Is a Career In IT Risky?

Sure, the competition from H1B workers is real, but there are serious upsides to a tech career that didn’t exist a few years ago. Plus: strategies for making yourself more marketable.


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Posted October 15, 2007

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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“H1B’s are everywhere!” This was the frustrated exclamation from a headhunter buddy of mine sitting across the table at lunch. He prefers to be called a “recruitment specialist,” but he absolutely does recruit “heads” for local IT companies. And these days the techie heads he finds are usually those with H1B visas.

Even though the U.S. government has capped these visas for foreign nationals who have a specialty in technology, the available pool of IT resources is dominated by them.

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Let me first be clear in stating that smart, decent, hard working people are valuable to any business, whether they come from your home country or from a foreign country. I’m going to avoid the political discussion on this topic. Instead, let’s focus on what impact this and other recent events have had in labeling a career in IT as risky.

I actually believe that a career in IT is more promising now that ever before, despite more competition from emerging markets. When I started in IT, frankly, it wasn’t all that exciting and not very diverse with opportunities. Up into the early 90’s, most IT jobs were focused on the world of IBM mainframes, centered around programming skills like COBOL, CICS and JCL.

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Today, a new college computer science or information systems graduate can find opportunities in any industry, with diverse programming options like Java, C#, Ruby and operating systems like Linux, Windows, or Unix. If they don’t want to write code, they can work in operations with exciting new technologies in application delivery like streaming and virtualization. And there are so many more opportunities in areas such as security, networking and storage.

I’m just touching the surface of the vast IT ocean. My point is that risk is reduced because of all the choices. Some might argue that there was less risk back before Web technology blossomed because you didn’t have to worry about your COBOL skills not being valuable – almost every company needed it.

But as the massive layoffs proved in the early 90’s, this narrow focus actually limited the opportunities available when there was a market contraction. It wasn’t so easy to learn a new skill to make yourself valuable in another industry, because there weren’t many other IT skills to learn.

The recent explosion in open source has made it even easier for smaller companies to quickly compete with established firms. If the big firms lay off people, displaced staffers can latch on to one of the many early stage software firms popping up.

Now what about those H1Bs and the somewhat more hyped offshoring of IT jobs? I remember a conversation a few years back with a parent whose child had just selected a degree in computer science. She was concerned it was a risky career choice. I’m still amazed at this new and still prevailing sentiment.

I would tell any parent to encourage their child to pursue IT as a career. They might not strike it rich with an IPO, but there should be plenty of jobs, especially if there is flexibility in geographical location. Larger population areas still hold the most diverse technology markets. You’ll have less risk living in Silicon Valley than in a small town in the Midwest.

Next page: Ways to make yourself more saleable

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Tags: IT job, IT career, tech salary, risk IT career, technology job

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