IT Workers Believe That The End Of The World Is Coming (Soon)

by drjim on July 31, 2008

Why do IT workers have a negative outlook despite increases in IT hiring?

Why do IT workers have a negative outlook despite increases in IT hiring?

The Wall Street Journal Tech Blog is reporting that the folks over at Technisource Inc. have gone and released the results of a survey on how IT folks feel about their jobs based on talking to about 450 IT staffers. In a nutshell, nobody’s very happy right now.

Right now the U.S. economy is in the dumps, gas costs $4.00+ / gallon, milk costs $5.00 / gallon, and let’s not even get started talking about electricity and home fuel oil costs. However, IT employment is one of the few rays of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy picture. In fact, IT hiring is up about 10%. Yea! What’s so damming is that despite this good news, the survey reveals that IT folks are overwhelmingly negative about our prospects. Clearly we are looking at this as a “… glass half empty…” situation.

But wait, there’s more bad news! Here’s some other doom-and-gloom results from the survey:

  • 70% – said that the economy will get weaker
  • 59% – said that fewer jobs are available (not true by the way – tech hiring is up)
  • 20% – don’t believe that they could find another job
  • 17% – doubtful about the future of their employer

Ok, so now that everyone is thoroughly depressed, maybe we should ask ourselves why there is this apparent disconnect between what IT staff is thinking and reality? Is it that so many IT workers don’t feel that they have the perfect IT job? I don’t think so. Instead, I think that there are at least two reasons (and probably a bunch more). One is that within companies IT staffers are seeing a constant stream of “… we must find more ways to cut IT costs …” emails, programs, and words rolling down from leadership mountain. We all know that this generally leads to headcount reductions and so we await the inevitable chopping to begin.

Additionally, the median salary for IT workers has dropped to $73k in 2008. It was at $74k just last year. It’s not that big of a drop; however, what is much more worrying is that this is the first time that its dropped. It sure doesn’t look like anyone is going to be getting a big raise this year.

To wrap this gloom-fest up, let’s tackle one last question: what’s an IT manager to do? Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t have access to a pot of cash that you can use to boost everyone’s salary. Let’s also assume that you can’t guarantee everyone that their jobs are safe from the chopping block. Do you sorta feel like both of your hands are tied behind your back? Here are three simple steps that you can take to boost team morale and help everyone to become more productive:

  1. Change the focus from the short term to the long term: the depressing news is in the paper (or online) every morning. Change your team’s focus and get them to take a long term view. Have them anticipate how they will feel when the milestone is reached, the project is done, the users start to send their thanks back to the team.
  2. Work On Self Improvement For Each Team Member: You can’t guarantee everyone a job for life, so start to put some life into their job. Specifically, make sure that everyone has an assignment that stretches their abilities and makes them do something that they haven’t done before. Additionally, work out a skill training plan for each team member. You can’t control the future; however, you can help them make sure that they have the strongest resume possible.
  3. Strengthen The Team: Provide every team member with the ability to perform some task that makes the team stronger. Although you may not be able to cheer up each and every team member, if they start viewing their work as supporting the team, then all of a sudden their level of commitment will shoot up.

I’d just like to leave you with a few words from one of my favorite Broadway musicals, Annie:

The sun’ll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sunJust thinkin’ about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
‘Til there’s none

When I’m stuck with a day
That’s gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And grin,
And say,

The sun’ll come out
So ya gotta hang on
‘Til tomorrow
Come what may

I love ya

You’re always
A day away

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Stunned April 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm

