The public often thinks of computer information technology as a fairly mundane and repetitive job, however in this career interview with a government IT professional, he shares how his work is anything but boring. He tells us how the events of September 11, 2001 affected his job and improved his pride and satisfaction in the work that he does keeping the world connected. Here is his story, in his own words:
I started out thirty years ago in a government agency as an IT professional. If I had to come up with three adjectives to describe me, I’d have to say I am resourceful, persistent, and inventive.
I’m a Hispanic male and that made it tough for me to fit in at work at first. Many of my supervisors and co-workers started out thinking of me as an Affirmative Action applicant with no education or skills. As they got to know me, they began to realize that I did know what I was doing and could play a valuable part in any project.
I provide support for computer hardware and software to people who might not have that much experience with computers. Every once in a while, I get to do some actual computer programming. Too many people think that computer programming consists of sitting at a keyboard and typing away as fast as possible — that’s not what it is at all. Most of the time programming is spent thinking things through and talking out possibilities with co-workers.
My job satisfaction rating would have to be a 9 on a scale of 1-10. I do work that I enjoy very much.
One assignment that did move my heart was when I was asked to do some continuing IT support work for a child abuse registry, a hotline anyone could call to report child abuse. I felt that I was part of a very worthwhile effort to make the world a better place.
One unique thing about my career is how it all started. I had gotten my training in computers through a few semesters of classes at a local community college, which was sufficient for me to sign up for a probationary appointment in government service as an IT professional. If I had to change anything, I might have chosen a starting IT position that would have involved more interaction as a educator.
One of the things I learned almost immediately is that there’s no shame in asking for help. An indecipherable database schema made no sense to me on one of my first assignments until I asked for some help.
The biggest adjustment I had transitioning from a student to a professional was adjusting to the fact that work is continuous and there are no clear-cut ends in sight for many tasks. School comes by you in chunks: a class, a semester, a graduation. Once one chunk is done, you move on to the next. The difference is that work is continuous and that can be daunting.
The strangest thing that ever happened to me on the job was also the saddest. One morning, I had just gotten to my job as a support tech for a unit responsible for computer networking all across the country. One of the managers came by with a worried look on his face, saying that the network responsible for computer traffic in and out of New York City had gone down and he didn’t know why. The date was September 11, 2001.
September 11, 2001 was a point in my career where I felt proud to do my job — we all pulled together to get things working again for the good of the country. Challenges like difficult co-workers and insane work schedules don’t hold a dime against that. The stress of the job does come from those moments when something is not working and you don’t know why. Those days before the a-ha moment hits are often the hardest, struggling to make sense of a problem.
No career interview would be complete without the question everyone wants to know, “How much do you make?” So here it is, in this profession, individuals can expect to make about $40,000-60,000 a year. I also take 2 weeks of vacation annually.
In order to get started in this field, a person needs to have a background in information technology — you can’t fake it. But, you can get that background easily enough through courses at community colleges. I’d tell anyone it’s worth it, if only for the satisfaction of a job done well.
Like many IT professionals, I hope my future holds the opportunity to become my own boss. I’d like to be running my own online empire five years from now, giving IT advice and helping others start their path to their future.