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When it comes to working in information technology, some aspects of the lifestyle are exactly what you expect, while others are very different from what you expect. Below are five lifestyle issues to consider before deciding to work in IT.
1. Irregular Schedules
Many jobs in IT require you to work nonstandard hours. For example, if you work for a large or international company that develops technology, it will likely have shifts, as in developers who work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., programmers who work from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and then overseas testers who work the next eight hours. That way, the developers come to work the next morning and the things they designed and planned for are programmed, tested, and ready for the next cycle. If you work in IT for a company that just uses technology, you’ll be expected to be always available, whether by phone, text, or e-mail (integrated into the same device these days anyway). Even in nonemergency situations, you’ll still have to work some weekends or nights, which is when IT staff tend to test new products or perform major system upgrades. (That way, it doesn’t interfere with the regular course of business.)
Working in IT can be a crash course in diplomacy and precious “people skills.” Many of your colleagues will approach technological challenges differently. For some people, the bottom line is to get technology to work, no matter how ugly the solution (known as a kludge). Other people won’t rest until they’ve solved an IT problem elegantly. Still others won’t rest unless the solution is efficient and provides cost savings. Dealing with stress is a big part of any IT job, whether your role is junior desktop support or CTO. The so-called IT “fires” occur constantly. People run to you, call you, e-mail you, or text-message you, commonly interrupting your vacations.
Aside from merely annoying daily tension, IT stress can result in physical injury. This is a serious issue that made “ergonomics” a household word. Spending too much intense time using a computer can cause injury to your back, eyesight, fingers, and neck (along with your heart and waistline, given that stressful IT positions often result in quick and unhealthy snacking in lieu of real lunches.) The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers advice and resources, as does the Mayo Clinic. Sites like HealthyComputing also provide useful information. Using even more technology can help, too, as there are many products on the market designed to help you sit, type, and view in healthier and more ergonomic ways. There are even professional associations (such as the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society). Ergonomics and human safety also feature in the study of “human-computer interaction,” better known as HCI. HCI also has its share of companies and conferences. A good place to learn more is at the User Experience Professional Association.
4. Culture and Stereotypes
Technology is more of a meritocracy than most other industries. And while spirited debates on technology subjects (known in the industry as “holy wars”) inevitably occur, most employers discourage this kind of contention, especially at major companies in which large and disparate computing systems must literally work together. So try to keep this in mind when you show up for your new IT job.
Unfortunately, IT suffers from more gender stereotyping than many other industries. Women are employed at all levels of the IT industry and have been for many years, and some industry leaders are female (although their percentage remains quite low). Yet pockets of political incorrectness persist among men in the field. Examples range from men who wouldn’t intentionally offend people but who simply lack good social skills, to men who feel that only they can do solid IT work. There is also the serious issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. That’s not to say that the IT industry tolerates inappropriate behavior any more than other fields, but it’s impossible to deny that inappropriate beliefs about women (and behaviors) persist among some male workers. The good news is that this is slowly changing, largely due to the influx of women entering the industry during the Internet boom, renewed attention on the serious issues of sexual harassment by the #MeToo Movement and IT organizations such as Women in Technology, and the attrition (by age and layoffs) of the he-man-women-haters club.
Off-hours labor and the sporadic eating habits this precipitates are factors more specific to IT. There is a stereotype of the single male IT worker surrounded by empty bottles of Coke and half-eaten Twinkies. There are many cases where this is absolutely true. But there are just as many cases where it’s completely false. Yes, there are scores of real nerds, but there are also health nuts, family men, women, and fitness enthusiasts. Many IT companies have taken steps to offer their employees access to healthful food in company cafeterias and access to corporate gyms for regular exercise.
5. Salaries, Benefits, and Job Satisfaction
Although the work environment can sometimes be challenging, good pay and strong benefits at many IT firms offset these drawbacks. Those employed in computer and mathematical careers earned mean annual salaries of $89,810 (according to the U.S. Department of Labor in May 2017). This is much higher than the mean salary for all occupations, $50,620. Robert Half Technology reports that salaries for chief technology managers, chief information officers, chief security officers, directors of technology, and other high-level executives can exceed $200,000.
Fringe benefits are generous at many tech companies and other employers of IT workers. According to Robert Half Technology’s 2018 Salary Guide for Technology Professionals:
Job satisfaction is high in the IT industry. Seventy-nine percent of IT professionals surveyed by CompTIA AITA in 2017 reported being satisfied with their jobs—up 6 percent from 2015. And 73 percent of respondents reported that their jobs provided them with a sense of personal accomplishment.
This post was excerpted from the new Vault Career Guide to Information Technology.
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