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Real Value of IT Work?

By Packratt ·
Recently I've been pondering a lot about the real true value of what I do for a living, that being IT of course. When I say real value, I mean, what can I point out to my children and say "look, dad did this and it helps people and is worthwhile because ______."

I'm asking myself (and all of you) this not just because I think IT is being killed in the US as a potential career path, not just because business views treats us as a cost center and annoyance instead of an asset... But because I always wanted to help people and make a difference in this world, not contribute to it's problems and I wonder now if a career in IT doesn't do more harm than good in the big picture.

Seriously, I wonder... what have I done in this career other than increase efficiency and thus help line the pockets of already very wealthy people with even more wealth by allowing them to do the same things with fewer workers and thus put other people out of work who needed that money more?

As you can tell, I'm looking for more substantive answers other than "I saved my company x dollars" or "I helped a user figure this out." or "I got our network to run more efficiently." I'm looking for something of real value, something you could point out to anyone and explain in real tangible terms how your job made a real difference.

Is IT truely just a cost center, not just in the eyes of business, but also in terms of social worth? What real true value to the world do you think you have as an IT worker that makes it worthy of holding on to or sacrificing so much of your life for?

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RE: another perspective

by GentleRF In reply to another perspective

A bit wordy but makes sense. Another way would be that when a company insists on viewing people as numbers and not names, time to pull the plug.

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From Vonnegut to Steven Johnson...

by ives In reply to another perspective

Excellent statement 'packratt', and excellent response 'apotheon'.

"Do people exist to serve the social construct called capitalism or does that construct exist to serve the needs of the people?"

This is the very same question for many of the present religions, societies or institutions that transcend more than one generation. Are more children born to serve the institution for its own self-propagation, or does the institution survive because it nourishes multiple generations of an individual?

There is actually a new field of study that is focused on the term 'emergence'. In fact, you might both be interested in two books that deal with these very issues (I highly recommend them, but also realize the slim chances them actually being read):

Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software (Steven Johnson).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684868768/

Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465036805/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/102-7428557-7167352

I certainly agree with apotheon as to how and why things are they way they are (market driven = profit driven) and also believe this drive on a company level leads to disconcerting trends on a macro level.

"Do the least harm", "Technology itself is neutral. Implementation determines its worth."

Two issues often cited for evidence of harm are quality of life for the average IT worker and the fear of being so efficient that you put other people out of work (come to think of it, I believe Kurt Vonnegut wrote of the latter in "Player Piano", 1952). We can dismiss some of the fear of putting people out of work because this is a function of evolution and competition, contracting and consulting have emerged as a business model to address this which I believe is becoming more popular for many fields.

As for the quality of life, I think the issue is more with how the IT field has evolved as a profession and perhaps regressed in many ways compared to other professions. Perhaps this is largely due to the high concentration of younger professionals in the IT field who have less experience and may not yet have families of their own, who have been willing to make sacrifices that most professionals in other fields simply wouldn't. IT mostly pays well, but there are certainly costs in always being on-call or spending personal time to keep pace with the ever-changing field of IT.

Simply put, high pay vs. quality of life behind a desk. I think people really need to stand up for themselves and expect more from their employers. Hard times with a surplus of workers (in the U.S. and a couple routers away in India) always makes this difficult.

The costs of being an IT professional would often detract from most peoples' notion of 'quality of life'. This too is an issue on a macro scale within the US economy however. Workers in many fields in the US receive less vacation time than any other industrialized nation and work perhaps more than many (except for Japan and off-shore workers perhaps). This is often addressed in the policies of many European governments to ensure higher quality of life (France, Spain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands for example).

I believe our lawmakers could certainly do more to encourage responsible use of labor, but keep in mind this is a relatively new field. The early stages of the industrial revolution looked much the same. As workers were overworked laws and the construct of contractors or labor unions formed to help strike a balance.

So, does IT really help anyone?

Think about the contributions to society that IT has enabled. The net at large has created an excellent global community for sharing ideas, uninhibited by politics (although China has a long way to go with their censorship of the net). Better communication can also often help people overcome prejudices. The information era has also brought about a field where men and women are both paid and respected equally (for the most part, and certainly more so than almost any other field).

IT has and always will be a phenomenal enabler for almost any field, just as plumbing and water was an essential prerequisite to any of the first major 'cities'. As with any technology there are always the inventors, implementers and the maintenance crew of those systems. There can be great personal and social reward in the first two, but often little in the latter. Perhaps you seek one of the first two, but in a way that has a direct impact on people?

It all comes back to how it is shaped as an evolutionary force, one with an ongoing positive effect or a lasting detrimental drain on society. IT will continue to improve communication and enable unforeseeable advances for the human race.

