IT Pros at Work
If working as an IT pro were easy, everyone would do it, right? As an IT pro, you juggle a dizzying variety of tasks, responsibilities, and priorities. You're systems, database, network, and storage administrators; application developers; purchasing managers; programmers; trainers; consultants. (Or, as one survey respondent wrote, "All of the above. I'm the sole IT person at my organization.") You confront crises, disasters, emergencies, urgent situations, and "special requests" on a daily basis. If you ever see a day in which you're able to cross every item off your to-do list, you'll wonder whether you've died and gone to heaven. You keep business moving, ensure that communication flows, and bar the gates against the bad guys. And you do all this in an environment of complex, constantly changing technology, budget cutbacks, corporate downsizing, clueless users, and demanding corporate and regulatory requirements. You're a special breed, with a unique set of employment circumstances.
Off to Work You Go
The overwhelming majority of our survey respondents, a whopping 90.1 percent, report that they work full time. Slightly more than 85 percent have worked for their current employer for less than 10 years. The majority response—44.6 percent—to the question Approximately how long have you worked at your present company? is 1 to 4 years. The next highest percentage, for 5 to 9 years, is 27.2. And 13.5 percent of respondents have worked for their current employer for less than 1 year.
The remaining responses present an interesting picture: 13.9 percent of survey respondents have worked for their current employer anywhere from 10 to 39 years, with the majority of this group—representing 6.7 percent of respondents—answering 10 to 14 years. One respondent, whom we can only describe as loyal and who represents a statistically insignificant (which is not to say literally insignificant) percentage, has worked for his current employer for from 35 to 39 years.
Some 37.7 percent of respondents have worked in IT from 5 to 9 years. Six intrepid souls, or 0.2 percent of respondents, have been IT pros for 40 years or longer. A hefty 70.8 percent of respondents have worked in IT from 5 to 19 years. Only 0.9 percent of survey respondents, representing 23 IT professionals, were unemployed at the time they took the survey.
These figures highlight a relatively youthful career path that is expanding in response to the steady worldwide proliferation of computer and information technology in business, industry, and the home. The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics bears out this interpretation, predicting that employment of computer systems specialists, which includes most job titles held by IT pros, will increase more than 36 percent by 2012, much faster than average for all other occupations that the Bureau measures. One IT pro who responded to our survey expressed it this way: "We're on the cutting edge of new technologies, and those technologies are expanding at a tremendous pace. There will be more jobs than qualified personnel to fill them, leading to high wages and a secure (though competitive) future for those who can continue learning and adapt to the rapid change." Another respondent painted a slightly more poetic picture: "As the needs of the world evolve, so increases the need to manipulate information in more creative ways. The computers we use today will someday point skyward."
What's in a Name?
Our survey asked respondents to identify their job title from a list of 18 choices, with an additional category of Other. Almost half of respondents, or 49.5 percent, identified themselves as holding one of the following three titles: systems administrator (20.9 percent), IT director/IT manager/purchasing manager (15.4 percent—hereafter called IT management), or network administrator (13.2 percent).
The Other category caught additional job titles from 11.3 percent of survey respondents. The top three titles in terms of number of responses are systems analyst, with 13 responses; systems engineer, with 13 responses; and network engineer, with 11 responses. Some of the more interesting and unusual individual responses include back-end server support; combination Help desk and DB admin; freelance writer/editor/columnist; customs officer; intranet application developer; Web site developer; drovers dog (I get all the crappy jobs); chairman, board of trustees; student; a little of everything; secretary; satellite station engineer; and the emphatic HELPDESK.
Titles are often just a collection of words. What really defines the work you do are the tasks you're responsible for. From among the survey's list of 21 job-responsibility categories, 7 stand out clearly as most relevant to a majority of respondents. In descending order of importance, the seven top job responsibilities for all survey respondents are providing end-user support, administering IT systems, administering the network, deploying desktop hardware and software, providing systems analysis, administering applications, and training end users.
