Opinion: Are IT Jobs Good Jobs?

While Bill Gates peddles a rosy vision of a bright future for IT grads, employers are cutting payrolls and squeezing more work out of beleaguered staff
Bill Gates was on the road last week visiting college campuses to talk up computer science careers. It must have been been quite the Kodak moment to have the greatest living code warrior drop in on a class to tell stories of how exciting it can be to write great computer programs.

Other news stories, though, painted a different picture. IT employment is up, trumpeted one article -- meaning actually that IT unemployment is down -- and the least unemployed group is . . . database administrators.

There's a fundamental disconnect between the vision of computing Bill Gates is selling ("I can't hire enough computer science grads") and the situation in corporate IT departments. And the crucial fact is this: Software development is a much more limited career than it used to be.

The trend is for companies that used to have staffs of programmers who developed and maintained applications are doing everything they can to get rid of them. Instead, they are requiring that any new applications used in the business be bought off the shelf.

It's all part of what seems to be a sort of consensus decision, particularly among larger corporations, that IT costs too much and the way to fix it is to simply stop spending the money: Lay off half the staff and make the remaining 50 percent do 100 percent of the work. Outsource all the interesting jobs, and give your most loyal, most talented people only the most boring work to do.

(The ultimate result, of course, is the ERP Fallacy. Companies decide to throw out all their line-of-business applications in one fell swoop, everything from accounting to sales support, and bring in an off-the-shelf package instead, a Siebel or SAP. They think they will customize the package to their business, but the result I've seen is that the software is simply too big and too cumbersome. Rather than cut the software to fit the company, the company has no choice but to cut itself to fit the software. This has one happy side-effect -- it eventually makes it easier to merge the company, hit by major productivity declines, into another company because they're running the same ERP package.)

I would venture to guess that the major problem in most IT departments is that morale is lower than a well digger's instep. If you want to be totally depressed, read "Is IT Still Worth It?." "I would never advocate a career in IT for anyone," David Leitl, a systems administrator, is quoted in the article. "If you enjoy working very hard and long hours for less money, I guess it's OK. Personally, I am considering getting my MBA and getting out of IT."

With the creative work of developing applications removed from the IT job equation, what's left? Is IT still interesting, rewarding work? What do you think?

This article first appeared in the Desktop Pipeline Newsletter.

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