The information technology (IT) job market is experiencing rapid growth, and skilled IT professionals have their pick of employers. Yet some IT professionals say that they would advise their children to avoid a career in IT. IT careers, such as network administration, systems administration, and IT management, feature frequent job stress, long hours, and challenging work environments. Windows IT Pro readers, industry recruiters, employers, and analysts weigh in on the pros and cons of a career in IT.
Although parts of the US economy may be in the doldrums, you can’t say the same about the thriving IT industry. IT spending bottomed out after the Internet bubble popped a few years ago, but lately the technology sector has experienced a remarkable period of expansion- and not just in the United States. Gartner projects that worldwide IT spending will surpass $3 trillion in 2007 and foresees the growth to continue into 2008, when worldwide spending could top $3.3 trillion. You’d expect that the IT job boom would give IT folks a rosier outlook on their profession, but for some IT pros that isn’t the case. Recent news about the decline in computer information systems (CIS) majors at US colleges and mixed news about IT job satisfaction led us to wonder how our readers actually feel about their IT jobs, as well as some causes of and ways to address job dissatisfaction. Let’s take a look at the state of the IT job market and a sampling of opinions from industry pros about the state of IT as a career.
An IDC study sponsored by Microsoft also points to a dramatic increase in IT spending in the near future. IDC projects that this increase will create 100,000 new businesses and more than 7.1 million new jobs by 2012. IDC’s research finds that Microsoft continues to be the most significant company in the IT industry, as Microsoft is directly or indirectly responsible for 14.7 million jobs out of an IT industry total of 35.2 million people in 2007. In a statement announcing the IDC research results, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie said, “IDC’s research quantifies the enormous power of software to create local jobs and grow economies around the world, in both developed and developing markets. Millions of people are employed globally in Microsoft-related activities, generating more than a half-trillion dollars in taxes in 2007 for governments worldwide.”
The boom in IT spending correlates strongly with ongoing demand for IT professionals of all skill levels. According to John Estes , a vice president at IT recruiting firm Robert Half Technology (www.rhi.com), the explosive growth in IT makes the industry a good one for job seekers.
“It really is an employee-driven market right now,” said Estes. “I’d say that nearly everyone that wants a job in IT is working now. If they’re not, they’re either between projects or simply choosing not to work. According to all the CIOs that we survey-and from my own personal experience-demand for all types of network administration is way up there.” Estes pointed to several roles that his company sees significant demand for: Network administrators, network engineers, and network support staff are three of the roles employers request most. Mobility administrators, who specialize in the management of mobile devices such as laptops, Palm Treos, Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerrys, and other mobile assets, have also been increasingly in demand.
When it comes to training and certification, Estes said that the requirements from specific employers vary greatly. “Some clients really place more importance on work experience than certifications, while some clients want the opposite.” Estes mentioned that applicants with Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification are usually in demand, and employers also request Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP) certifications.
Recommend IT to
Because IT is booming and jobs are plentiful in most markets, you might think IT pros would be happy in an industry where their skills and services are in demand. For the most part, you’d be correct in that assumption, but not all IT pros feel positive about their industry.
Earlier this year, Windows IT Pro associate editor Caroline Marwitz blogged about IT career concerns. In her August 2007 post (“Are IT Pros Steering Their Children Away From IT?” InstantDoc 96904), Caroline asked IT pros whether they would recommend their current IT jobs to their children. Several responses highlighted concerns and frustrations with IT careers, citing work schedules, management’s limited understanding of IT roles, and concerns about outsourcing.
Some readers criticized companies’ reliance on IT recruiting firms. ROGJR, a windowsitpro.com forum poster, wrote, “\[Companies should\] do their own recruiting.” ROGJR continued, “That means staff development for existing employees versus throwing them out on the street, and \[companies\] taking on the recruiting job themselves … companies are losing out on good employees because a large percentage of the salaries are siphoned off by the recruiters. The salaries through recruiters are often so embarrassing that it drives off good candidates. Eliminate the recruiter and offer a decent salary, and the candidates will come.”
Bill Hubbard, a forum pro and veteran IT administrator, suggested that the odd and extended hours an IT pro is sometimes required to work could be another source of job frustration. “In pursuing a career in IT, you must be willing to work some odd hours, nights, weekends, holidays, all-nighters when a server is down, being on 24-hour call,” wrote Hubbard. “Not all the time, and not in all positions, but if one makes a career out of IT, they will experience all of these at one time or another.”
