Of all of the degrees available, why did you choose Computer Science?
I was asked that very question in an interview recently. In nearly fifteen-years working in the Information Technology jobs industry, I cannot recall ever being asked that question, and, frankly, it made me pause. After fifteen years of the demands of the industry, the lack of sleep, the loss of family time, the loss of time in general, I was not sure that I could remember why I decided to pursue Information Technology jobs as a career.
I recovered, falling back to my love as a kid for building computers, breaking them, figuring out why they broke, and then fixing them. That to me was an Information Technology job. Creativity. Puzzles. Challenges. And ultimately, at least a majority of fun.
But is that not what Information Technology jobs are about?
From my fifteen years’ perspective with Information Technology jobs? I offer you a resounding . . . NO. In fact, a Hell no in this context may be appropriate.
The follow-up question that I was asked may actually have had a much larger impact on me than the original. “What project have you undertaken at home with building, etc., lately?” Through my memory banks I went, until a sickening realization set in. None. I have done no personal projects of building or breaking anything. That which was the most fun to me that ultimately led me to Information Technology jobs as an adult, and I have not even undertaken one project in at least the last several years at home.
Needless to say, after that interview was over, I did a lot of thinking, which in turn led me, eventually, to this article.
If “the money” is all that you are interested in, there are more lucrative employment opportunities than Information Technology jobs. Some, arguably, with less education requirements. From my experience with Information Technology jobs, which may be somewhat biased due to the more specialized field that I work, if you do not have a Master’s degree in something [pretty much anything], you will never rise to, or beyond, management. Without promotions, wages, and opportunities, stagnate. And even still, there are more lucrative careers than management in information technology – perhaps an MD where pay is easily twice what one gets paid in Information Technology, with, at most, the same basic work hours.
In the end, especially in the hours expected to be worked, and the fact that most higher level (non entry-level) information technology jobs are salaried positions, the money with Information Technology jobs is not that great. That can be especially true if you live outside of Silicon Valley or a major metropolitan area, and live in a smaller area that keeps big Corporations away, such as my home town.
If you are a college grad, single, and expect (or want) little to no personal life, then Information Technology jobs may just be for you. But with few, to almost no, state or federal labor laws outside of hourly (non-exempt) employees, higher level Information Technology jobs (as with many salaried (exempt) jobs, to be fair) are targets for increased hours, with little to no oversight. For instance, a “normal” work week expectation (for exempt employees) in most Information Technology jobs, is no less than fifty-five to sixty-hours. If you do not routinely meet those hours, you may be viewed as “under-performing.” Some companies may offer “comp” time to balance out the hours, some [like mine] do not. And again, there is no legal requirement to compel them to do so (so long as they are not “hourly” (non-exempt employees.)) Add to that “normal” work week an on-call schedule. Most industries in Information Technology it is at least a week on at a time, with 24/7 coverage – and yes, that includes nights and weekends. Unfortunately, daily duties do not get a back seat if you are up all night tending to calls deemed by end-users to be “important.” Thus there are weeks that you may get four to six hours of sleep – for the entire week. With lack of labor laws, many exempt (salaried) Information Technology employees are not compensated at an additional rate, or any additional money at all, for their on-call time. It is not terribly uncommon, with at least some information technology jobs (I would guess depending on the industry) to incur eighty hours or more during any given call week – and guess what? You are, essentially, paid for forty. Yes, with exempt employees, you get paid the same salary if you work forty hours in a week, or one-hundred forty – and again, for the sake of being fair, that analogy applies to non-information technology jobs as well.
The Harsh Realizations
With the ever-exploding information technology jobs and industry, and everything being based around technology, it may be a job secured field, but with that comes two things. One, companies want to cut costs to areas that do not make them money (and Information Technology jobs, unless your company is based around fixing information technology issues, do not bring in money, per finance departments), and information technology jobs that under-perform are always on the chopping block. The second is that there is always someone that can take the place of an “under-performer.”
If I had a “second bite at the apple”, I cannot reasonably say that I would choose an information technology job as a full-time, life-long career. At least, not on the support side of the spectrum. Perhaps in more of a development role, but certainly not in a support role.
Interested in blogging? Check this out by Jason Oickle.