IT management has a natural level of stress and urgency that exists in few other fields. When HR or Accounting have an emergency it is seldom a "right now" kind of emergency. IT, on the other hand, is almost always involved in situations involving a need for immediate attention.
It is not uncommon for IT-related problems to impact large segments of the business, making them almost completely unable to work and, in many cases like losing a website, database or other business-critical application may result in a situation that can be measured in dollars lost per minute.
As an IT Manager I am tied to my BlackBerry. I sleep with it beside my bed and check it on every occasion upon which I might awaken. I then check my mail thoroughly first thing every morning and check it as I go to sleep at night. Sometimes I even keep my BlackBerry under my pillow.
Email is only the first tie between the office and myself. There is also Twitter and RSS. With staff and clients around the world IT never sleeps. It doesnt take a very long of continuous connected before any amount of disconnection begins to introduce its own stress and worry. Even the idea of downtime can be stressful in and of itself, making it very difficult to relieve the pressure.
IT is demanding in other ways as well. Working in IT means always staying on top of the latest technologies, trends, policies and techniques. While this is exhilarating it can easily become overwhelming. Being an IT manager is not something that you possess but something that you maintain. And you must maintain it. Every day you have to work to keep up with the general pace.
The IT field rewards those who keep pace with change but punishes harshly those who fall behind. Staying on top of such a large industry is difficult at best and doing so while avoiding burnout is practically an art form. One which few ultimately master.
Of course, I can hardly talk about the dark side of IT without taking into consideration the current economic condition. Like many fields, IT is often hit excessively hard by the whims of business and the natural changes in economic climate.
One year IT professionals are overwhelmed with the number of job offers and opportunities only to be left on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign, "Will Code for Food" the next. Not that I think that IT has it worse than most professions. The media loves to glorify IT when times are good and scold it when times are bad. We are the whipping boy and the poster child, heroes and villains.
It is difficult to ascertain the exact state of the discipline at any particular moment as the field is so large and poorly defined and statistics so misleading. Even as an industry insider it can be impossible to reach a consensus about whether we are currently in rich times or fallow. Either way the opportunities tend to be there for the making IT provides a potential for moving against the market in general.
No career will ever be perfect and for someone like me choosing the path of passion and creativity over one of stability and safety is an obvious one. I wouldn't have it any other way. Balancing life at work and life at home is, and will continue to be, challenging.
It is not only a challenge because of my workload or hours of availability but also one of constant social upheaval.
When I first began working in IT email was very new and just beginning to take its place in business and in academia. Within a few years email had become ubiquitous and the landscape changed forever. Now we have instant search, massive online documentation repositories, social networking, instant messaging within and without the corporate environment. Portable always-on connectivity keeps us connected to this new social communications structure that blends our jobs into our lives as easily as our meals and our sleep.
Working in IT continues to be both exciting as well as scary. If it wasn't scary I don't believe that it would be so exciting. No matter how much I work or how much pressure is applied to me, I am fortunate to wake up each day feeling excited that what awaits me will allow me to grow, learn, explore, create and (I hope) enable others to do what on their own would be impossible. IT is, above all else, a field whose purpose is to promote the potential in others.
I have no idea what tomorrow will bring to IT, but I am confident that itll surprise me and challenge me. That might be what I look forward to the most.
Scott Alan Miller is an IT Manager, Strategist and Engineer who has been working in IT for over fifteen years primarily in the financial, healthcare and SMB markets.