A tale of finding one's niche in IT

Through trial and error and tough decision making, an IT professional finds a position that meets career strengths and interests

Do what makes you happy. In my IT career, I've learned that it takes trial and error, the right opportunities, and some tough decision making to find a niche that works for your life at a given time.

Back in the mid-1990s, the health care company I worked for merged with another local health care company to become one rather large health care organization. At the time, I was doing desktop support and PC programming.

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After we merged, the team expanded and we embarked on a series of projects to upgrade our infrastructure, servers, and workstations and roll out systemwide access to e-mail and the Internet. The CIO for the second company took over and we moved along at a fierce pace, so much so that I was approached about becoming a manager of customer support and heading up the help desk, desktop support, and acquisitions and installs.

Taking on this responsibility would move me away from hands-on technology and into the world of management. I enjoyed what I was doing, but I decided it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so I took the job.

Things went well for four years. Then one day the entire organization was notified, much to our surprise, that we were "de-merging." Each of us had to decide which organization we would stay with, and I decided to go back to my original company. A new CIO was hired and many new IT employees needed to be recruited because the vast majority went with the second company.

I met with the new CIO and we surveyed what we needed to do: hire a practically new IT group, build a new datacenter, and at the same time maintain service levels and a high level of patient care. He offered me the job of network manager, overseeing not only customer support, but also data engineering, server support, and security. This position was beyond my education and experience, but once again the opportunity was too good to pass up, so I took the job.

This time, things went well for another four years and we continued to build our staff and our budget, but I was beginning to get burned out working 50- and 60-hour weeks, constantly getting called after hours, dealing with a list of responsibilities that was extremely challenging, and making sure our organization kept up with the rapidly changing technology.

I decided my list of responsibilities had become too much for me to handle if the organization was going to continue to grow. I went to my boss and explained my situation, and although he had been satisfied with my performance, he was concerned that we weren't progressing at a fast enough pace and were missing the big picture. After much discussion, it was decided that we would parcel out the job I had been doing, and I would take a step back and manage a much smaller group.

The move was a hybrid of demotion and structure change, but I was self-conscious because my pride and reputation were at stake; it would be difficult for me to face my fellow employees knowing that I was moving down, not up.

In the end, though, it worked out. My stress level became manageable, I was back doing the work that I most enjoyed, and I was able to spend more time with my family. The company ended up hiring three managers to do the job that I had been doing by myself. Nobody ever said anything to me about the move, but for a while I would sit in meetings and in the back of my mind wonder what people were thinking about me.

What did I learn? Don't bite off more than you can chew, and opportunities that seem too good to pass up might end up driving you mad.

This story, "A tale of finding one's niche in IT," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.