6 Inconvenient Truths About Careers in Technology

Surveys show that the vast majority of technology professionals are “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with their careers and current roles.

But like any profession in any industry, that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. To make sure you fully understand the good and bad when planning your career, here are some hard-to-accept realities and inconvenient truths about careers in technology. 

Yes, You Have to Deal With Bureaucracy

Even if you just want to focus on technology, the reality is that you may have to deal with a fair amount of office politics and corporate bureaucracy, said Brien Posey, a tech writer, Microsoft MVP and former CIO.

“Most companies actually discourage employees from taking a ‘MacGyver’ approach to innovation,” Posey noted. Management may err on the side of caution and end up killing good projects in the process.

Unless you are willing to work for an early-stage startup where you have massive control over daily decisions, you may need to temper expectations when it comes to flexing your creative muscles. Sure, there’s always some room for innovative thinking; but don’t be surprised if several layers of management murder at least some of your ideas.

Work-Life Balance Could Prove a Myth (Depending on the Job)

Many tech jobs have nonstandard schedules, or require staffers to be available 24/7 to respond to emails or other incidents, noted Nathan Chung, senior consultant, Cybersecurity Advisory at Ernst & Young (EY).

Chung speaks from experience, having started his career in help desk and cyber incident response. “Those jobs in particular required sacrifice, working long hours, and took time away from family,” he noted.

Not all jobs in tech will prove that demanding; just be sure to ask about the business hours and schedule before you accept an offer.

Systemic Ageism Exists in Tech Hiring Practices

Systemic ageism is a continuing issue in tech. For example, an analysis of actual client data by Visier found that hiring decisions in tech firms do indeed favor younger candidates, with managers hiring Millennials over Gen X candidates at a higher rate than in non-tech industries. That analysis further confirms the perceptions and experiences of tech pros who participated in Dice’s Diversity and Inclusions Survey. While there are steps you can take to counter ageism, it’s not easy; short of changing careers and leaving tech entirely, your best course of action is to build your network, emphasize your management goals to prospective employers, and keep your skills up-to-date.

Older Tech Workers Experience a Drop in Salary

The Visier study revealed another inconvenient truth about careers in tech: Mature tech workers generally perform at a higher level than older workers in non-tech industries, but still experience a similar decline in wages and salaries.

From age 40 onwards, the data shows that non-manager workers in tech are increasingly likely to receive a top performer rating as they age, mature and gain experience. However, older tech workers experience the same salary lifecycles as their counterparts in non-tech industries.

Your Career is Always on the Verge of Obsolescence

A tech pro’s job is to increase business efficiencies and profitability by applying new technologies.

However, if you are good at your job, you can end up working yourself right out of a job.

For example, you could lose your job if you recommend a migration to a cloud computing environment or the outsourcing of your company’s network management. And some academic researchers have warned that A.I. will replace coders by 2040.

The bottom line is that, unless you are always evolving and learning new things (and making a concerted effort to stay employable and relevant), you are in danger of becoming obsolete, Chung advised.

You’ll Encounter Environmental Stressors

Regardless of your specialization, you may have to deal with angry users, stress, pressure and deadlines. Many pros eventually burn out. “The problem with tech is that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to,” Posey noted.

For instance, if a major system goes down or there’s a significant hack or data breach, you can get laid off or fired. Indeed, a 2018 study by Kaspersky Lab showed that 31 percent of global breaches have led to employees losing their jobs. At the very least, the staff will be expected to work 24/7 until the issues are fixed and addressed.

“Some environments actually border on being toxic or hostile,” Posey added. But while every worker endures some amount of stress in the workplace, it may be possible to spot a negative culture, toxic teammates, or unreasonable bosses before it’s too late.

3 Responses to “6 Inconvenient Truths About Careers in Technology”

  1. Wombat Warlord

    The advantage of older workers is not just the technical experience but organizational experience. I get to know not just my technical work but how the business works and what are it’s cycles. When to avoid system changes due to heavy reporting times and how early to start including the business in on interface and workflow designs.

    It’s about knowing how other IT groups work so I can make their lives easier and their jobs more effective by automating the routine and boring so that human beings have time to solve the shaggy dog stories that pop up. Challenged but not overworked support staff are more patient and work better with those they are helping.

    It’s about mentoring, giving the benefit for painful lessons learned. We’re going to make mistakes but at least make original mistakes, not repeating the same ones over and over because there is no “generational” communication. I like it when younger workers learn what I do as it is good for their careers as it now frees me up to learn new things and continue growing.

    Publications are filled with the strengths of older workers and the importance of soft skills but in the end hiring managers favor youth for both the lower price tag and “They grew up with this so they know it.” Right. I grew up with cars but ask me my qualifications to competitively drive the Indianapolis 500. Familiarity, competence and experience are not synonymous words; rather they are markers of a path over time.

  2. wageSlave

    I’ve been studying labor markets for decades and the effects of ageism in the market place is the kind of thesis economist win Nobel peace prizes with. The labor markets have to contend with imperfect information. The effects of easy access to information on the internet is going play a major role in all the possible outcomes. Will tech worker become so smart that they push very hard to make up for the loss of income they are going to experience later in life. Will they be able to retire at forty when employment turns difficult? How will people adjust to shorter life time earning prospects? What does a jobless economy look like?

    There are plenty of IT professionals out there making a quarter of million a year who can be ready to retire at forty. Will this become the norm? The difference between them and the smock making 60K is an unrelenting focus on maximizing life time earning potential. Millennials with their, I what it all NOW attitudes are going to be a defining factor.

    Why is this rise to Nobel peace prize level? It’s because of the effect these changes will have on the economics of government. Social security in particular. What happens when large portions of the population expire at age forty? Unable to find work they are going to rely heavily on social security like programs to survive. That is unless they can accumulate enough wealth early in their careers to survive the rest of their lives. The professional that ignore their life time earning potential will do so to their own demise. Will the knowledge of one own short life time earning potential change behavior?

    Will wages break loose and rise to a new equilibrium? Or will the current wage control system cause a pressure cooker affect leading to mass violence? It’s going to be interesting to watch.