Published: December 18, 2015, Copyright (c) Sandy Elrick
The following is an opinion article based on my observations of the Calgary IT market, business, and career opportunity over the last 20 years.
As a person who has dedicated the last 2 decades of his life in the Information Technology field, I have seen many challenges both for business and for my IT career. I face such a challenging choice right now. Perhaps it is my state of mind that challenges me most on what to do and that I may lack the acumen to run a business (but I can learn that like most entrepreneurs whom I count as friends).
We in Alberta are facing new challenges – a shift in global energy concerns and potentially a radical change in oil and gas business viability in Canada. This means investment in those businesses may go to other friendlier markets. This may be a good thing in the long run (or not), but it means hardship in the short term. IT is no stranger to these hardships and in fact, perhaps we are better prepared to deal with the challenges because we have lived the experiences (constant change with fewer and fewer resources) – a shame we’re being pushed out of the internal discussions.
Even more to consider for my future.
It is my belief that my IT career is at a crossroads (again) – I have the choice to adapt and learn the latest thing that drives IT spending or to change into another field altogether. To use a gaming term, the former is an ever increasing need for speed and the latter can be one of the most rewarding decisions most people can make in their lives if they take the leap.
Being a Calgary IT resource has been always changing and always challenging. I’ve seen businesses abandon the traditional experience model (staffing appropriately and mentoring employees including budgets for training) to an on demand contracting model which features reductions in staff and staff benefits (not enough staff and hours to be able to mentor and no longer able to spend on training).
This broke the regular learning methodology (like mastering a trade) and people considering an IT career now had to ‘fend for themselves’ when it comes to making decisions about education and training (spending their own money and learning after work hours). I have to applaud a lot of folks that made said transition and have been able to keep up.
The value proposition in the cost to get a degree in the IT field and constantly spending money to achieve new certifications for things which will last only a few years – really makes one beg the question: Why should I or any potential student invest in an IT career when the objective of many businesses is to eliminate the jobs or give them to foreign workers? Is IT going to survive as a field or will it be absorbed as yet another facet of every other field out there?
An IT career is no longer glamorous nor is it likely to continue to pay well. Many medium and large businesses have forgotten about loyalty to employees let alone IT staff (how do we make our latest quarter? – burn labour to make the costs square financially). Business leaders seem to follow the mantra: reduce overhead budgets because they look worse on the financial balance sheets (yet, all the money comes from one place). This method starves the very organization and people who work hard to innovate and respond to business needs.
Sound familiar? This is how dieting works – an amazing comparison but it seems to fit – the unstable binge/purge/race during the middle quarters of a fiscal year and radical effort to make things just perfect at the end of Q4 never seem to work in the end do they? Insanity: repeating the same action, and expecting a different result. IT is but one facet of business always under the knife. How can you win the race if you’ve already cut the fat – and to make it this quarter you have to start cutting the meat? Quite a dilemma. Why not use a holistic approach?
The two responses for people who consider IT as a career (or chose to stay in it) so far have been to embrace the current way of doing things or to look for work in other fields which are not being reduced or outsourced. Alternately, they can try to change the scenario (if they have business acumen). I fear IT as a career has taken yet another unappetizing turn. Millennial students and other people in IT are seeing their job prospects disappear.
The feast/famine finance thinking has exacerbated resource constraints which have pushed up labour costs. Add to that the near constant ultimatums that there is a labour shortage for this or that. Does business even understand how people can keep up to the constant retraining – and work – and be the Mercury of change. What effect does this have on the individual and their family?
So the social value contract of IT is waning – this is true across North America if not the world. The perception is that few business leaders truly value IT as an internal partner and prefer to defer to external experts that have no real investment in the success of their company other than to gain that quarter’s sales or the long term overarching support contract. More insanity to satisfy a balance sheet? I am not one to judge.
As an individual, I am now faced with having to spend more money to retrain, on something, anything – do I choose IT again or change? What do I say about my balance sheet? We all reap what we sow. I have to make some hard choices and I have yet to find clarity.
Perhaps some leaders will step forward and effect the change we need to be a happier society and therefore happier employees. Leaders seek in others the value to make the whole better. If you are a leader, I ask that (if you don’t already) you add to your barometer of business success by considering your employee success in conjunction with your financial balance sheet.
I leave you with two interesting pieces (a quote and an article) to tickle your noodle further. As for me, I look forward to change and will gratefully accept my new role (and perhaps career or business).
Thank you for reading and enjoy!