WOW! This artcile really spews it on think, and ending with that Annie rendition, what was that? Was that supposed blow a warm fuzzy breeze up are bums and makes us happy? The reason IT professionals feel this way is that we are constantly being told, through actions of company management, that we aren’t worth anything becuase we don’t bring in any money. We are a black hole that consistently shows no return, and our departments are always the first to lose personnel when times get tough. The genius’ who run companies don’t realize that without IT now-a-days they would have to go back to making phone calls and writing memos instead of sending emails, texts and video conferencing. They also wouldn’t be getting the up-to-the-minute data mining that helps them make strategic business decisions, although based how some of these companies are run, I don’t think CEO’s know how to balance a check book, and yet…they keep getting hired. Also, no company really gives a damn how good a job you do, basically what it comes down to is how far you bend over, if you have a backbone, or an opinion, your out when it’s time to cut costs. A company can always find reasons to cut you when the time comes. You may not be a total jerk, but there was that time you didn’t agree with the way your manager was handling the roll out of the new CRM package, and you said something to them thinking your idea would help. It did, but you never got credit for it, they did. Next thing you know the economy isn’t doing so well, and your gone even though there are people there that make $10k-$15k more than you, yet they state it is a money issue. No, the old ways of keeping your job are gone. You don’t have to work hard, or a good a job. What companies are looking for these days are “Team Players”, people who agree with any idea, don’t talk back, will work 16hr days and weekends and do not complain they don’t get compensated. People who have no independent thought, will cover for their manager even though said manager throws them under the bus every chance they get. These are the qualities companies want. They want people who know how to bend over, generously lube themselves up, and have a smile plastered on their face as they drop their drawers. We KNOW we are on the front lines when times are tough, and are the first department looked at for cuts. This is WHY people in IT are despondent, because appreciation for what we do doesn’t exist If it ever did.


Dr. Jim Anderson April 20, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Wow. So just how long did it take to write that comment – I’m betting not long. That’s one long continuous thought and, in the words of Bill Clinton, I do feel your pain. But wait one minute, I agree with most of what you say, but I think that your conclusions are wrong. Yes, if you are a “Yes” man/woman you might be able to hold on to your job a little bit longer, but the axe man is going to find you eventually. If all you are doing is keeping the email system and the network up and running, then you days were numbered no matter what the economy decided to so – there were bright smart folks in India who were ready to take your job from you anyway.

The trick to long term survival is to become more than the typical IT employee. You need to learn the business and then USE that knowledge. You also need to develop those self promotion skills that mean that even if you are working for the biggest jerk in the world, others in the firm will see you and realize just how valuable you are.

In the end it comes down to how good of a job you are doing at constant education. If you are not learning about your business, it’s products and challenges every day than you are one day closer to getting cut. If things don’t go your way and you do get cut (that’s life), then if you’ve kept up and learned everything that you could, then finding that next job will be MUCH easier because your next employer will realize that they are getting more than just an IT person.

No lube required.


Stunned April 21, 2009 at 11:15 am

Hey Doc, I don’t totally disagree with your assessment, but…experience dictated those thoughts. I agree education is important, both regarding the company and your job, but it doesn’t actually work like that. For the past 20 years that I have been doing this time and time again, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Yes, I agree, when the axman cometh your dues our up. However, if you know the axman, people who shouldn’t be keeping their jobs, do. It isn’t a true and fair process, I know this sounds like it’s coming from a 12 year old. but that’s the way businesses are run. If you are liked, it doesn’t matter if you know squat about the business, if you are liked or connected then you get to keep your job. This isn’t just in IT, it’s everywhere. You could be top notch in whatever you do, but if you are considered “hard to work with” because you have opinion’s, a backbone, stand up for yourself, and have a disagreement to or with your boss, chances are they feel threatened, and SHAZAM, you’ve been labeled. Then, it’s just a matter of time. When it’s time to cut people, your name is top of the list. As I stated, I don’t totally disagree with you, and my head says what you say has some merit in it, but the data from 20 years experience says different.


Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Stunned: I can agree partially with what you are saying – I’ve seen much of the same. However, I’ve also seen very opinionated IT folks who didn’t really give a darn about what others think who were so valuable that they were considered to be “untouchable”. Ultimately, I think that you are correct – it’s who you know that counts. However, this is not always favoritism, sometimes it’s that you’ve been recognized as being very valuable. There is no better job protection than that.


hs April 22, 2009 at 11:34 am

“Stunned” is correct, entirely, unfortunately. This is a typical problem in large companies which are more often full of people of less than excellent quality.

