Most IT professionals have experienced that hero moment when their particular knowledge of a system, or a piece of code, got the company out of a jam in spectacular fashion. The feeling of being that caped crusader who bursts in and solves a problem that stumped others is addictive.
Most IT people have also experienced being the number one go-to for a system and never really being able to transition it to another person, but at the same time feeling like that knowledge makes it impossible to move on or get replaced. IT professionals all know about long hours, late nights, and on-call work to support vital IT systems.
Change is overdue in IT
A lot of the standard life of an IT professional is born of the early days of IT, when expertise was in short supply, systems were standalone and arcane, and businesses treated IT as an expense department, to be held back and financially restrained as much as possible, not a driver of business profitability.
But things have changed, and while labour may currently be experiencing a moment of catalyzing change, the change for IT professionals has been due for some time. Both IT professionals and employers need to re-evaluate long-held beliefs about how the job of IT professional should be.
From an employer’s standpoint there are a couple of things that need to be addressed. First and foremost is work-life balance, on-call compensation, and reciprocity when it comes to off-hours scheduled work, which happens fairly often in IT. On-call contracts need to be properly compensated and there cannot be an expectation that IT professionals work unreasonable overtime for months on end to meet deadlines that are often predicated on that very heroic effort.
Furthermore, employers need to stop looking for unobtainable perfection when searching for new employees. Unreasonable requirements for education, experience, and certifications, coupled with salary opacity means a lot of companies miss out on spectacular employees who don’t check every box on an unrealistic list.
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IT professionals need to wise up
On the side of the professional, there also need to be changes. Working incredibly long hours should not be considered a badge of honor, but a reason to ask how we got to the point where it was necessary, if it was necessary at all. IT professionals also need to drop their addiction to the hero moment, because for some that feeling is addictive. It leads to unwillingness to share information and train others to preserve the next hero moment.
Long term, it’s not healthy for an IT employee, or really any employee, to be irreplaceable, no matter how much it looks like an advantage. It leads to the employee being glued to the thing they are irreplaceable for: no advancement, no change. It also leads to resentment between both parties.
IT has been in the same employment mode for its entire existence. It’s time for employers and professionals to both make changes that will bring benefits to both. Happy IT employees with a sense of being treated fairly and appreciated can do great things for a company. A knock-on effect is that, in the long term, more people will be willing to start careers in IT, giving employers a larger labour pool to select from. But we all must change because as Dylan said, the times they are a-changin’.