IT professionals: Happy today, but tomorrow?

Three items struck me from the story on Computerworld US' recent Annual Job Satisfaction Survey: the low score most IT professionals gave for their opportunities for advancement; the high satisfaction most had with their careers; and the high percentage of IT professionals who said they weren't working to their full potential.

Three items struck me from the story on Computerworld US' recent Annual Job Satisfaction Survey. The first was the low score most IT professionals gave for their opportunities for advancement; the second was the high satisfaction most had with their careers; and the third was the high percentage of IT professionals who said they weren't working to their full potential.

What do we have here? Happy people with no future?

IT pros are up against a career conflict to which there is no resolution. It's the nature of the work vs. the nature of the job.

In the mid-1980s, my company conducted a study of what gave IT professionals satisfaction in their jobs. We were motivated by an academic research paper we'd seen that ranked "computer professional" as the highest among a slew of occupations when it came to work "actualization," academic-speak for "they liked doing the work itself."

Our study, designed to help IT managers motivate employees, confirmed this: Employees were addicted to the constant puzzle-solving of systems analysis, the poetry of code creation and the thrill of getting new programs to work.

I'm picking up the same vibes from the Computerworld survey. People like their work but may not be going where they think they should with it.

More than 15 years have passed since the International Data Corporation study, and a lot has changed. IT budgets command about twice the corporate expense stream they once did, business executives understand (all too well, sometimes) IT's value, IT professionals are more attuned to their companies' business problems, and the world is computer-literate. The work of the IT profession has morphed considerably, from the care and feeding of large computers and the writing of custom applications to the deployment of massive enterprise applications based on the work of others.

But a dichotomy still exists. There may be enjoyment in solving the puzzles of IT, but that's less and less of the job. More and more of it involves daily negotiations with peers, suppliers, managers and employees which sounds more like how a salesperson would be satisfied than the Cobol programmer of yore would be.

My advice in all this? Forget about your career and focus on the job at hand. A career is only a succession of jobs, anyway. If you like coming to work, like what you do, like the people you work with and are learning something, you're on a good path. If you like the work, you'll know what it takes to do it better meaning that you'll make good choices when you change jobs.

What about getting ready to climb the next rung of the ladder? What skills should you be working on?

That's easy. You'll need people to like you and respect you, which, in my 25 years of work experience, is one of those things that you either have or don't. Other than that, the single most important skill you can pick up is public speaking. You'll need to be comfortable in a group when you're giving a presentation, which is what you need to win project approval, get a budget increase, explain project risks and win those daily negotiations that your job will become. All this beats technical skills.

And, oh yeah, show up on time and stay sober.

Gantz is a senior vice president at IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts. Contact him at jgantz@idc.com.

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