Being an IT Manager: Joys and Headaches

The IT field rewards those who keep pace with change but punishes those who fall behind. Still, being in IT has its pleasures.
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I had a late night meeting recently with a software development intern who recently came to work for us. We met at a coffee shop near where he lives, at eleven at night. In most professions I imagine that going to a meeting with a new staffer in the late evening would seem odd but somehow, in IT, it seems almost normal.

We talked for hours. We talked about project ideas, career goals, academic pursuits and ended with a two hour architectural discussion about the new project he’ll be working on. Leaving our meeting at four in the morning, it was invigorating to see him excited about software development and working in IT in general.

Moments like this one remind me of just how much I love what I do and how awful it would be to do anything else. After twenty years in the field, I still love the excitement and variety of working in IT and especially of being a technical IT manager.

Seeing that passion in someone just entering the field is exciting too. Hopefully, twenty years from now, that young intern will be meeting a new intern of his own, late at night and reminiscing about his first time getting coffee with his boss – way back when.

Driving home, watching to make sure that the sun wasn't about to peek over the horizon, I was contemplating just what makes IT and specifically IT management the best job in the world. I've been a manager for a decade now.

A decade. Time sure has flown.

Being an IT manager means managing change. It means staying technical, very technical, while also working with people. I am not a traditional manager, simply keeping the employees in line and seeing that everyone keeps working. My job is to guide, to mentor and ultimately, I believe, to inspire.

To inspire? Really? Absolutely. If I was to describe my job in as few words as possible I would say that my job description is to "Inspire and instill passion." When pressed I would probably add "while providing gentle guidance and course correction."

I remove roadblocks. I provide assurance. I sign off on and accept responsibility for potentially risky decisions. I shield from the outside world. I facilitate creative brilliance.

My staff are professionals. Brilliant, quirky, hard working, self-motivated IT professionals – each carefully selected in the hopes of finding someone who brings both technical skill and unmitigated drive to the organization. These are not people whom I need to manage in the traditional sense. These are people who need me to keep the path open so that amazing productivity and cool, unique solutions can just happen naturally.

This isn't the HR department. This isn't accounting. This is IT. If you need me to watch over your shoulder all day long to make sure that you’re still working then you’re in the wrong field. I’m not here to convince you to do your job. I’m here to make sure that you have the resources necessary to do your job to the best of your ability.

From time to time I am called upon to engage in technical pursuits. I may help with system engineering tasks, respond to an emergency when a server is down, help with a software architecture discussion, perform a peer review, give my opinion about the merits of one technology over another.

I am tasked with leading by example. I read books, magazines, websites, e-zines, blogs and listen to podcasts from IT Conversations. I do this everyday. When my junior staff see how much time I spend educating myself after having been in this industry for so long it helps them to see how much there really is to learn and how exciting that process can be.

In IT we can never stop learning. Our industry is one of constant change and keeping up with it is possibly the most critical skill that we can develop. I strive to create a culture where we learn from and support one another – where we grow together as a team.

Challenges (My Blackberry…)

While I love being an IT manager, I am also aware of the dark side of working in the IT field and of being an IT manager in particular.

The hours can be, and often are, long. Brutally long. The very nature of working in IT means that your work tends to become integrated with your life, making it difficult to separate the two.

IT management is not a "leave the office at the office" kind of career and stress follows you home. Vacations can easily become nothing more than working from an alternative location involving a hotel and your family enjoying Disney World – while you work at a laptop and have room service bring your lunch.

Next Page: stress and urgency

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Tags: software, IT management, IT Jobs/Salary

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