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I am a new grad and am looking for work in IT likely as a Unix admin.

What I would like to ask all of you, is if you could go back in time would you still choose a career in IT? or was it the biggest mistake of your life?

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closed as off topic by Shane Madden, Jason Berg, Iain, Chris S, Mark Henderson Sep 17 '11 at 22:54

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Seems like a community Wiki question. –  Maxwell Jan 7 '10 at 17:40
    
If you had a million dollars, what would you do? –  l0c0b0x Jan 7 '10 at 17:54
    
I0c0b0x-pay off my debts, maybe look at options afterwards and invest the rest. :-) –  Bart Silverstrim Jan 7 '10 at 18:13
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@l0c0b0x: I'd work in IT-- just in a more laid-back manner. >smile< –  Evan Anderson Jan 7 '10 at 18:14
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20 Answers 20

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Oh wow...I don't think I would have taken the path I have. While I have benefits in my current position, the pay is sub-par to what others in my field get with my experience. Also I do a lot of "general" work, meaning help desk along with figuring out what is wrong with a server along with installing and replacing hardware along with....etc.

This question entirely depends on what you enjoy doing. I often feel disillusioned and jaded from experiences. I.e., I used to think that users wanted to be independent and learn from me how to work on their systems more efficiently and not have to call on us for support as much since they also constantly complain they're not "computer people" and the truth is that they don't care to learn how to use their system or why it's failing. We're like the technology equivalent of Jiffy Lube. People come to us just because they don't want to deal with it, even if the fix is as simple as actually reading the question the computer is presenting them. I get repeat calls for the same issue from the same people over and over.

There's a lot of stress, and if you're not working in a field that focuses on what you do (i.e., you're in a business that has a focus on a non-technology field and you're working in a department for supporting the other employees) then there's a good chance you'll have a lack of respect. I went to school for a degree in computer science, four year degree, have several years experience with Linux and Windows in various issues and configurations, and still there's a feeling that we're on the bottom of the respect ladder, probably because the entity I work for isn't a technology-focused business.

When the systems work, you're regarded as a technology ninja. Silent and hiding in a hole somewhere. When things aren't working, suddenly you're important in the respect that it's your fault or you're expected to get it working NOW. Then expected to go back into your hole and "do whatever it is you do". :-)

There's several subfields in IT that may or may not hold a niche for someone, too. If I were able to work on more projects where I could build and monitor and baby servers, I'd probably be happier than having to spend a lot of time cloning drives and reminding users again that the home directory is for saving things they need, not the desktop. But that's also the nature of my Asperger's. As it stands working in IT could leave you running cables through conduits and crawling under desks and getting mouse crap and scary animal byproducts on you from old ceiling tiles or it could leave you at a desk most of the day poring over log files and monitoring backups or a mix of both. Different people prefer different things and can have special skillsets to accompany them.

Also keep in mind that different businesses have different cultures. You can have the same job title with similar job responsibilities and in one place be miserable and in another really thrive, so what one person says here may not apply to everyone else.

One thing I have learned, though, is that working in the field has diminished my love of technology at home. I used to enjoy dabbling in working on servers and configuring Linux systems and trying things like DRDB just to see how it worked. Nowadays I work to keep the job at the job and home in the home, and part of it is just not feeling like doing those things anymore in my "off time" (since off time is often a joke when you could be called for working after hours anyway, and depending on your job you may not get compensated for it). You're expected to be reachable all the time and you end up feeling like you are obligated to check email while on vacation or out sick. Because technology is an enabler for remote work and remote tethering to the workplace, the line blurs between personal and work life. Soon you forget that you had any hobbies that didn't involve a keyboard. Then your relatives begin taking advantage of that as well, and you become the technology guy with the technology job that, hey, while you're coming for thanksgiving dinner, could you look at this problem we have with email? Hey! Good to see you! It's been awhile! While you're here, we're thinking of getting one of those laptop thingys, which one do you think we should get?...etc.

And of course its gratis. Because you do that sort of thing, computers.

And it doesn't matter if you're a DBA or system admin or network tech, everyone thinks you work in "computers" and somehow can do what the movies show computers doing. Tap a few keys, voila', it's working. How hard is that? Why are you crying just because I asked you to fix this weird thing my computer is beeping over? Geez.

