Advice from an IT dad: Don't even consider a career in IT

Would you recommend that your kid go into IT? In reply to that time-honored question, one InfoWorld reader offers a brutally frank answer

The Father's Day before this past one, I asked myself -- given the huge workload and constant change associated with working in IT -- whether I would advise my son to choose IT as a career. I ran through a several different possibilities: app dev, security, analytics, and so on. Starting with the assumption I'd support anything legal my son wanted to do, I decided that, yes, I would recommend a career in IT, provided he began that journey with a real passion for tech.

At the end of that post, I asked what others would recommend and got a number of thoughtful comments, pro and con. Then this full-length response arrived the other day from a reader who, for reasons that will become clear, did not want me to reveal his name. I felt it was worth sharing:

Hi Eric,

I just read an article you wrote about a year ago talking about what you would tell your son if he wanted to follow you into IT. I have a bit of a unique perspective on this because I actually did follow my dad into IT, and my answer would be to warn them against a career in IT with every fiber in my being.

I grew up never considering for a second that I'd do anything but what my dad did and still does, but now at age 34, I look back and realize how miserable and disappointing my career has been. When I was a kid, it looked to me like my dad made a lot of money doing cool stuff most people couldn't, and to be fair, I may not have been far from the mark in the '80s.

What I didn't expect was that, by the time I graduated college in 2001, my prospect for the kind of career my dad had was basically nonexistent because of a combination of the dot-com bust and the flood of new "techs" who, to put it bluntly, would have been working in the mail room five to 10 years earlier. I did what a lot of people in my position probably did and loaded up on certifications and all, still got no interviews for anything outside of support, and found myself settling for a promotion to management because, despite two CCNPs, a CCDA, and more Microsoft certs than I can count on my fingers, I couldn't get a job doing anything other than support. I didn't want the job and only took it because it was the only way I saw myself making any more damn money in this business.

So now I'm in my mid 30s, stuck in a job I hate yet can't leave because I make more than I would in any other line of work I could conceivably do, in an industry that's basically become the McDonalds of corporate jobs, and all because I made the stupid mistake of following my dad into IT. I now have a one-year-old daughter who I will caution in no uncertain terms not to follow daddy into his line of work, if it even still exists by the time she enters what's left of the job market.

Anyway, hope this made for interesting reading. Thanks for writing a great article I got to vent to.

[name withheld]

I have to ask: How many of you feel the same bitterness as the writer of this letter? Or have you had a vastly different experience? And once again -- what would you recommend that your kid do?

This is a time of accelerated change for IT, to put it mildly. Admins who used to specialize are learning to wear many hats. IT managers are becoming more integrated with business management -- or getting marginalized. Meanwhile, developers with the right combination of skills, at least in and around tech hubs like Silicon Valley, are enjoying unprecedented salaries and perks.

The "Modern Times" conveyor belt of IT is moving faster than ever. If you've jumped off or leaped ahead, if you're struggling or thriving or just getting along, send us your story. IT is a heads-down career -- and reading the unsanitized version of others' experiences can help all of us get our bearings.

This article, "Advice from an IT dad: Don't even consider a career in IT," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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