Working in IT
Working in IT is an extremely broad job description that encompasses multiple subsets and disciplines. Each specific field has its own skills and academic hierarchies. You may well be an experienced Network Administrator but that doesn’t make you equally as knowledgeable with regard to Database Development and vice versa. Saying that you work in IT is pretty much the same as saying that you work in healthcare. You could be working in procurement or be a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. However none of this is of any concern to those who work outside of IT. If you get collared by someone at a social event and tell them you work in IT, it’s only a matter of time before you get asked “I’m thinking of buying a new laptop, which one is best?” or something similar. I always tell them that Purple ones have the most RAM.
I won’t ramble on about how I got into IT as a career, as it’s not particularly interesting. I will say that having an aptitude for technology has helped as well as being in the right place at the right time. I was working for a major UK government department at a time when it was undergoing a major systems upgrade. I volunteered for a new position and was trained by seasoned third party contractors. Although I have some formal qualifications most of my knowledge is from hands on experience. After twenty years I now find myself self-employed, running a niche market consultancy offering superfluous and overpriced solutions for clients with more money than sense. It’s not the best job in the world, nor is it the worse. For me my real passions now lie elsewhere and work is mainly a means to an ends, although I recognise that I have far more favourable working conditions than many. Not many careers allow you to work in your underwear.
Something that I’ve found interesting since I’ve been writing online and podcasting is the amount of friends and colleagues from the Bloggersphere that also work in IT. Perhaps their technical aptitude means that social media and other online activities are not so daunting. My Father who is an old school mechanical engineer considers IT to be this generation’s equivalent field. It’s a skilled profession with many new and evolving disciplines. It also has clear career paths and progressions, making it stable work for those buying a home or raising a family (other money pits are available). However not every job in the IT industry is safe bet. There is a great deal of short term contracts and market rates rise and fall, based on supply and demand.
There is also the perception that IT is a very academic and studious industry to work in. This can be true but a great deal can also be learned simply by “monkey see, monkey do”. And while we’re on the subject of perceptions working with technology still has the whole geek and nerd stereotype associated with it. The funny thing is the vast majority of my IT colleagues are very social creatures who are often far more emotionally literate than many of our peers in other industries. However something that has changed in the last decade and a half is the perceived standing of information technology. Up until 2000 I felt that many considered IT to be a field very much akin to alchemy, because it was alien to so many people. Now because technology is so pervasive in our lives IT literacy is much higher. As result I find that I am no longer regarded as a Wizard but just an overpriced Photocopier repair guy (no disrespect intended ).
IT is still very much a male dominated industry. My own personal experience reflects this as I have only worked with six female colleagues over a twenty year career. Considering that there is no gender imbalance with regard to the use of technology it is sad to see such a disparity within the industry itself. To say that the IT sector is institutionally sexist would be too broad a generalisation. However I have regularly encountered individuals with prejudicial views often at an age group commensurate to my own. There still seems to be an assumption both within IT and from its external customer that when someone arrives from the technical department, regardless of their level it will always be a man; hence phrases such as “call the tech support guy”. From my perspective ignoring the skills and talents of 50% of the workforce is illogical, so I support in principle any endeavour to redress this imbalance within the industry.
Although IT is a multi-faceted industry perhaps the area we are all most familiar with is tech support, because pretty much most businesses have IT infrastructure and services that need maintaining these days. First line support is one of the commonest entry points in to the industry and many IT professionals will have at one point in their career cut their teeth providing customer support or manning a help desk. Like any job that involves dealing with the public, it can be challenging. This is exacerbated in IT by the gulf in knowledge between vendor and client as well as unrealistic user expectations. The person you speak to on the phone does not know the answer to everything. If they did they wouldn’t be answering the phone.
Anyone who’s worked in tech support will have a wealth of amusing anecdotes and horror stories regarding the “users”. Most office staff will have similar vignettes about the IT support department. It is a strange symbiotic relationship. Most of those that have worked in first line support do not look back upon it fondly. It’s a rite of passage that has to be undertaken to reach the next stage of your career. To this day I do everything in my power to minimise my personal interaction with the customer. However it is far harder to escape the technical needs of ones friends and families or that neighbour who has a PC that’s still running Windows ME. If you want to avoid such situations you either need to lie to everyone you meet about your line of work of become an orphan.
I once went to a social event after a long day at work, only to find myself saddled with insufferable dullard who was out for some free advice. His simple enquiry turned out to be a crass attempt at an hour’s free consultancy. After five minutes or so I interrupted his stream of questions and asked what his preferred method of payment was? Before he could answer I pointed out what my hourly rate was and that I had a credit card reader in my bag. The conversation very rapidly turned to his new patio which proved to be as equally dull. However to counter this particular story I would like to offer another. I worked for nearly two years at St. Georges Hospital in South West London. Undertaking the most arbitrary support tasks within the A&E department, such a fixing a printer or a PC on reception were always met with genuine gratitude. I was told by front-line staff that removing such hassles made their life demonstrably less difficult. I got immense satisfaction from this.
So there you have it; a few random thoughts about working in IT. It’s not something I deliberately set out to do, yet all things considered it has served me very well over the years. As a result I’ve worked for some very diverse employers and seen some very interesting aspects of life I may not have done so under other circumstances. Furthermore it has been intellectually challenging and a source of self-improvement, as there’s always something new to learn in this field. As someone who doesn’t care for office politics and social hierarchies too much, IT has also been a means of bypassing a lot of work place drama. The person at the top of a company and the most junior member of staff both rely on technology and I have always endeavoured to treat them equally. IT has afforded me a great deal of freedom outside of standard business rules and etiquette. Plus in what other industry can you walk around with a network cable or a circuit board and people just assume that you’re really busy?