If I had my life to do over again, it would be as a lotto winner.

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What career would you choose otherwise? –  Recursion Jan 7 '10 at 18:29
    
@recursion-I've considered several. Lawyer. Programmer. Entrepreneur (microISV). Glass sculptor...I'm fascinated by the beautiful things that can be made of glass. Author. I'm terrified at the idea of trying to tell stories, terrified that I'd fail. But I actually sat down to try it and decided that if I fail I fail. I'm a "computer person", not an author by trade, so I convinced myself it's okay if I suck at it. :-) When I was younger I wanted to be an ichthyologist, focusing on sharks. –  Bart Silverstrim Jan 7 '10 at 18:38
    
A very fun and honest answer. +1 –  Sean Howat Jan 7 '10 at 18:48
    
One irk that you learn to live with is that people come to think of you as "a computer guy". Doesn't matter if you're certified in three fields, hold a 4 year degree, 10 years experience and stand next to someone who self-taught repairing computers in a repair shop or at Best Buy and get the same respect from a layperson. You're both "computer people". But that's just an understandable irk that comes with the field, I suppose :-) –  Bart Silverstrim Jan 7 '10 at 18:55
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That's the same with any profession, though... think "barely competent GP" vs "award-winning, internationally recognised surgeon"... "oh, so you're both doctors, then?" –  womble Jan 7 '10 at 21:47

Honestly I can't see myself doing anything else. I've often wondered what I would do if i suddenly was so-rich-i-didn't-have-to-work ... and I still would find a job in the IT field working. You find what you love, if you're lucky you are able to have a career in that field. I guess i've been luck :)

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Exactly! If I struck the jackpot, I'd just cut my salary in half, and declare that I was working from home - choosing my own hours. –  Kara Marfia Jan 7 '10 at 18:18
    
So rich I didn't have to work...in that case, I'd be probably trying to start my own business. Probably still related to IT, honestly. A MicroISV or ISV. Having money would mean a lot of the risk of failure is moot at that point :-) –  Bart Silverstrim Jan 7 '10 at 18:20
    
Maybe even actually having a hobby that I'd love to try like glass sculpting. –  Bart Silverstrim Jan 7 '10 at 18:21
    
@Kara: I don't know about cutting my salary, but I would use that money to support open source and some non profits. I'm actually lucky enough to set my own hours now, even working for a worldwide megacorp. @Bart: Actually that is a great idea too. –  Zypher Jan 7 '10 at 18:45
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Man, if I struck the jackpot I would quit my job and be lazy for the rest of my life –  Mark Henderson Jan 7 '10 at 21:09

"Chose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."

(Ok, that's horse crap considering what we've been going through this week in my dept..... but still)

What do you love? :)

I love computers. So much better than the medical field, where if you power something down you get sued.

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Originally I wanted to be the master of Time, Space, and Dimension... but as you can see from my posts here, that didn't exactly work out.

I love the IT field (most of the time) and feel very fortunate to be able to do something I enjoy for a living. The IT field is still one of the best paying fields and the depth and breadth of opportunities (system administration, programming, DBA, network engineering, etc) is staggering.

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I enjoy my job for the most part. It is usually the company and more so, management that makes me dislike my job(s). I have come to accept that I'm stuck in IT for a good while yet. With that being said, if I had to do it over again, I would have followed my other interest and became an electrical power lineman. I'd rather be outside all day long then stuck in an office with the politics that go on.

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Lineman is an awesome job; I know a bloke who used to inspect power poles for a living -- he drove around in his 4WD digging little holes around power poles and making sure the borers hadn't chewed them up. Odd sort of a job, but it definitely has a good "outdoorsy" component. –  womble Jan 7 '10 at 22:06
    
I serviced traffic controls for a few years and I'll tell you that there's nothing worse than hanging in a bucket 18 feet over a busy intersection in -20 degree weather trying to rewire a broken signal while the power is on. –  joeqwerty Jan 8 '10 at 3:08
    
@joeqwerty - some would say there is nothing worse than having an exchange server down and a CIO breathing down your neck watching you fix it too. :) I've done my share of working in the extreme weather conditions (hot and cold) on a roof commissioning HVAC controls or installing wireless at tower sites. The cold sucks, but it's still nice to be outside and away from the office monotony. –  Kevin Garber Jan 8 '10 at 14:33

It's not so much about what you want to do for a career, but what kind of daily life you want. I think I just lucked out. I chose IT because I never wanted to be bored - I wanted to have something new to learn and fix every day. I never wanted to 'plateau' and know pretty much everything there was to know about my field.