Smaller tightly knit shops that are more meritocratic are far superior from this perspective. I work for one such shop that got bought by a very large company, and we never cease to be disappointed in them and the way they work.

The “Team Player” attitude is very degenerate, it’s not about being good as much as it’s about “playing ball”, which is precisely what “Stunned” has written about.

IT guys are always the first to get cut in a recession, that’s just the way it is and probably always will be.

The real question is, if young people knew the truth about IT, then how many of them would consider doing it on a work vs risk vs reward basis against any of the other established professions?

Not many.

No child of mine will ever be allowed to do IT.


Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 9:08 pm

HS: ouch! I’ve heard that “no child of mine” statement before from my friends in IT and it hurts each time I hear it. I really disagree with this. Yes, yes – in some IT shops it’s a good ol’ boy (or girl) network that rules the land. However, as you mentioned, when I’ve been in start ups, there was no time for political games and the focus was on results. Perhaps the secret is to find a way to get that startup mentality into larger IT shops. I’m not sure how you could go about doing that – tell EVERYONE that their job is on the line all the time…?


hs April 24, 2009 at 4:40 am

Telling everyone that their job is on the line all the time is one way to make your employees miserable and look for new work.

You tend to spend most of your waking life at work, so if you do not enjoy it or there are any significant stresses/problems or things you are unhappy about it’s probably best to leave and preserve your happiness and quality of life.

It’s actually much more important for intelligent people to have as many children as possible that to work 12 hour days.

After all, the worst people on earth are having lots of children without worrying about the qualities they pass on or how hard they work or useful they are to the world around them.

When I was younger all I could see was work, until eventually I realized that performing 5% faster by working extremely long hours ultimately made no difference to the world as much as the quality of the future that you create and that is entirely dependent on breeding patterns as the type of humans that inherit the world in 20 years, 50 years, 100 years … etc completely revolutionizes how good or bad the world will be in those times.

You see… it’s very hard for intelligent people to not be opinionated as this is the whole point of thinking, you need to think for yourself and try to come to truthful conclusions to try to make the world a better place.

One thing I was told while working in a non-IT job with not very bright people to say the least was “Stop trying to put the world to rights”.

This is the typical “who cares about anything” attitude, in which case we may as well not have come down from the trees or out of the caves.

The point of life is to make things better and that requires thinking, opinions and free and open discussion no matter the topic, whether it’s politically correct or against the current party line of Communism/Fascism/Socialism or whatever the backwards philosophy of the day is that is thrust upon us be a small subset of self serving people without an ounce of altruism for the world at large.

Stopping my child from considering IT is because:

1) I love her and want her to have better quality of life than IT people typically have
2) There are too many people doing IT as it is
3) Denying the world of good IT people until it treats them better restores the balance of give and take.


Ryan April 28, 2009 at 10:05 am

Since when should anyone trust the opinions of temporary IT staffing agencies? There’s a reason why they are referred to as “pimps”.


Dr. Jim Anderson April 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Ryan: well ok, maybe they have a vested interest in making everyone think that IT workers are unhappy. But what is the mood where you work? I don’t know about you, but unless you are currently working at Google or Facebook, I’m thinking that just about every IT worker is spending some time looking over their backs to see if the axe man is coming. IT managers have to find a way to motivate folks and get projects done in this type of environment and that’s no easy task!


hs April 29, 2009 at 4:41 am

I agree there is a lot of disgruntlement in IT, not just because of the current economy which is affecting a lot of people, but it’s actually been this way for several years now that I can tell.

I think the perception among IT people when comparing themselves to non IT people is that there is a lower skill/hard work to reward ratio compared to a lot of other jobs which are easier and can be done by anyone without so many years of training and experience.

