IT is a great career choice. Right?

When you think of IT, as both a business and an occupation, what immediately comes to mind? Fast, sustained growth across the sector. Lots of opportunity and upward mobility. The cornerstone of strategic operations. A driver of profitability. The future of business. These are some of the ways employment professionals might characterize IT as a career choice.

As the information technology (IT) industry evolves, new perspectives emerge. Increasingly, the field is presented as a fast-advancing industry where entry-level workers can launch a career path with skyward trajectories in responsibility and compensation. It’s generally portrayed as a discipline in which science and innovation live in harmony.

Over the course of interviewing the 451 Alliance about their technology initiatives, pain points and opportunities, we have also spent some time discussing IT as a living. What do they like about the business, and what would they change? What challenges have they endured during their careers, and what achievements have they found most gratifying along the way?

An essential service ensuring professional longevity

Asked about the upsides of a career in IT, one respondent employed in healthcare IT spoke about the necessity of core services in all aspects of life. “Mechanics are never going away. Plumbers are never going away. Electricians are never going away,” he said, equating IT with skilled trades that have long been viewed as perpetually essential.

Moreover, even basic coding skills are seen as insulating IT workers from redundancy. “[Software] is now keeping the world going,” noted an IT practitioner in the business services market. “Traffic lights don’t work if there’s no software behind it. Airplanes don’t take off into the sky. People don’t go on holiday. Trains don’t run…. Software runs the world today.”

A food and beverage security manager added this guidance:

“Get the basic cloud engineering skills and do it both from the UI and from code. And no matter where your IT career takes you, that experience is going to serve you really well.”

For others, the field has lost some luster

Such glowing assessments aren’t shared by everyone. For one thing, recent layoffs across the tech space have revealed the industry to be vulnerable to downsizing. “I successfully talked my child out of going into IT,” said an IT administrator who works for a 30,000-person health delivery system. “They said they wanted to do IT. And I said, ‘No, you don’t. You want to be a plumber or an electrician.” Evidently, not everyone believes IT is as essential as a skilled trade.

Even beyond the apparent impermanence of IT, as demonstrated by these massive job cuts, some IT workers feel the business has some intrinsic disadvantages. “Find something else to do,” advised a veteran IT worker within a large government agency. “IT is considered the necessary evil. And it’s the area where they’re always trying to trim as much as possible and … just push more and more work on fewer people.”

The inherent challenges of achieving a work-life balance

Another survey respondent from the pharmaceutical sector pointed out how hard it can be for talented IT people to flip the “off” switch. “When [a project] comes along that requires really acute, nonlinear analytical thinking … some of us let it consume us,” he observed. “And we burn out.”

The challenge, it would seem, is that the rapid rate of change in IT requires practitioners to be in a state of constant learning. An IT manager at a midsized manufacturer observed,

“IT is a very vast expanse of continuously expanding opportunity and technology. And there’s always something to learn somewhere.”

Perspective being everything, our pharma commentator asserted that balance must always be the goal if one aims to remain engaged and present, both at work and at home. “There will always be something new to learn, but you need to take time away from your obsession,” he said. “Just remember, what you’re doing is a job, not a life.”

“Learn as much as you can,” he added. “Tear things apart, put them back together. Never stop learning. Never stop questioning but remember to take the time to feel the sun on your skin.”

As a member of the 451 Alliance, we invite you to contribute your voice — anonymously — to our qualitative studies. Supplement to our online surveying, qualitative research is another important way we gather knowledge about the IT end-user experience, further strengthening the reporting we make available to Alliance members at no cost. To share your insights, just request an interview online and we’ll be in touch to schedule a 30-minute discussion by phone, at your convenience. Thanks for your continued participation.