IT professionals in Europe face many of the same issues and challenges as their US counterparts. According to one UK-based IT consultant, the current outlook for IT careers in Britain also seems strong, but he still wouldn’t recommend IT as a career for his children.
“At the moment it seems good. There is the usual bleating about skills shortages, but when you look at the unrealistic demands in some job adverts, it really suggests that \[the skills shortages are\] not as bad as painted,” he wrote.
The same consultant also took issue with increasing specialization in some IT job roles, a development that leads him to discourage his children from following in his footsteps in an IT career. “The IT today is so different from the one I entered more than 20 years ago,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it. I had an opportunity to experience many different roles \[over the years\], but these days, it seems that it’s much more difficult to move out of the pigeon hole you’re in.”
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Forum poster rain3d qualified his decision to recommend an IT career to his children, suggesting that working in a company that provides IT services to other companies is preferable to working in an in-house IT environment. “I don’t think that I would recommend a job in IT to my children, unless it is doing what I do,” he says. “It seems that IT staff is generally under-appreciated, as the executives seem to think that anyone can keep the network up and running. What the execs don’t know is that when they try to cut corners, they put their networks and data at risk, and get ripped off in the process…. I can’t always blame the IT staff, as they may have budget limits imposed on them.”
Growing the Next
Although some IT pros have mixed feelings about recommending an IT career, there seems to be agreement about how to improve the situation. Several IT pros pointed to the recruiting process as an area needing improvement- an observation that Dr. John Sullivan, formerly the chief talent officer for Agilent and now a professor of management at San Francisco State University, agreed with.
“It’s not that \[companies\] can’t find IT people; there are millions of candidates out there,” said Sullivan. “It comes down to how interesting you make working at your company sound. People in IT recruiting are dull as toast-they make accountants look exciting.”
Sullivan suggested that companies look at using more creative methods to hire and attract talent, pointing to Google as a prime example of good recruiting practices. “Google has blown other companies away with its recruiting, and the firm is only six years old. And it’s basically a Yellow Pages for the Internet,” said Sullivan.
Google uses what Sullivan referred to as “Wow!” recruiting, which builds on Google’s unique position in the market. “People have a story to tell about working at Google when they go home at night. Their kids, friends, and neighbors hear it and want to work at Google, too.” Sullivan explained that the allure of Google as an enjoyable place to work isn’t new. Several technology companies have enjoyed the distinction of being at the top of the list of companies graduates would like to work for, including such industry stalwarts as HP and IBM. “HP was the Google of its time, \[but\] it isn’t now,” says Sullivan. “I worked there because I learned back in college that you could play volleyball at lunch there. The courts aren’t used now.” HP was contacted to comment on the state of IT careers for this article but declined to comment.
Make Yourself an Asset
Although companies looking for IT professionals can always find ways to improve and refine their processes for hiring and retaining key talent, the same is also true for employees. IT workers are well advised to keep learning new skills and working to better themselves, possibly through additional training, taking on new responsibilities, or going for that extra degree or certification.
Sullivan argued that employees need to get into the mindset of changing IT from a cost center to a business driver that can streamline processes and help generate additional revenue. “You want the decision-makers not to say, ‘Oh, my system didn’t break down,’ but ‘Oh, you helped me generate this revenue by helping me to do this project,’” said Sullivan. “If you have IT skills, know marketing, and can innovate, you’ll get a job.”
Extra training and certifications are always a plus, noted Estes, but you should also look to the future when making important careerchanging decisions. “Certifications are good, but even better than that is making sure you look for companies that are working with leading-edge technology,” said Estes. Working for a company that’s running on Windows Server 2003 and taking advantage of leading technologies-such as virtualization, auditing and compliance infrastructure, and business intelligence (BI) applications-can help give IT pros the skills they need to remain marketable.
Beyond basic skills, Estes also suggested that good communication and interpersonal skills are still vitally important. “Good soft skills are a must, as are strong written and verbal communication skills,” said Estes. “The old days of sitting behind a terminal all day and tuning out the rest of the organization are over.”
Although the outsourcing of IT jobs has generated headlines over the last few years, both Sullivan and Estes suggested that this concern is overblown. Acknowledging that some people have been affected by outsourcing, Sullivan and Estes maintained that the idea that all IT jobs are going overseas is a myth. “That’s absolutely not the case,” said Estes. “While some jobs may be outsourced, you can work to make sure you’re outsourceproof. Don’t just focus on development of your tech skills-work on your project management or on your communication and people skills. Those types of skills aren’t easily outsourced.”