The Rubber Meets the Road
Here's where things get interesting. Looking strictly at job responsibilities, most IT pros appear to share common tasks associated with administering and analyzing systems and the network, supporting and training end users, and deploying and administering hardware and applications. Seems straightforward and even mundane when you view it that way. But ask IT pros what their current priorities are, and you see a task-specific shakeout that emphasizes the urgent and the mission-critical. When respondents identified their top five current priorities, network and systems management and supporting end users garnered 63.2 percent and 49 percent of responses, respectively. But rounding out the top five current priorities for all respondents are upgrading and migrating an OS, with a 39.3 percent response rate; finding information to solve IT problems, with a 38.9 percent response rate; and securing the network, with a 36.1 percent response rate.
At the other end of the scale, the lowest five priorities point to tasks and concerns that are easier to set on the back burner when more pressing problems command attention. Only 11.4 percent of respondents cite management and personnel problems as one of their five top priorities. Supporting vertical applications follows at 9.6 percent. Regulatory and privacy compliance is a surprise member of this list, with only 9.2 percent of respondents identifying it as one of their five top priorities. Evaluating Linux against Windows weighs in with 5.5 percent of respondents, and at the very bottom is total cost of ownership (TCO) and ROI, at 4.6 percent. Occupying the midrange of current priorities are evaluating and purchasing new hardware and software, patch management, desktop deployment, upgrading and migrating applications, and managing database infrastructure.
Survey respondents are surprisingly evenly spread out among organizations of various sizes. The highest percentage, 16.1 percent, work in organizations employing from 1000 to 4999 people. In an almost breathtaking shift, the next highest percentage of respondents, 12.5 percent, work in organizations employing from 1 to 24 people. Grouping the total responses to the question Approximately how many people work in your entire organization? we find that 31.5 percent of our survey respondents work in organizations employing from 100 to 999 employees, 26.5 percent in organizations employing fewer than 100 employees, 22.5 percent in organizations employing from 1000 to 9999 employees, and 19.5 percent in organizations employing more than 10,000 people.
A significant percentage of respondents—15.5 percent, to be exact—work in a team with more than 10 members. It would be logical to assume that a larger percentage of 10-plus—member teams work in organizations with 50,000 or more employees than in smaller organizations. But that assumption would be wrong. Our survey tells us that 16.3 percent of respondents who belong to teams with more than 10 members work for companies with 1000 to 4999 employees, in contrast to 15.4 percent of respondents in the same-size teams who work for companies with more than 50,000 employees. It's probably not a surprise to discover that, of the 14.5 percent of respondents who work in teams of which they are the sole member, 23.7 percent work for companies employing from 1 to 24 people. Falling pretty much in the middle between the high-end 15.5 percent of survey respondents who work in a team with more than 10 members and the low-end 1.7 percent of respondents who work in a team with 9 members are the 7.4 percent of respondents who work in a team with 6 members.
Workin' 9 to 5
Of the 90.1 percent of survey respondents who report that they work full time, 33.8 percent spend from 41 to 45 hours at the office in a typical workweek. Only 0.4 percent work at home for the same number of hours. A hardy—and possibly sleepy and cranky—3 percent of respondents who work full time spend more than 60 hours at the office during a typical workweek. Only 0.6 percent spend more than 60 hours working at home. A convincing majority of respondents who work full time, 73 percent, typically work at the office for from 36 to 50 hours each week. The majority of full-time workers (59 percent) who work at home for any length of time during a typical workweek log from 1 to 10 hours in their home office.
Of all survey respondents, 61.5 percent spend no portion of their workday at a location other than their office. In contrast, 5.9 percent spend more than 20 hours each week at a location other than their office. And 29.1 percent of all survey respondents spend from 1 to 15 hours each week at another location.
IT Phone Home
If the number of hours that define an IT professional's typical workweek don't seem out of the ordinary, the number of IT pros who spend some of their time each week on call might. A majority of survey respondents, or 59.6 percent, spends some time every week on call. For 28.1 percent of this group, that means being tied to a pager for as many as 5 hours a week. Only 5.9 percent are on call from 6 to 10 hours a week, but a significant percentage, 25.6 percent, are on call more than 10 hours every week. A lucky (or not, depending on how you prefer to spend your time) 40.3 percent of survey respondents are never on call.
Isn't That Just Typical!
