes for the reality we tend to operate in today.

Often users know enough about technology to be dangerous, and many management or executive positions have headstrong, willful people who don't always want to listen to logic or reasoning. They just want things to happen.

Things have to be "now", and people want their new technology ideas to just be plugged in ("what do you mean security concerns? Just make it work!"), but we all know who's heads roll when something breaks.

I love this field!

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vacation and limit hours

by Dr Dij In reply to Are all IT Staff doomed t ...

take individual vacation days at least once every 4 months, maybe add onto a weekend.

take your week vacation at least once a year, and be AWAY up in mountains, other country beaches, etc, and be unreachable directly (you call them). You can call in and help someone but only if a crisis, and not more than an hour every couple days.

work hard and smart (you sound for sure like you have enuf to keep you busy) but don't work more than 46-50 hours/week. You'll get burnout for sure if you do. Prioritize, and if they mention lower priority things not getting done, let them know you need add'l help.

You may need to leave some lower priority tasks that someone wants done undone to get this, and you should. if they're lower priority and you don't have enuf to handle it you need helpers.

Our network guy has a PC helper, and comes in later in day and takes half of some days off as he comes in on weekends to do tasks requiring poweroff or installs.

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