Which IT career would best satisfy the following requirements?
March 20, 2009 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Solve this puzzle: which IT career would best satisfy the following requirements?

Part of me thinks I want to be a software developer. Another part knows that what I really need in a carreer might not come with the programming territory.

So here's what I really, honestly need - a career that:

- requires knowledge or a skill set that is not 'a dime a dozen.'

- allows me to have a personality. Some roles demand that you suppress your personality in the name of professionalism. I hate this. Because I'm naturally a dork.

- ideally, there would be only one or two of me at the organization.

- my organization would be highly dependant upon my work (ie. no long vacations)

- I don't have to make "what's best for the business" decisions.

- I can lead by example (ie., quietly)

I hope this is enough to go on. Basically, I need a career in which I can feel important and unique. It doesn't matter what the title is, whether or not it's high up on the ladder and whether or not my importance is very visible to others.

I truly appreciate your input.
posted by kitcat to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
NetAdmin at any 50-125 person company meets every one of those requirements -- infact it is my last job to a T.
posted by SirStan at 6:39 PM on March 20, 2009

Yeah, basically you want to be a Unix/Linux Sysadmin for a small-ish shop.
posted by the dief at 6:48 PM on March 20, 2009

- my organization would be highly dependant upon my work (ie. no long vacations)
- I don't have to make "what's best for the business" decisions.

I'm not sure that these two goals aren't mutually exclusive - if you have a level of responsibility that requires you to be available at all times, you are likely to be required in the course of your duties to make either implementation or purchasing decisions that absolutely will have "best for the business" implications.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:51 PM on March 20, 2009

Decisions about implementation or purchasing don't bother me. I should have clarified. I meant aligning with business core values kinds of things, business partnerships - management stuff.
posted by kitcat at 7:27 PM on March 20, 2009

Seconding namewithoutwords, as well as the chorus of voices suggesting that you should look into some sort of sysadmin position. If you're (a) good at what you do, and (b) in a position of seniority, then part of your job is going to be making "best for the business" decisions. If it's not, you're irrelevant and you probably should look for work elsewhere.

If you pursue a career in academia, you may find that there is less focus on "the bottom line", which is perhaps what you're trying to avoid, but no budget is infinite and you will always find yourself in situations where "what we really ought to do" differs from "what we can afford to do".

Looking at some of your other requirements:

- requires knowledge or a skill set that is not 'a dime a dozen.'

It's up to you to develop skills that aren't a dime a dozen. This isn't really a characteristic of the job. If you become highly skilled in your area of practice, you will have differentiated yourself from the many people in more entry level positions.

- allows me to have a personality. Some roles demand that you suppress your personality in the name of professionalism. I hate this. Because I'm naturally a dork.

If you find yourself in a senior level position, there's a very high probability that you're going to be interfacing with management and non-technical types. You can still be a dork, but you'll need to be a professional one. That really just boils down to treating people with respect, not making unrealistic commitments, and always doing the best possible job that you can. Or, in simpler terms, "be nice" and "don't screw up". That shouldn't really crimp your style.

- ideally, there would be only one or two of me at the organization.

I don't know, if there's only one of you you're never going to learn from anybody else. Or you're going to be a SPOF, which means your organization is poorly managed. Or you have no actual responsibility, which I think conflicts with some of your other requirements.

You may find that working as a security specialist gets you closer to this goal -- I know of several organizations that have a senior "security guru", but this typically requires heavy interaction with management throughout the organization (because you're usually dealing with policy issues as well as technical issues) which may not be what you're looking for.
posted by larsks at 7:31 PM on March 20, 2009

No really, I can deal with management. I just don't want to be management.
posted by kitcat at 7:40 PM on March 20, 2009

You just described my job at a smart ad agency: Flash developer. Games, product simulations, fun microsites, feature galleries, and yes, the occasional banner ad.
posted by ae4rv at 7:54 PM on March 20, 2009

I'm not sure I'd suggest an agency; all too often the needs of the business aren't forefront but the abstract and plainly stupid needs of the client come first. You don't want to be chained to the yoke of "client satisfaction" ...

Personally, I'm a departmental Linux Sysadmin at a large university. I have a lot of freedom to implement things the way I want them to be and to give them my personality, but I've found that the best way to implement them is often to take pleasure in a few small things but keep the rest as impersonal as possible lest I foil up something someone else does in an emergency. My job philosophy can be summed up in one phrase: I want to sleep through the night tonight. If anything conflicts that, I fix it, get rid of it, or quit.

As dorks/nerds/geeks, we tend to find something that we like at a deep level and then stick with it. For my coworker, it's the ridiculously arcane and detailed stuff. (I swear the guy has most man(1) pages memorized. He knows all the flags for different versions of shutdown across five different platforms.) For me, it's the KISS principle, massive scalability and redundancy, and "gets the job done" languages like bash, PHP and lua. (My coworker, predictably, likes lisp and python.) I've gone through three career role changes and a lot of interviews before I found this job, this environment, this role, and this management.

Some of the things you're looking for come off as a bit sophomoric. I did the "I want what's best for me" in my first job; I was a PHP guy in a shop that went Perl/Mason... and I hated it. Just as I'd made up my mind to look for a different job, they laid me off. Out on my ass in the dot-com bust (2003) years and nary a job to be found. Sometimes you just have to shut up and go with it or you need to quit and find a new job. Frankly, I hate guys like you and hope that you don't end up in an IT role. I inherited this job from a guy who sounds a lot like you, and I've spent the last two years trying to keep everything running while I untangled the "personality" he left behind.