Identifying the issues is always the easy part, I am curious if anyone has suggestions for solutions? I personally would like to see reforms in policies that protect people from the discrepancy between a 40-hour salary and a 60+ hour work-week (frequently weekends and holidays too). If people choose to work above and beyond, they should be paid accordingly.

Perhaps an IT union is overdue?
Excellent statement 'packratt', and excellent response 'apotheon'.

"Do people exist to serve the social construct called capitalism or does that construct exist to serve the needs of the people?"

This is the very same question for many of the present religions, societies or institutions that transcend more than one generation. Are more children born to serve the institution for its own self-propagation, or does the institution survive because it nourishes multiple generations of an individual?

There is actually a new field of study that is focused on the term 'emergence'. In fact, you might both be interested in two books that deal with these very issues (I highly recommend them, but also realize the slim chances them actually being read):

Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software (Steven Johnson).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684868768/

Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465036805/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/102-7428557-7167352

I certainly agree with apotheon as to how and why things are they way they are (market driven = profit driven) and also believe this drive on a company level leads to disconcerting trends on a macro level.

"Do the least harm", "Technology itself is neutral. Implementation determines its worth."

Two issues often cited for evidence of harm are quality of life for the average IT worker and the fear of being so efficient that you put other people out of work (come to think of it, I believe Kurt Vonnegut wrote of the latter in "Player Piano", 1952). We can dismiss some of the fear of putting people out of work because this is a function of evolution and competition, contracting and consulting have emerged as a business model to address this which I believe is becoming more popular for many fields.

As for the quality of life, I think the issue is more with how the IT field has evolved as a profession and perhaps regressed in many ways compared to other professions. Perhaps this is largely due to the high concentration of younger professionals in the IT field who have less experience and may not yet have families of their own, who have been willing to make sacrifices that most professionals in other fields simply wouldn't. IT mostly pays well, but there are certainly costs in always being on-call or spending personal time to keep pace with the ever-changing field of IT.

Simply put, high pay vs. quality of life behind a desk. I think people really need to stand up for themselves and expect more from their employers. Hard times with a surplus of workers (in the U.S. and a couple routers away in India) always makes this difficult.

The costs of being an IT professional would often detract from most peoples' notion of 'quality of life'. This too is an issue on a macro scale within the US economy however. Workers in many fields in the US receive less vacation time than any other industrialized nation and work perhaps more than many (except for Japan and off-shore workers perhaps). This is often addressed in the policies of many European governments to ensure higher quality of life (France, Spain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands for example).

I believe our lawmakers could certainly do more to encourage responsible use of labor, but keep in mind this is a relatively new field. The early stages of the industrial revolution looked much the same. As workers were overworked laws and the construct of contractors or labor unions formed to help strike a balance.

So, does IT really help anyone?

Think about the contributions to society that IT has enabled. The net at large has created an excellent global community for sharing ideas, uninhibited by politics (although China has a long way to go with their censorship of the net). Better communication can also often help people overcome prejudices. The information era has also brought about a field where men and women are both paid and respected equally (for the most part, and certainly more so than almost any other field).

IT has and always will be a phenomenal enabler for almost any field, just as plumbing and water was an essential prerequisite to any of the first major 'cities'. As with any technology there are always the inventors, implementers and the maintenance crew of those systems. There can be great personal and social reward in the first two, but often little in the latter. Perhaps you seek one of the first two, but in a way that has a direct impact on people?

It all comes back to how it is shaped as an evolutionary force, one with an ongoing positive effect or a lasting detrimental drain on society. IT will continue to improve communication and enable unforeseeable advances for the human race.

Identifying the issues is always the easy part, I am curious if anyone has suggestions for solutions? I personally would like to see reforms in policies that protect people from the discrepancy between a 40-hour salary and a 60+ hour work-week (frequently weekends and holidays too). If people choose to work above and beyond, they should be paid accordingly.

Perhaps an IT union is overdue?
Excellent statement 'packratt', and excellent response 'apotheon'.

"Do people exist to serve the social construct called capitalism or does that construct exist to serve the needs of the people?"

This is the very same question for many of the present religions, societies or institutions that transcend more than one generation. Are more children born to serve the institution for its own self-propagation, or does the institution survive because it nourishes multiple generations of an individual?

There is actually a new field of study that is focused on the term 'emergence'. In fact, you might both be interested in two books that deal with these very issues (I highly recommend them, but also realize the slim chances them actually being read):

Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software (Steven Johnson).
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684868768/

Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465036805/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/102-7428557-7167352

I certainly agree with apotheon as to how and why things are they way they are (market driven = profit driven) and also believe this drive on a company level leads to disconcerting trends on a macro level.