The current economic state of things simply accentuates feelings that existed before about being undervalued, especially since it’s widely known that IT is often the first thing to be cut in a recession.

Agencies may actually capitalize somewhat because some less than amazingly smart managers cut perm staff and replace them with contractors as it comes out of a different budget and somehow makes their books look better. I really hate that as they pay more and it’s the old throw the problem into my neighbour’s yard mentality, not overall beneficial for the company I believe. I know of one very prominent bank that has done this and my hq has as well. This is really another flaw common to big companies.


hs April 29, 2009 at 4:44 am

oh, forgot to mention, on the Google point, didn’t they lay off 200 people last month? So if I was working at Google, I wouldn’t be sitting back in my chair thinking about how secure I am.

Facebook has also been looking for a specific engineer position since Q4 of last year that they were still advertising for a couple of months ago, but with a £15K less offer, so I doubt things are so rosy for them at the moment either. Good luck to them, I’ve heard they’re overly picky as well which doesn’t help.


Stunned April 29, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Dr. Anderson, I must give you kudos for your optimistic view on the IT job situation. More power to you, but the optimism I feel is way too late. The way companies treat us won’t change, and I do not see how we in IT can affect any short of a Revolution. Think of an IT department as a sweat shop. We work ungodly hours without the proper compensation, we are treated as second class citizens within the corporate world because our hierarchy is unable to grasp what we do. We take this treatment because if we don’t we know a reason will be found to let us go. Most of us anymore work on salary, which used to be reserved for management. This allows companies to treat the employee however they wish, forcing them to work long hours, holidays, even be on call without compensating them for it. We are hired under the standard 5 day 40 hour work week, but we are expected to do way more than that, without consideration that we have lives, and families.
These issues aren’t limited to only IT, but others as well. It goes far beyond IT. I don’t think IT positions are the only jobs who have people that are living in fear of losing their jobs, even in a good economy these edicts are still in affect, so we must comply if we wish to keep food on the table, heat in the winter, water to drink, and lights so we can see in the dark. However, I do think IT positions are the most misunderstood, mainly by those who have a direct impact on our lively hood.
If we in IT do an outstanding job, we are seen as doing nothing. If the boss walks by and sees an IT worker not doing much they figure they aren’t doing their job. However, those who actually do the work, know that all is well. That we are staying ahead of the issues, and being proactive. On the other hand, if we are running around, constantly putting out fires that are causing production downtime, then we are also seen as not doing are job. We can’t win. This is because they do not understand what we do.
I apologize if anyone thinks my above views are off topic, but I feel it does have some merit and contributes to the issue of us feeling in jeopardy when we have jobs. Other issues I feel that haven’t been touched on that makes us feel are jobs are at risk everyday are outsourcing, and HB-1 workers. These are just other bullets we need to dodge everyday. I have worked with these workers for many years and have found many of them to be subpar, not all, but the majority. They are no better than we are, they are just cheaper. However, what really burns me is that companies want them under the guise that they are unable to find the talent here. I know a lot of you feel as I do, that this reasoning is nothing more than a huge steaming pile. The talent is here, they just don’t want to pay for it.
Dr. Anderson, I say keep the positive attitude for those of us who just can’t seem to find the silver lining anymore, who still believe that if we do a good job there is someone out there who will appreciate it, and for those of us that no matter how many times we get beat down, we will still keep doing what we believe in. That no matter how many times we tell ourselves ‘what’s the point’ are character won’t allows us to do anything less than the best we can do. And, to those of us who won’t allow ourselves to submit, to compromise our character, or our work ethic I say…Let the Revolution Begin!


Curious April 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Curious…what is was doctorate study focused on and where were you granted said designation? Your self-promoting blog and various LinkedIn group postings don’t seem to lead a casual reader to tracking-down your credentials.


Dr. Jim Anderson May 5, 2009 at 9:00 am

Curious: your interest is flattering. I’m the proud owner of four university degrees – BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Computer Science as well as an MBA with a Marketing focus. I’m all done going to school now!


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