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The Neowin guide to working in IT: Part 2, Why IT can suck

Before I start, I’d like to apologise. To both the readers, who read part one and thought that part two would be a good read and have been made to wait for part two, and my Neowin colleagues for taking a while to get this part to print. Confidence has been the main reason I’ve held off this long in writing this piece and putting it, and myself in this instance, out there. So thank you anyone and everyone for your patience.

I’d also like to thank the readers that commented on part one, I appreciate the feedback and I am glad so many of you liked what I was trying to get across.

My experiences

In one of my jobs, I had a clipping from one of the daily rags pinned to the wall by my desk. It was an article about how the IT industry contained the highest number of staff suffering from stress and/or depression and would go onto commit suicide. It was something that I had displayed for the best part of 3 years and, for the most part, viewed it as an amusing article as I loved my work and wasn't phased by it at all. That was until I myself ended up becoming stressed and depressed.

I’d like to point out, I’m not looking for sympathy here, nor am I looking to hear the naysayers that simply say to people in my situation “suck it up,” because frankly it’s just not that simple. So, what was it that drove me to feel so low, and what did I do to combat the issues I was faced with?

Over two and a half years I went between five different roles, each of them causing me to question my place in the world, let alone working in IT. Between a mixture of boredom, restricted from performing my job, being put down, being overworked and being outright ridiculed across the positions (not all in each, just to be clear), I didn’t think IT was for me anymore. I was very low, and looked to other professions, including becoming a driving instructor! But eventually my love for for IT was reborn when I got handed a broken App-V implementation and I was asked to fix it. I did and from there, I didn't look back. I found the best job I’ve ever had a few months after that.

That was in May 2011, and I’m still in the same job. I am enjoying my work, love the company of the people I work with, get to learn new technologies and for the most part am good at what I do. I have the odd off day, but from talking it over with my wife and some of my work colleagues, I know that the position I’m in is one I could see myself finishing my working days in.

I know I didn’t have it bad, not really, but circumstances forced my situation and made me hate what I was doing both daily and for a living. But I stuck at things, took up photography and started to eat healthier and exercise more, and I am getting to a place both physically and emotional I want to be. Spare a little thought for the people who chronicle their experiences on Tales from the Trenches, or this piece from IGN on working in the games industry; I do, and I would have hated to be in their shoes, even during my best days.

But is IT really that stressful? Having had time to think about it, definitely. It’s only my humble opinion, but here’s why I think it is.

Technology moves very, almost too, quickly

I know hardware and software vendors have to make their money, but most of the time a product has only just matured enough to be classed as a serious and viable solution before it is superseded by the latest version. This can have both a positive and negative affect. The positives are:

  • A product that improves on the previous version
  • New features that can prove beneficial to the end user
  • Easier and less admin for the IT staff due to stability and functionality improvements

But the negatives can be:

  • More costs in upgrading
  • Is the new software able to integrate, where necessary, with your current solution
  • IT staff and the end user may need training

While a positive should always outweigh a negative, it’s only natural that people will become frustrated with a constant upgrade cycle or familiarising themselves with a product that might never be fully implemented within the business. The best example of this I can give is Windows 8. While not much different to Windows 7, changes under the hood make the performance and battery improvements a delight for the end user. But major changes to the interface will cause headaches for the same users, prompting the possible need to retrain some staff.

Employers expect more from their staff and their IT because they’ve been spoiled with the newest features and the performance improvements that advancing technology brings. At the end of the day, we as people all boil at different temperatures. We don’t all pick up new technology or understand the features the same way. Some people need time, and time nowadays costs money apparently and money apparently makes the world go round. Ultimately money is something that some businesses can’t afford to lose.

You can’t leave your work at home anymore

With technology moving on, the advent of the Blackberry and more recently the smartphone, there is no such thing as leaving your work in the workplace. Okay, there is the argument that you can simply turn your phone off, but is that really going to satisfy your ‘boss’ if he needs to speak to you at 10:30 at night?

What did we do before email, mobile phones and VOIP became the normal communication techniques for any business? We made phone calls. And if the people weren’t there, we either left a message on an answering machine or with someone. It wasn’t uncommon to wait a full day before you got a call back, and even that could have been about an urgent issue. Now, people wonder why you haven’t replied to an email after an hour of it being sent. Now, people expect you to be able to answer your work phone, if you have been provided with one, whenever it rings.

