This Happy Breed: IT Workers Who Like Their JobsBy Deborah Rothberg | Posted 2006-12-22 Email Print
Re-Thinking HR: What Every CIO Needs to Know About Tomorrow's Workforce
eWEEK investigates what makes a good IT job a great one, from the mouths of the happy workers themselves.
When the majority of people talk about work, it's almost undoubtedly followed up with a complaint. From "Dilbert" comics to the movie "Office Space," the grumblings are remarkably similar: too little pay, too many hours, no respect, bad chairs, mean bosses, stifled creativity, under-funded projects, lousy equipment and an assault of busy work.
Hearing enough of these grievances aired, it a wonder that workers don't quit their jobs daily. Is the entire workforce this malcontent in their daily grinds or do only the squeaky wheels get attention?
Last month, eWEEK editorial asked more than a dozen IT professionals about the worst job they'd ever had and the seemingly most unusual thing happened: More than two-thirds came back saying they hadn't had an IT job they didn't like.
Had eWEEK stumbled upon a rare, unstudied breed of technology professional? Did these employees have no bosses, rake in millions or have 26 weeks of vacation a year? What could make such a large percentage of workers attach such positive feelings to their work?
When questioned further, their responses were remarkably unremarkable, but not because they were dull. Management support and treating workers like competent professionals doesn't seem like rocket science, and yet it is uncommon enough in the workplace that it is hailed as bonus when employees run into it.
Below, eWEEK investigates what makes a good IT job a great one, from the mouths of the happy workers themselves.
Kevin Wilson, product line management of the desktop and mobile division of Charlotte's Duke Energy cites management support and encouragement, says being treated like a competent professional and having adequate funding are among the things that he likes about his IT job.
"What makes it great is management support and encouragement for what you are charged with doing. Your are treated like a competent professional that is fully capable of realizing and setting priorities, as well as knowing what has to be done and when. Adequate funding is available without minute spending pre-approval," said Wilson.
Wilson notes that he's had to earn many of these opportunities; his managers have a comfort level with his talents because they recognize the levels he is able to operate on, he says.
Workplaces that feed into the naturally self-motivated qualities of IT professionals have been the favorites of Karl Herleman, CIO and vice-president of information technology at Miami Dade College.
"IT is all about learning, and I've been able to continue to learn and grow with every job I've been in… The great majority of workers in IT are self-motivated, and I've always been able to have co-workers who get excited about technology," said Herleman.
Herleman speaks about not losing track of time only focusing on cool, new technologies but to pay attention to the dimensions that count.
"My current job has one dimension that is priceless--a commitment to a higher purpose--education. But in general, delighting customers with technology is just about the most satisfying thing in the world," said Herleman.
Integrated, Not Segregated, IT
Currently back in school as a Ph.D. student and research associate at Emory University's business school, David Bray said he has always been happiest at jobs where CIOs embraced a more "holistic" approach to information systems, one in which the emphasis is less on technology as separate from business and more as something interlaced with the fabric of an institution's vision.
"I've been lucky enough to have several IT roles where it was more about information intelligence, where knowledge of technology was but one piece of a large puzzle requiring institutional knowledge, business knowledge, and an eye on the horizon for new opportunities [as well as possible pitfalls]," said Bray.
Bray's favorite IT-related jobs have always allowed him to "connect the dots"--to tackle problems which could be made solvable by IT, and been in places that understood that technology didn't exist in a vacuum.
"More CIOs and CEOs are adopting more 'bottom-up' fostering of ideas and grass-roots cultivation approaches to knowledge activities in their organizations, versus the older method of top-down command-and-control management… The latter is an outdated approach," said Bray.
Greg Smith, vice-president and CIO at the Washington, D.C.-headquartered WWF (World Wildlife Fund) not only understands the role of happy IT professionals in getting big jobs done, he wrote a book about it: "Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO" (Wiley, 2006).
In this career roadmap for IT pros, he encourages workers who are in jobs that are no longer working for them in that they are not challenging or fun, to change it.
"There are a variety of reasons why folks leave a job, but from my perspective--staying in one that isn't working out well for too long is actually worse," said Smith.
He also encourages workers to seek out organizations where the corporate culture and environment will mesh with theirs.
"People usually do well and have fun with work that they like. I really think the formula is just that simple. If you're not loving your job anymore, there's only one person to blame for not fixing it."
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