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30 September 2008

Why do you work in IT?

By Andrew Clifford

Like every profession, IT is driven by the passion and eccentricity of the people who work in it.

The stereotype of IT folk is that they are rational and unemotional. If we were asked "Why do you work in IT?", we would probably come up with a rational, unemotional explanation. Something like how IT skills are in constant demand, good working conditions, well-paid, and so on. But if you looked more closely, especially at people who have worked in IT for some time, you would see another side. Many are not unemotional rationalists, they do their work because of their enthusiasm and the enjoyment they get from their work. Many of us have found a niche, and our real reason is the satisfaction of working at something we believe is truly interesting and important.

We can be quick to criticise other people's specialisms. The project manager who prides themselves on delivering on time and to budget, but cuts corners on quality. The programmer who loves to code, but has no idea of the business relevance of the work. The obsessive DBA who eats, breathes and sleeps databases. The security specialist who constantly evangelises about protecting the organisation, without thinking about the impact on everyday work. The CIO who spends all their time on organisational politics, and does not sort out the pressing issues in their own department.

We criticise our colleagues for their singleness of mind and their lack of balance, much more than we examine our own biases. We should not be too critical, or try to be too rational. It's good that people enjoy their work. Like every profession, IT is driven forward by the passion and eccentricity of the people who work in it.

We do not have to share the passion to get the reward. There is a trickle-down from the passionate eccentric to the broadly useful.

Every DBA tool, every intrusion detection method, every design approach, every programming language, every piece of wisdom about business-IT relationship, has been driven forward by an eccentric with a passion for their specialisation. IT has not been driven forward by the rational, balanced and unemotional, but by the irrational, eccentric and passionate.

When I started out, I was rational. I went into IT because it was easy to get into and paid well. But now I am an passionate eccentric. I'm fascinated by the long-term management of IT, improving its cost, life span, and improving responsiveness to change. I know other people might not share my passion, but that does not stop me believing that what I do is really interesting and important.

And I think there is a spin-off from my enthusiasm. My work on system quality management can be used by others to get a handle on the long-term management of their IT, to understand issues like cost and risk and responsiveness. You do not have to be a believer to benefit.

We should be proud of our passion and enthusiasm. Of course we do need to be critical, and curb the excesses of each specialism (especially our own), but we should not forget what really drives people to work in IT, and how IT is driven forward.

Next: Why you should use XSLT


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