"Do the least harm", "Technology itself is neutral. Implementation determines its worth."

Two issues often cited for evidence of harm are quality of life for the average IT worker and the fear of being so efficient that you put other people out of work (come to think of it, I believe Kurt Vonnegut wrote of the latter in "Player Piano", 1952). We can dismiss some of the fear of putting people out of work because this is a function of evolution and competition, contracting and consulting have emerged as a business model to address this which I believe is becoming more popular for many fields.

As for the quality of life, I think the issue is more with how the IT field has evolved as a profession and perhaps regressed in many ways compared to other professions. Perhaps this is largely due to the high concentration of younger professionals in the IT field who have less experience and may not yet have families of their own, who have been willing to make sacrifices that most professionals in other fields simply wouldn't. IT mostly pays well, but there are certainly costs in always being on-call or spending personal time to keep pace with the ever-changing field of IT.

Simply put, high pay vs. quality of life behind a desk. I think people really need to stand up for themselves and expect more from their employers. Hard times with a surplus of workers (in the U.S. and a couple routers away in India) always makes this difficult.

The costs of being an IT professional would often detract from most peoples' notion of 'quality of life'. This too is an issue on a macro scale within the US economy however. Workers in many fields in the US receive less vacation time than any other industrialized nation and work perhaps more than many (except for Japan and off-shore workers perhaps). This is often addressed in the policies of many European governments to ensure higher quality of life (France, Spain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands for example).

I believe our lawmakers could certainly do more to encourage responsible use of labor, but keep in mind this is a relatively new field. The early stages of the industrial revolution looked much the same. As workers were overworked laws and the construct of contractors or labor unions formed to help strike a balance.

So, does IT really help anyone?

Think about the contributions to society that IT has enabled. The net at large has created an excellent global community for sharing ideas, uninhibited by politics (although China has a long way to go with their censorship of the net). Better communication can also often help people overcome prejudices. The information era has also brought about a field where men and women are both paid and respected equally (for the most part, and certainly more so than almost any other field).

IT has and always will be a phenomenal enabler for almost any field, just as plumbing and water was an essential prerequisite to any of the first major 'cities'. As with any technology there are always the inventors, implementers and the maintenance crew of those systems. There can be great personal and social reward in the first two, but often little in the latter. Perhaps you seek one of the first two, but in a way that has a direct impact on people?

It all comes back to how it is shaped as an evolutionary force, one with an ongoing positive effect or a lasting detrimental drain on society. IT will continue to improve communication and enable unforeseeable advances for the human race.

Identifying the issues is always the easy part, I am curious if anyone has suggestions for solutions? I personally would like to see reforms in policies that protect people from the discrepancy between a 40-hour salary and a 60+ hour work-week (frequently weekends and holidays too). If people choose to work above and beyond, they should be paid accordingly.

Perhaps an IT union is overdue?

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Life

by aloz13 In reply to Thank you

I suspect that your question isn't so much about IT, but more about the worth of what and who we are in the world that we play a part in today.

A philosophical question indeed.

Everything we do, every action, thought and deed has an impact. Cause and effect has brought about the world we live in and is clinical and amoral in it's mechanism.

The economy and progress (and lack of it) is the result of our mass dynamic interactions of human endeavour and behaviour.

How individuals behave will be tempered by their own (and group concious) sense of what is 'right' and 'wrong'. That concept changes depending on culture, time, race and even mood...

I suspect you are going through what we all perhaps do at certain times of our lives.

All you can do is form a view, and do what you think is the best at the time. Then you will have no regrets.

If everyone did this, then perhaps some real good would be achieved...

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Another perspective

by cromagnon35 In reply to Thank you

IT is an essential peice of modern society, no company could long survive without access to professional's to keep their computers running which in turn allows the salesmen to sell, engineers to design, accountants to pay their bills and bill for their services, customer support to assist their customers.

While not as 'glamorous' as it was 15 years ago, it is even more an essential part of buisiness than it was then. A majority of support trades have the same problem, such as:

Farmers - How long would society last without food?
Truckers - The primary means of moving goods/food
Construction Workers - Who else would build our buildings?
Garbage men - can you imagine?
SnowPlow drivers - can you see the north being shut down 3-5 months a year due to snow?
Lawyers - Just kidding!

My point is that nearly everyone contributes to society in their small or large way, and it's pretty much human nature to focus attention on the latest/greatest until it get's old and the attention shifts. IT had the attention 7 years ago, now it's moved on.