On the other hand, I know a programmer who's frantic to leave the field for the exact same reason. He HATES the fact that he can never completely master his profession - there will always be something new to learn.

It's ultimately about knowing what makes you happy, which is a helluva lot harder to figure out than why this server keeps rebooting.

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Personally I'd rather have been a dancer in Vegas.

Seriously though I love my job, no regrets.

Edit - I have to say however that I'm not a sysadmin but a system designer, thought I should own up to a lack of support responsibilities.

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Thanks for painting that picture... Happy 10K :) –  squillman Jan 7 '10 at 17:49
    
>smile< VegasDancerFault.com... Happy 10K day, Chopper... –  Evan Anderson Jan 7 '10 at 18:17
    
Thanks gents, might ask a Q on meta about good workflows for using the tools to help the site, it would be nice to garner your thoughts on the subject if possible. –  Chopper3 Jan 7 '10 at 19:31

Whatever you end-up doing, you have to like it. I guess I could have gone to school (or not) and learn programming and be a programmer, but HATE programming. There are many layers to different IT roles/jobs, sometimes it's hard to find the right balance of things you enjoy doing, and things that are just plain boring/tidieus. Sometimes one gets lucky and likes MOST of what you're doing... that's where you hear people say: "I love my job!".

I truly can't wait to come to work (since day one, for more than 10 years). Having said that, at times, there are 'things' that come in the way of that enjoyment... as long as those things are not 'permanent', then I'm perfectly ok with it. You have to be able to realize that it's not always going to be pretty, but if balanced correctly, you could (if you're one of the lucky ones and depending on the situation) get 80+% of enjoyment from your job.

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+1 Liking your job is the really important bit. –  John Gardeniers Jan 7 '10 at 21:34

I really had no practical choice. It's what I'm good at.

My grandfather said "Find something you love to do, then find a way to make money at it."

I've been 'into' computers since I was first exposed to them back in 1965 at the age of 3. Not only was I fascinated by them, I seemed to easily pick up how to work with them. By the time I got to 9th grade, I was more than interested in programming and had my chance to get my hands on a for-real minicomputer that my high-school had (this was a pretty rare occurrence in the mid 1970s).

I even started doing data entry on weekends at the company where my adoptive mother worked (she was what you would now call an IT manager, back then it was MIS - Management Information Services). I'd do reams of data entry and get to fool around in an unprivileged account on a PDP-11/70 under RSTS/E when I was done.

Even in high school, I started doing informal internships in addition to being one of the 3 kids in a school of a few thousand who had any mastery over the school's computer.

No matter what crap jobs my mother threw at me, I kept coming back for more. It was pretty clear to me where my career path was headed.

Sure, I wanted to be a keyboard player for a rock band or the starting second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, but there was no way that was going to happen.

It all came back to practicality. I've been in this business for 30+ years because I have a knack for it. My neighbor can barely find the power switch on his PC, but he's an incredible carpenter and plumber - so we trade work. I keep his PC healthy, he works on my house. My fiancee doesn't know PCs very well, but she can paint a room with such a steady hand that she doesn't need edging tape.

We all have our talents.

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+1. I'm good with computers, my brother-in-law is a mechanic so we trade work. As you say, everyone has a talent. My wife hooks up all the electronic equipment in our house because it baffles me. Does the component video go to the SPDIF connector, or is it tab A in slot B? –  joeqwerty Jan 8 '10 at 2:59

I'm going to say "no", but only because S* frowns on vulgarity (my first answer would sound a lot like "truck no, with bells on").

As far as "Choose a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life", I think that's been very, very badly misinterpreted/misrepresented. I don't think it really means "turn your favourite hobby into your career", I think it's best to use it as a guiding post to say "don't stick at a job you don't enjoy" -- if you're hating your job, MOVE. If you hate your whole career, MOVE. It is a bit scary, lurching out into a whole new field, but in the last couple of years I've learnt that there are a surprisingly large number of jobs out there that pay about as well (or even significantly better) than IT, require little-to-no formal qualifications (or you're trained on the job) and provide a wealth of interesting experiences and activities.

