Dirty IT jobs: Partners in slime

Carcasses, garter belts, and anthrax -- techs get nasty in the name of IT

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Dirty job No. 4: Political geek

Looking for an exciting career filled with crazy hours, zero job security, bomb threats, sharpshooters, and all-nighters spent on the server room floor? You may have a future in politics -- or at least, the IT side of it.

Russell Henry's first tech job ever was working as a computer technician for a national political party during the 2000 and 2004 elections. It wasn't your usual IT gig. Due to the cyclical nature of fundraising, staffing rose or fell with the season and offices got shuffled every few months.

"I was constantly reimaging, deploying, decommissioning, and moving PCs," he says. "It seemed like it would never end."

As the first Tuesday in November got closer, workdays got longer and weekends off became a vague memory. On election night 2004, Henry was given a sleeping bag and a sack of Doritos and told to camp out in the data center that housed the party's website, just in case it needed to be manually rebooted. (It didn't.)

Fortunately for Henry he worked for a national party, not an individual campaign, so he didn't find himself looking for a job the day after his candidate lost. Still, doing IT in D.C. meant dealing with occasional bomb threats, anthrax scares, and other risks to life and limb.

"We had a few offices in the building next door to our headquarters," he says. "One day we were up on the roof, installing a data laser to link the two buildings. Suddenly the Capitol Hill police burst out of the stairwell. Apparently they were a little jumpy about us pointing something that looked like a bazooka so near to federal buildings."

Henry now does desktop support for an East Coast university, where he says life is much calmer now.

"The political job was much more stressful and intense, but also more exciting."

Dirty jobs survival tip: Bank some cash -- you may need it if your candidate loses. But don't go into politics for the money.

"There are a lot of jobs where people are just going in for the paycheck," Henry says. "But in politics you have to believe in the mission and be dedicated to winning. That's a bigger motivating factor than the money."

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