When it comes to feelings of security and job contentment, IT workers are
on the cusp.
They’re on the cusp of insecurity and contentment. They’re on the cusp of
bitterness and resolve. They’re still too close to the fire to forget
about how bad it has been, and too close to the light at the end of the
tunnel to ignore the coming change.
”From one day to the next, you didn’t know if they were going to come in
and drop the bomb on you or the guy next to you,” says an IT
professional at an $8 billion company based in the mid-West. ”I guess
things are getting a little better. There are more jobs out there now…
but I’m nervous. I’m still insecure.”
Job boards are advertising more high-tech jobs today than they were a
year ago. IT spending is starting to pick up — if only slightly. And
salaries are no longer on the skids.
And all of those things make a lot of IT workers cautiously optimistic.
But the emphasis at this point is more on the cautious side of things.
It’s only been a few years since widespread downsizing wiped out IT
departments across the country. It’s only been a short time since the
tech bubble burst, leaving systems administrators working as
telemarketers, and thousands of programmers out in the cold while their
jobs moved overseas.
Industry analysts say the economy is on the cusp of improving. And the
tech sector is showing signs of life. But the dark days aren’t that far
The Hudson Employment Index, which measures worker confidence, fell 1.3
points this past December to 103.6, its lowest reading of 2004. Key
contributing factors included a drop in worker ratings of personal
finances and increased expectations of staff cuts. However, the Index has
risen 3.6 points year over year, reflecting an overall improvement in
worker outlook compared to December 2003.
The Hudson report also studies four other sectors: accounting, finance,
healthcare and manufacturing. The report shows that IT was the least
stable of all sectors studied, posting both the highest reading of worker
confidence, along with the most dramatic stumbles. Hudson analysts
attribute the wild fluctuations to the “volatile and unpredictable”
outlook on the job market and employment issues.
The Bad Times
When the technology bubble burst about five years ago now, many of the IT
workers who weren’t laid off themselves had to endure watching their
colleagues hit the unemployment lines. Quickly, a time of great
abundance, in both job opportunities and salary, had completely shifted.
People had to wrestle with extra workloads in now short-staffed IT
departments. They also had to deal with equipment in need of updating, as
well as the fact that there were few job openings for them to turn to.
”The entire help desk for our corporation was let go after one merger,”
says the IT professional who requested not to be identified in this
story. ”It was like a family. I’d been there 15 years. It’s hard to see
those people pushed to the wayside or let go… People are just worried,
The IT worker says his original company, which was worth $1.4 billion,
merged with another company. People were laid off. Then about six months
later, it merged with yet another company. More people were laid off.
For this worker, the time of uncertainty isn’t over.
”We’re about a year away from our last acquisition, and senior
management now is talking about maybe another acquisition,” says the IT
worker, who adds that he’s been feeling insecure for about two years now.
”People are still nervous… but it’s one of those things that’s out of
A Change in the Tide
But the economic tide is starting to turn, according to analysts, and
that should make work and job hunting easier for tech workers.
Sunil Mehta, CEO of NimbleCat, an employment services company based in
Fremont, Calif., says he’s seen a two- to three-fold increase in the
number of IT jobs posted on job boards across the U.S. Mehta also notes
that a good chunk of those jobs are popping up in California —
specifically in Silicon Valley, which had taken a huge hit after the
”My sense is that there’s a big difference in the job market,” says
Mehta. ”Some people are getting multiple offers again. Salaries are
inching up… And I think people are more hopeful than they were.”
But Mehta says the wounds are too fresh for workers to let go of their
”I think security and contentment come from looking around you and
feeling very comfortable that your job situation isn’t going to change,”
he adds. ”It just hasn’t been long enough. We’re only a few years off a
very tough situation. It’s only been six to eight months since the market
has turned. It’s too soon for people to say, ‘Now everything is OK.”’
While most IT workers aren’t saying everything is OK, they probably are
saying that things are looking better.
Al Williams, a team leader with the emerging technologies group at Penn
State in State College, Pa., says he is feeling fairly content in his
job. And Williams has been lucky enough to not only stay happily employed
at Penn State, but he also has been able to mold his job into one that
keeps him engaged and excited.
And for him, that’s the key to contentment.
”I think most of us are reasonably secure in our jobs here,” says
Williams. ”You’d always like to do more and you’ve got to find outlets
for that. I’ve done that by changing what I’m doing on a regular basis
throughout my career.” Williams says he started out in the aircraft
industry, and after 10 years there, he moved to the university system and
worked as a mainframe systems programmer. From there, he moved to
distributed computing before changing direction again and managing labs
in classrooms. More recently he started working in the emerging
”It keeps things fresh,” says Williams. ”You get to look at new things
and look at things from a different perspective. When you’re so focused
on one thing, it gets to the point that you don’t see what else is going
on in the world.”
What seems important today to many IT workers, like Williams, is to be
able to stay with one employer, according to John Challenger, CEO of
Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a high-tech recruiting firm based in
Chicago. During the Internet boom of the late ’90s, IT workers frequently
moved from job to job, seeking out more exciting work and better pay.
Today, Challenger says, IT professionals are being more cautious and they
want stability in their careers.
”The tech workers felt the change in the economy a little more deeply or
harder than other sectors of the economy,” says Challenger. ”I think
they took away a sense of being more cautious about making sure the jobs
they take and the companies they work for are stable.
”I think maybe we’re at the brink of moving into a new era,” he adds.
”We’re coming out of the doldrums of a technology depression.”