These jobs typically are classed as "blue collar" jobs, which is why I think most IT people wouldn't even think about them -- I know I didn't for a long time (despite my own father wearing a literal blue collar to work his whole working life). My education and entire childhood "indoctrination" was that I was smart and clever and could have "any job I wanted" -- where the strong hint was that the jobs that I wanted were ones where a university education and sitting on my butt all day were the primary characteristics.

But when my seven-years-younger sister can get an apprenticeship (as an aircraft parts manufacturer, of all the awesomely cool jobs to get) and be earning more than me in the final year of her apprenticeship than I was after coming up on 10 years experience, with none of the stress and stupidity that runs my life, well, it makes you really think.

So, in terms of "what job would I do, then", I'm thinking train driver. A friend of mine does it, earns about 20% more than me (with about a third the years experience), gets to hang around cool infrastructure, has zero interaction with customers (although they are, arguably, even stupider than the mouth-breathing neanderthals that I have to deal with now -- even though the stupidest people at the moment seem to be suppliers, not customers), has a lot of ability to move to different jobs within the company that runs the railways (how many of us can move to a completely different part of the company they work for?), and gets to go home each day with a sense of actually having accomplished something instead of regularly wondering whether he's actually making any progress or actively damaging the company he's working for. I think I could handle that life.

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And I thought I was cynical! :) Well said. Just one point I'd like to add - Most non-IT jobs allow you to draw a pretty clear line between working and personal life. Who among us hasn't watch that line blur more and more? –  John Gardeniers Jan 8 '10 at 2:15
    
Cynical, moi? Hell yeah! Work-life balance in IT is terrible -- one of the reasons I'd like to get out, so I can get back the hobby I love. Oh, and another benefit of driving trains -- when you work evenings and weekends, you get paid for it (and they pay you more than they would if you did the work during weekdays). How many of us have done great piles of uncompensated overtime? –  womble Jan 8 '10 at 7:54
    
Can't argue with any of that. One thing I miss from my blue collar days is that when I needed extra money I could simply put in extra hours. Of course I still put in the extra hours but... well, you know the rest. My son is also looking at having a crack at train driving up north for one of the mining companies, for all the same reasons you stated. –  John Gardeniers Jan 8 '10 at 11:54

I think I'd rather be involved in art in some way or another. Outside of IT I think I would have liked to be a comic book artist or a graphic designer. Both would provide their own interesting challenges but I think at the end of the day I would enjoy doing either.

Inside of IT I'd like to do more design work with the web. This has always been a small hobby as I grew up like a lot of kids building my own silly websites for video games I liked and other such things. I still find it interesting and think I would enjoy getting better at it and doing it for a living.

I am still glad for where I'm at right now. I'm currently trying to learn the ways of the DBA and while it doesn't quite have the same creativity that I would like, it has it's own charms to make it worthwhile.

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So start an online webcomic. You could easily do that in your spare time, and maybe build up enough of a following to make some extra cash off of it. Lots of people live off of the cash from webcomic merch. –  Cameron Conner Jan 7 '10 at 18:29
    
@Cameron Haha I liked that comment. It seems so obvious after reading it and then my post again but the idea has never really clicked in my head. Do I owe you royalties now?? =P –  Sean Howat Jan 7 '10 at 18:32

I personally think how you feel about your career in IT has a lot to do with the alignment between your (Myers-Briggs) personality type and the kind of work you are doing in IT (which is a very broad field). If they are too far out of alignment, cognitive dissonance often results and leads to dissatisfaction. This could be said of any person/job pairing perhaps but seems to be exacerbated in the crucible that is IT.

Cheers

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That's a lot of fancy words for saying that most people just find a job that suits them. –  John Gardeniers Jan 8 '10 at 4:30

First up - If your job choice is the biggest mistake you ever make you'll have lived a pretty uneventful life. The only person who can trap you into any particular job is yourself. Made the wrong choice? Change it!

I enjoy my work, the majority of the time, but if I could go back in time I would have chosen IT as a job much earlier... and then left it earlier. Maybe I've become too cynical but it seems to me I enjoyed all aspects of computers/computing much more 30 odd years ago than I do now. To be honest, I wouldn't be doing this for a living if I had a real choice. I prefer more physical work but have abused my body too much in the past and now have to pay the price (ignoring good advice from elders is not a new idea).