And what of mobile computing and remote access. You could do exactly what is required of you during your contracted working hours, but if you take a work issued device home with you, there is going to be an element of “you can work from home, can’t you?” While sometimes there is a necessity to work out of hours in IT, for downtime to servers and systems, getting asked to do above and beyond what you already do is becoming more and more commonplace, and sometimes for free.

Everyone who owns a computer knows how to do your job

It’s perfectly natural that as technology has moved forward, even your granny and her granny has at some point gone on the internet to book a flight or look at the latest needle work. Technology has become more accessible than ever. But what of the people that think they know computers, just from using them and learning certain admin and troubleshooting techniques?

We all do it, we all either know less that we let on and bluff our way through situations, or chime in when we’re neither wanted or needed. But every now and then, one of these situations will arise that will rattle your cage, usually at the worst possible moment. In these situations, manager Bob (made up, obviously) thinks because they successfully can install software on their computer and sometimes solve basic problems, with the help of Google, he can attempt to “help you do your job.” That’s something I got told once when someone was trying to help. Didn’t need it, nor did I want it; I was in the zone, sorting the problem and you just pulled me right out by offering to “help.

The worst time is when you’re troubleshooting a problem during a meeting of a senior management team, and one of them comes and hovers over your shoulder telling you what buttons to press and what to click and try next. It’s even worse when people in the room can see you get more and more frustrated with this “help” and do nothing to aid you. But you do end up getting praised for keeping calm and not absolutely going off on one at the offending helper, no matter who they were. True story.

What’s your point?

I know these are just three ways that IT can be a very frustrating career choice, there are loads more – overbearing bosses, job roles changing, lack of opportunities, staff members not accepting you or being willing to help you; the list goes on. And I am more than sure that it’s not just IT workers that will encounter these issues in their career. Any and all jobs have their problems, it’s how you deal with them that will ultimately make or break you whatever role you’re in.

In fact, if you do a quick search on Google you’ll actually find that IT is neither stressful nor a relaxing career to have. But from a lot of people that work in the industry, they will peg it as one or the other, but never neither.

I love the fact that technology has moved on in leaps and bounds. It was in 1994 that I got my first computer, with an Intel 50MHz SX2 processor, 4MB of RAM and 500MB hard disk it was a beast at running Windows 3.11. I upgraded it to 12MB of RAM and Windows 95 and didn’t look back. If you compare the past 19 years to now, in terms of technology as a whole (not talking Moore’s Law or anything), we are doing things now that were only a pipe dream in 1995. If car engines had moved at the same rate as computing, we should all be driving cars that consume just a thimble of fuel and run on an engine the size of a credit card.

I also love that more and more people are using computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones to get on with their daily lives. It’s amazing that a grandmother will use a computer to keep in touch with family around the world using an application like Skype or online services like Gmail or Outlook.

I’ll repeat a phrase again here; we all boil at different temperatures. What one person finds as stress, another will thrive in. Ultimately it’s up to you and your employer to work through any difficult times (within reason of course) and get the best out of you and your role. When that happens, it will do wonders for your state of mind.

So my advice to anyone who has been offered a role, ask to pop into the offices for an hour, meet the people you’ll be working with, see the work they’re doing and the technologies their dealing with, see the facilities and the environment first hand. The existing staff will be able to brief you on what work they are doing, you’ll get to see the facilities and the tools for performing the role and you’ll get to see the job for what it is, outside of the interview process where employers do have the opportunity to talk up a role beyond what it might be. All this will help you decide whether it’s the right role, place and choice for you.

And when you’re in the role? Take a deep breath, count to 10 and get up from your desk and take a walk around the office for 5 minutes. Go have a smoke. Grab a Snickers from the vending machine. Anything to detach yourself from the situation, even if only for a moment. And when you return, any problem will be a hell of a lot easier to resolve, both with systems and with people.

On a final note, I owe a lot to my current employers, the Neowin community, my friends, but most importantly my wife and family. Just knowing that I had support, and that other people were in similar situations, helped me through my tough times and made me realise I wasn't alone and I implore anyone to tap into any similar resources I had access to and just talk through any issues with your friends, family and, to an extent, your work colleagues. Each day may be a struggle, so just take it one at a time and you’ll get there eventually. I know I am.

Join us for part 3 where I will lift the shroud of doom and gloom of part 2 and talk about the good, no, GREAT things about working in IT and how sometimes you are doing more for your community and society than you may realise.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock

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