IT Confidential: Working In IT Is A Challenge, More Or Less

Both IT workers and executives want the same thing: a challenging work environment--but not too challenging.
In response to last week's column on the mood swings of IT workers, I received several very thoughtful replies. Most expressed surprise that I would be surprised that IT workers wax and wane over their chosen profession. For instance, one respondent said it has to do with--you'll pardon the expression--the nature of the beast.

"For the most part, you won't find a more tuned-in and wired group of people on the planet," wrote a systems analyst from a health care company. "We analyze everything. Always. So every little bump in the road gets noticed." Bumps in the road, he noted, equate to news stories about big outsourcing contracts, among other things.

Another said it directly parallels the challenges technology presents--or lack thereof. "Many people in this field are in it (to varying degrees, of course) for the variety of problem-solving challenges they are asked to face, and some challenges are more interesting than others," wrote a database administrator from a real estate firm. "So perhaps the problem you were working last month isn't nearly as compelling as the problem you are working today? Happens to me all the time."

The concept of challenging technology constitutes something of a double-edged sword.

"Every month, new challenges are presented and the very fabric of the industry undergoes a change," wrote a systems analyst from a Midwest manufacturer. "If you aren't constantly on the edge of the current skill set, you will be depreciated along with the systems you manage. No other career choice exposes people to such a constantly rising learning curve. Even Sisyphus himself would take pity on us. While doctors are always learning new skills and treatments, the human body has remained stable in its design and operation. Imagine if a whole new line of drugs and specialists were needed every few years as new organs evolved and changed in function. Lawyers may have to deal with changes to laws, but the underpinnings of what is and is not legal do not suddenly shift, requiring all cases to be retried so they fit the new version of the laws. Engineers can plan a large construction project because they know how long each phase should take. If the building materials suddenly changed and required new tools to assemble, as well as training classes for all the construction people, a schedule would be useless until things stabilized again. That is what it's like to work in IT."

But hold the phone--IT workers aren't the only ones with doubts about their vocation. In a study released last week by ExecuNet, an executive placement firm, almost 60% of 140 top technology execs say they're unsatisfied, or only somewhat satisfied, with their jobs. Of those, 37% are CIOs, 22% VPs, and 41% directors of IT.

That's the highest dissatisfaction level of any single group among all 2,149 executives involved in the survey. For the record, the highest satisfaction levels were reported by HR execs and CFOs. So, control over money and resources makes people happy? Go figure.

What are tech execs' biggest complaints? The challenge of trying to do more with less, in terms of technology and resources, and the frustration of not being involved with the most challenging technology.

Too challenging? Or not challenging enough? Seems like IT workers and IT executives have essentially the same complaints. Go figure.

What do CIOs want? Share your opinions at our new blog, CIOs Uncensored. Or send your comments to [email protected] or phone 516-562-5326.

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To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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