With all that said, IT is like any other job - it's a lot more enjoyable when you don't have to to it. Also, all jobs get boring eventually, it's only a matter of time, but IT has the potential to stay interesting much longer than most other jobs.

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Yes, I would pick IT. There are more options in IT today than when I started. Regardless of one's career choice, though, strive to stay in a position where the paycheck doesn't become a deciding factor. Living frugally with mimimal debt can keep one in a position to take opportunities without strong consideration for the size of the pay envelope such as some start up or ground floor opportunities. Golden handcuffs can become a handicap.

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I like to think that I would have dropped out of high school, get a GED and go to college early (via community college). I might have given a skilled trade school some consideration as well, as I'd probably own a small plumbing/electrical contracting business by now.

On the other hand, I've done really well in IT, and have no real complaints.

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I've got to say that I want my plumber to plumb and my electrician to electrify. I'm not sure I want the two of them in the same package. –  joeqwerty Jan 8 '10 at 3:02
    
I've done apprenticeships in both those fields. They're not as dissimilar as they might at first appear. –  John Gardeniers Jan 8 '10 at 4:35
    
An electrician is just a plumber that deals in electrons -- and doesn't smell of poop. –  womble Jan 18 '10 at 4:52

Sure! I like the satisfaction and euphoria I get when my program works, does its job, survives everything and makes people happy :) I believe every man wants to have achievements he can be proud of.

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What I would like to ask all of you, is if you could go back in time would you still choose a career in IT? or was it the biggest mistake of your life?

If I look back, and take into account the information I had at the time, I'm glad I went into computers. Like many others here, I would (do) write software just for fun, even if I wasn't being paid for it.

One of the few choices I regret is my choice of undergraduate school; I got into some really good schools, and chose the wrong one. The school I graduated from in 1978 didn't even offer Computer Science as a degree option at the time.

I started out as a Unix sys admin, back in the late 70s when Unix was new (V6). It was a great job then, as Unix use started to explode. Today, the growth path is hard to imagine (maybe toward infrastructure / architecture?), particularly with the ongoing trends in offshoring; it certainly wouldn't be my first choice.

Another regret of mine is that I wasn't more aggressive about following new technologies and quick changes in trends (I caught Java, but missed Windows, for example). Myself and many of my friends got stuck in Unix-land for way too long. The culture of Microsoft hatred is very strong, and I was trapped by it for almost two decades; what a waste of time and energy. I'm firmly in the MS camp now, and only wish I had saved myself a lot of grief (and made a helluva lot more money) by making the switch much earlier.

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I'd like to add this to the list in the wiki. There's an article on ComputerWorld saying that satisfaction in the IT field is at an all-time low. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/print/9143194/Surveys_IT_job_satisfaction_plummets_to_all_time_low

Make of it what you will, but this is a reflection of the state of the field, or maybe not. Is this what you've seen in your fields? I've heard rumbles that this seems to be in line with, but I don't know if what I've heard is indicative of a trend or not. Anyway, thought I'd add this to the wiki'd list of references for people looking at the field.

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I would absolutely go into IT again. I love working with database and storage systems. I have a great time working in the IT field, presenting at user groups and larger conferences.

I've been doing this long enough that I've gotten to the point where I make a decent living at it, and I'm pretty well respected in the SQL Server community.

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Y'all should get real.

As an IT pro or software engineer, you:

  • Can choose what industry to work in (health care, energy, life science, education, etc etc)
  • Can choose to live anywhere, 'cause there are IT jobs open in every city in this nation
  • Can choose to work for large or small companies
  • Can go on your own and be a consultant
  • Can choose to specialize (in .NIX, databases, networking, DR, etc)
  • Get paid well
  • Can choose to work with a team or solo (based on the job)
  • Are in a field where demand exceeds supply

If you are in a situation you don't like: It's your own darn fault.

Sheeze.

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im not sure about getting paid well. Considering work put in, other professions certainly pay more. –  Recursion Jan 8 '10 at 2:08
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Nothing unique to IT in that lot (apart from those particular specialisations). I could say the same about every job I've ever had outside IT. –  John Gardeniers Jan 8 '10 at 2:20

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