It might be better to say that the things you're looking for are a particular culture, not a particular job role. You're looking for the right supervisor, the right company, and the right decision making structure for your personality. You might bounce from job to job for a few years before you find it, but if you stick with it long enough you'll find it.
posted by SpecialK at 10:24 PM on March 20, 2009

The suggestions so far are reasonable, but what you are really looking for is a company where your job is only needed enough to hire one or two people. Could be any IT function, really. Sysadmin or netadmin might be typical, but you could also be the one software developer or the one DBA or some other role.

Finding that role might be fun in the short term, and will certainly feed your ego. You should *not* stick with it for more than a few years because it will be very hard for you to grow professionally in an environment like that.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:53 PM on March 20, 2009

I would recommend something more creative - sysadmin positions can easily be outsourced to a supplier.

How about IT architect? I've worked for them. Those folks are badass.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 PM on March 20, 2009

2nd the DBA and sytem / network admin suggestions. Also, a SQL query optimization guru at a mid-large size company would probably fit your requirements. The DBA and SQL skills are somewhat common, but the reality is that few people are _very_ good at these jobs. If you are one of those people, you'll be able to find a job like you're describing.
posted by doowod at 11:31 PM on March 20, 2009

Pretty much any IT-related job can meet your criteria if it's within the right company. So focus on finding companies with the right culture.

I would never cope with a corporate environment, it would drive me crazy, so my entire career so far has consisted of freelance web development (mostly for smallish clients, or for large companies via other web/ad agencies) and one day job with a smallish firm. You don't have to become Dilbert.
posted by malevolent at 2:04 AM on March 21, 2009

SpecialK is right: You're looking for a specific culture. There isn't enough here to suggest a specific IT job function. The criteria you've listed could fit a lawyer, a doctor, or an Olympic athlete. The most obvious thing I see is that if you don't want to be management, you'll have to specialize. But there are still tons of options for that.

What specifically attracts you to IT to begin with? Designing web interfaces on paper or in theory? Writing or troubleshooting code? Making networks and systems work with each other on the back end? Installing/fixing/maintaining hardware or software? Figuring out possible solutions to problems and diagramming them? Making technology easy to use? Designing software from scratch? Responding to urgent problems? Making sure projects are completed successfully, on time, and at budget? Being an advocate for the user of the system/product?

You need to do a little more investigating about *what* you'd like to do, not just *how* you'd like to do it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:42 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing the sysadmin suggestions. Speaking as a sysadmin, we get to do just the fun bits of programming, in whatever language we like -- usually small (relatively) projects to accomplish discrete tasks -- we get to architect systems, we generally get to exercise a great deal of discretion in our environments (nobody really cares other than you if you set up sendmail or postfix or qmail or Joe Bob's MTA of the Month, so long as mail works), and "personality" flavors everything (even the names Unix and Linux are basically in-jokes). Plus you can specialize or generalize however suits you best, and -- if this is a plus :-) -- organizations depend on you a lot because you're "that one guy" that understands how the pieces all fit together and why your developer's well-intentioned idea is about to kill your DBA's soul. Not sure that not taking long vacations is a plus, but hey, if you want to feel wanted, your pager will make sure that happens.

Find a startup or small, established company where you can work with someone else (if you're just learning, you need at least someone around to bounce ideas off of so you won't get stuck in bad, hacky habits) and build things and learn on the fly. Oh, and pick up a copy of Evi Nemeth's Unix System Administration Handbook, it's worth reading for the mockery alone.
posted by sldownard at 6:11 AM on March 21, 2009

Games development for a small or independent company. Basically, become John Carmack.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:24 AM on March 21, 2009

Sysadmin stuff does sound up your alley.

A slightly different take - how about learning IP-telephony? People who know how to do it well are still in demand for fairly good-paying jobs. It's an interesting skillset that not everyone has. There is creativity in designing systems, callflows, call centers. You get to play with interesting hardware and it's cool when a phone finally decides to register and makes and receives calls after hacking at the config files.

And good VoIP-skilled Sales Engineers make some decent money without the pressure of sales quotas. Best job in the business, IMHO.
posted by Thistledown at 7:54 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for some really great suggestions. Sometimes it's good to look at career decisions from a perspective other than what you *think* you are passionate about.
Frankly, I hate guys like you
And by the way, I'm a woman. Women work in IT too.
posted by kitcat at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

- ideally, there would be only one or two of me at the organization.
- my organization would be highly dependant upon my work (ie. no long vacations)

With you until here. Nobody deserves this kind of job security; and I worry that the kind of decisions that people already make unconsciously to build job security ("who the hell wrote this code? It's completely undocumented!") would be massively compounded by someone with an explicit goal of necessity and concentration of power.

- I don't have to make "what's best for the business" decisions.

Well, now you're just putting us on. Highly dependent and not accountable to owners? These are mutually exclusive! The closest I can imagine is legal defense for a lawsuit prone company.

In general, system administation is close to what you want, but only the very worst organization would leave it a significant amount of IT in the hands of one or two people. It may take you a while to find a small shop that accomadates your allergy to the "suits"; at a small organization you may report directly to the owner, after all.
posted by pwnguin at 3:11 PM on March 21, 2009

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