Finding Your Happy Place in IT: Ten Jobs

Tuesday Jun 12th 2007 by Eric Spiegel
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Ten possibilities to consider as you search for optimum personal happiness in the tech field.

Are you happy with your IT job? Do you get up in the morning raring to write that next line of code? Perhaps that is the one skill you know best – coding. But is that all there is in the world of IT?

Back in the dark ages of computer science (mid-1980’s), when I was in school learning about information systems, we basically were taught how to write code. Our professors would give us specs and we would write neat and structured programs. In a mind numbing ritual before each test we would memorize syntax.

I thought – can’t wait to do this the rest of my life. Really I did! Although coding was very predictable at times, there were many challenging problems to solve and great satisfaction when your program compiled and ran like a charm.

When I landed my first job, I anticipated being handed specs and writing code. Instead, I was thrown into gathering requirements from a behemoth federal agency with a final documentation deliverable large enough to fill a tractor trailer. We had to interview the legacy system’s users, dig through old source code written in the 1960’s, and comb through excruciatingly boring user manuals.

This they did not teach in school.

However, it was actually a very useful experience and it helped me realize that there was much more to IT than coding. Since then I have dabbled in many other IT disciplines and finally found my IT “happy place” in other disciplines within the realm of information technology.

So, have you found your IT happy place?

If you are still coding after many years in the business, consider the changing landscape in IT. With more hard core development work being outsourced to cheaper labor markets, there is less of a need for pure developers in the US. I would argue today that there are more opportunities for disciplines in IT that do not involve writing code, especially in the United States.

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Before I get too much hate mail from those of you who have found your “happy place” in coding, I am not implying you have chosen a lame duck career. I just don’t think most colleges prepare those who graduate with software related majors for the real world. And, instead of getting depressed if you don’t find it to your liking or market forces are causing you angst, do not be afraid to overcome the fear of leaving your coding meal ticket and try out other disciplines.

Of course, an important “happy place” factor is job satisfaction. Some techies would be ecstatic to be cranking out code until retirement and they have no problem keeping up with advancements in software development technology and methodologies. It is a passion for them, thus it pretty much comes natural.

However, there are those who have spent the first part of their IT careers writing code and quite frankly are bored to tears, not feeling challenged because their skills and interests lie elsewhere.

Instead of packing their bags and leaving IT, there are other disciplines within IT that may fit their interests and personality traits. Here are ten for you to ponder:

1. Analyst - If you like being around people and problem solving, being an analyst could be for you. You would have the opportunity to interview users and collect requirements. Sure you may have to read some boring old manuals, but you will also be able to help shape the design of a future system that will solve a lot of problems and directly improve the business function it supports.

2. Tester - Working in quality assurance can be very rewarding if you enjoy detail oriented work – and making developers mad. Well, some will get upset if you keep finding bugs in their code. But that is your job, to make sure the code meets the requirements.

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3. Technical Writer - Maybe you like to write and enjoy technology, but would prefer not to write code. It is hard to find a good technologist who can also write solid technical documentation – help files, user guides, and training manuals.

4. Trainer - If you were in to theater in school or are jazzed by public speaking, then delivering technical training classes could work for you. This involves direct people interaction, unless you are developing computer-based training. It’s a good way to evangelize a product or technology, without having to write a line of code.

5. Sales Engineer - Being a sales engineer is tough, but can be financially rewarding with some positions offering commissions. You have to enjoy pressure situations, helping the sales team close deals in front of expert customers technologists who are scrutinizing every aspect of your software product. This position usually involves significant travel, so keep that in mind.

6. Technical Support – Either working for a company’s internal help desk or providing customer service for a software firm’s product line would be a nice fit if you like problem solving and interacting with people. Out of all the disciplines I have tried, this was the worst and best. Worst because of the irate users that would cuss you out over the phone, even if it was a simple user error. Best because of the gratitude received when you helped a user through a difficult problem and helped them make a deadline.

7. Enterprise Architect – Whether you are designing a scalable data warehouse or mapping out a service oriented architecture for a global distribution system, being a good architect is essential to any large coding project’s success. You can remain very technical, but focus on the big picture so the software developers have a framework from which to be successful.

8. Systems Engineer – All great software needs a reliable system to run on. If it weren’t for the essential engineers in the data center, the code would be useless. If you get your kicks taking apart your computer or playing with your home network, you might also enjoy digging into servers, networks, and back ups.

9. Product Manager – For software firms, product management is a key position. Responsibilities include setting the roadmap for product releases based on understanding the market and competition, as well as dealing directly with customers to obtain their feedback. Product managers act as liaisons between the development team and the market.

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10. Management – This really applies to any of the above disciplines. The difference is you are managing developers, testers, trainers, etc. It sometimes happens that when you find your “happy place,” you can’t help but ascend to management. If you find the management aspect not fulfilling or too stressful, then you can always go back to the core discipline.

How do you make a leap into a new discipline? Take baby steps if possible. Ask to be put on side projects where you can help with testing, write some technical documentation, or chat it up with users to collect requirements.

Or you may have to take a leap of faith if the opportunity presents itself. I personally believe this is why being a consultant at some point in your career can be very rewarding, where you can gain exposure to many types of projects, tasks and industries.

You may find your happy place is in coding, or you may find it elsewhere. But you won’t know unless you try. .

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