Recently, our IT team gathered to discuss a large corporate project that we had finished successfully. Our boss graciously congratulated us and called us the unsung heroes of this great accomplishment. We had managed a lot of data, pulled our share of all-nighters, and kept the servers up so that the various corporate teams could do their jobs. When one of the IT server leads got up to make a speech, he said "those of us in IT are a lot like plumbers." After noticing the puzzled looks on our faces, he explained, "People complain that we don't do much, that we get paid too much, and that the only time they see us is when water is running down the hallway—and that we're likely to blame for that, too!"

If you're working toward certifications and looking ahead to your first IT job, realize that you'll often encounter more complaints than praise in this field. Sometimes the only satisfaction you'll get will be from knowing that you did things right and saved the day. The extra work you did to put a fallback plan in place worked. Perhaps the tape backup copies you moved off site saved your company data when disaster struck.

If recognition is what you crave, you might find the IT field a bit lacking. The engineers who design the product, the sales and marketing teams that take the orders, and the accounting department that collects the receivables are all a lot more visible and will receive more recognition. The IT team that supports all the pieces of the entire organization gets little attention—until a server goes down.

The rosy picture that some training-center instructors paint of the IT industry is often unrealistic. The server-room environment that many certifications prepare you for is a high-pressure environment in which a wrong mouse click can impact thousands of people and take days to recover from.

When I first started working toward my certifications, I had hoped to become a bit more than the glorified data plumber that I am today. However, when I walk down the hall past the engineering, sales, and accounting departments, I smile and reflect on a realization that brings me great satisfaction: Without this data plumber and the rest of our IT team, the engineers would be using sharpened pencils and a drawing board for their design work, the sales team would be doing their presentations on an Etch A Sketch, and the accounting staff would be using an abacus to calculate their spreadsheets.