Ever wonder if your work profile is typical for an IT pro? Using the data from our survey, we've compiled profiles for the three job titles (actually, four— we've combined systems administrators and network administrators into one profile) that drew the largest number of responses. What follows is our survey's take on the typical female and male IT manager, systems and network administrator, and consultant at work.
Keep in mind as you read these profiles that they paint pictures with very broad strokes and are by no means scientific. Distinguishing between male and female IT pros is a dicey proposition at best. The breakdown of our survey respondents by gender is 88.1 percent male, 11.9 percent female. Given the broad territory separating those numbers, however, what's surprising—and heartening—about the following profiles is how closely they align between male and female. Comments from two of our survey respondents manage to concisely convey the reality that the following profiles depict: "I feel that IT is still leaning toward a 'male-oriented' profession," and "IT is a field of study that is great for both men and women. Computers are not gender-specific."
IT manager, her way. The typical female IT manager has worked in IT for about 7 years and at her present company for about 2.5 years. She works full time, and currently her top five priorities, in descending order of importance, are managing systems and the network, supporting end users, securing the network, upgrading or migrating an OS, and finding information to solve problems. The company she works for employs from 100 to 249 people, and she's a one-woman team. She works at her employer's offices from 41 to 45 hours every week and for an additional 1 to 5 hours at home. She spends a minimal amount of time—5 hours or less —on call each week.
IT manager, his way. The typical male IT manager has worked in IT for approximately 7 years and at his present company for about 2.5 years. He works full time, and his top five current priorities, in descending order of importance, are managing systems and the network, supporting end users, upgrading or migrating an OS, finding information to solve problems, and securing the network. The company he works for employs from 1000 to 4999 people, and he's a one-man team. He works at his employer's offices from 41 to 45 hours every week and an additional 1 to 5 hours at home. He spends from 0 to 5 hours a week on call.
Systems and network administrator, hers. The typical female systems and network administrator has worked in IT for about 7 years and for her present company for about 2.5 years. She works full time, and her top five current priorities, in descending order of importance, are managing systems and the network, supporting end users, upgrading or migrating an OS, securing the network, and finding information to solve problems. Patch management is vying for a place on this list, however, running almost even with finding information to solve problems. The company she works for employs from 1000 to 4999 people, and she's on a two-person team. She works at her employer's offices from 41 to 45 hours each week, spends an additional 1 to 5 hours working at home, and is on call from 0 to 5 hours each week.
Systems and network administrator, his. The typical male systems and network administrator has worked in IT for about 7 years. He's worked for his present company for about 2.5 years. He works full time, and his top five current priorities, in descending order of importance, are managing systems and the network, supporting end users, upgrading or migrating an OS, finding information to solve problems, and securing the network. The company he works for employs from 1000 to 4999 people, and he's a one-man team. He works at his employer's offices from 41 to 45 hours a week and spends from 1 to 5 additional hours working at home. He spends 5 or fewer hours on call each week.
The female consultant. The typical female consultant has worked in IT for about 7 years and has been a consultant for approximately 2 years. She works full time, and her current top five priorities, in descending order of importance, are supporting end users, managing systems and networks, finding information to solve problems, upgrading and migrating OSs, and upgrading and migrating applications. She works most often by herself or with one other person. She spends from 41 to 45 hours each week working at a single location, with an additional 1 to 5 hours working at home. She spends from 0 to 5 hours on call every week.
The male consultant. The typical male consultant has worked in IT for about 7 years and has been a consultant for about 2 years. He works full time, and his current top five priorities, in descending order of importance, are managing systems and networks, supporting end users, upgrading and migrating OSs, finding information to solve problems, and securing networks. He works either alone or on a team with more than 10 members. He spends from 41 to 45 hours each week working at one location, with an additional 1 to 5 hours working at home. He spends from 0 to 5 hours each week on call.
Interested in knowing how your peers feel about working in IT? Be sure to check out Anne Grubb and Barb Gibbens, "Hard Work—Is It Worth It?," page 39.
See associated figure — Respondents' Current Job Status?
See associated figure — How Long Respondents Have Worked in IT
See associated figure — Respondents by Job Title
See associated figure — Job Responsibilities for All Respondents