As for the morality of helping new technologies that decrease the staffing requirements etc, it's part of progress and with the relative newness of the field (think back 25 years ago) industry adjustments should be expected. Unfortunately, that might mean career changes for those left out(it eventually could be me too), but as far as the 'morality' of the profession, that depends in large part on how you conduct yourself. I myself have been a part of the development of technologies and processes to greatly enhance the productivity, management and lessen the staffing requirements world-wide, and to refer to previous posts, I did it because;
a. It was the best way for me to ensure continuous employment to support my family, if I didn't, someone else would and I'd be unemployed.
b. To help the company that pay's me make more money, and thereby increase my options within the company.
c. The personal satisfaction of creating better tools and processes.
d. The knowledge that my work affects hundreds of thousands of users day in and day out and makes the life of their support people that much easier.

In recap - is an IT career a moral occupation? Definately YES.

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RE: Morality

by GentleRF In reply to Thank you

In that vein, I would think many of the Protestant denominations could use the benefits of your skills and not just voluntarily either. My local Episcopal Diocese has offered me a position to assist local parishes to become more efficient through technology.

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Consider other saints than Francis.

by cheaps In reply to Thank you

If you are looking for an absolute answer, I don't think you will succeed. One of the few people who resolved the thorny question you ask was St. Francis. But to do so, he had to withdraw from the world. If you remain in the world, you will have to compromise. So, although I think your question is certainly valid and respectable, I suggest you ponder the fact that there are other saints besides Francis. Even saints could be dirtied by the world of compromise, they just keep going.

Many of the responses add up to the simple recognition that the world, and the world of IT, are complex and defy sorting out. You must be young and still trying to do so. Consider other saints!

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Value in IT

by house In reply to real value

I agree. We are the contributors of what has now become the lifeline of business, communications, and technology in the world. There are no 'careers for life' anymore, and anyone who would point a finger at the computer for their lack of job security, may not see or even accept that fact. The working class has evolved with the direct influence of IT; that is the nature of the beast. You can run or you can bow down to something that is greater than yourself biatch.

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Depends on your line of work

by Lolek In reply to real value

I think the benifits of IT that you are looking for are linked closely to whatever your company's focus is. I'll use myself as an example. I work in a hospital's IT department. I find my job very fulfilling. I can say that the programs I have implemented help cut down on drug mistakes, help a doctor see a patients x-ray from any computer with an internet connection, and give doctor's quicker, eaiser, and safer access to patient information.

I could see how working for a company that manufactures widgets may leave you feeling a little worthless, but when your company is in the business of saving lives, it makes a career in IT very worthwhile.

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I think this is his point

by buschman_007 In reply to Depends on your line of w ...

The poster's original post is a little devisive. I think what he really is getting at is, "If IT's job is to make a business more efficient and if business is destroying mankind, then we IT are making that death more efficient, therefore we are morally bankrupt". Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's what I'm gathering from reading packratt's responces to other people.

Your whole ideal is based around the assumption that Business is detrimental to mankind. That's worth discussing, but sort of out of the scope of this question.

I think Lolek hit it on the head. On a humanitarian scale your global value depends on the company you are making more efficient. What do they stand for.

We all took aptitude tests as children and no one was told they are destined to be a garbage man. But the fact remains that there are still garbage men out there. It's wonderful to have ideals. But Ideals don't put a roof over your head and food on the table. I'm not saying this justifies any means to achieve that end. But trying to achieve moral self actualizion shouldn't be either. There needs to be a mix.

Sometimes you have to push your morals to the side, but you should never lose sight of them. I work for a software company that develops telecom software for the AT&T, Global Crossing, and Verizon's of the world. Is my company helpiung or hurting mankind? I'm sure you could find exampoles to support both. The majors carriers have crushed small businesses which makes them seem evil. But without their infrastructure how would you make that **1 call to save someone grandmother from dying? It's all in how you look at it.

Mike

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value of business

by apotheon In reply to I think this is his point

Business is absolutely not destroying mankind, by any stretch. Business is a cog in the greater machinery of a market economy (or hybrid economy with some market characteristics). It's necessary for the equitable self-regulation of production of wealth. It is both means and motivation for wealth production, without which we'd all be living in gutters if anyone had bothered to build the gutters in the first place.

What's screwing the pooch is interference with natural market forces. By inserting artificial controls, the self-correcting aspect of market forces is thrown out of whack and bad things start to happen, such as unequitable wealth distribution and reduced wealth production. In other words, it's not "business" that's to blame, but such phenomena as corporate law, business subsidies, protectionist policies, governmentally enforced union regulations, and so on. It is, in short, dictatorial influence that destroys the balance of market forces, which would otherwise tend toward a most-efficient means of advancing quality of life across the board.

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