It's What You Make IT

Database professionals get job satisfaction by creatively managing their careers

"Overall, how satisfied are you with your current position?"-When we asked this deceptively simple question in our 2005 salary survey, we got a flood of information from respondents. From responses to this question in our 2004 survey, we learned that database professionals are a positive, resilient group ("SQL Server Pros: Surviving or Thriving?" December 2004, InstantDoc ID 44363). Faced with significant cutbacks and increased workloads over the past few years, database pros affirmed that they still enjoyed their jobs—and even recommended their career to others.

A year later, we see that database professionals continue to have a positive attitude about their work and a positive outlook for the future. As Figure 1, page 24, shows, 79 percent of this year's respondents report that they are somewhat or totally satisfied with their current positions (up from 72 percent last year). This result is especially interesting in light of the responses from the IT professionals who responded to the Windows IT Pro salary survey.As Dianne Russell reports this month in her Windows IT Pro article "Are You Satisfied?" (http://www.windowsitpro .com, InstantDoc ID 48177), IT specialists outside the database arena reported a high level of dissatisfaction with their jobs.Are things really looking up for database professionals? Or is attitude everything? Let's take a look at what respondents to the SQL Server Magazine survey said makes them happy at work, what challenges they face, and what they think the outlook is for IT in an increasingly global economy.

On the Job—and Lovin' It!

"I feel as though I am paid to play." This quote from a database developer sums up the feeling that respondents communicated about their careers—they love what they do. One DBA explained simply,"I am a database guy. I love to work in this area. It's challenging and analytical, and \[I get\] job satisfaction." Another DBA enthused,"It's a blast. I enjoy coming to work every day. I am autonomous, and I am fully responsible for what I do and how it affects the performance of the database server." Many respondents wrote that they're in IT careers simply because they love technology and are excited by its endless creative opportunities.As one DBA explained, "What people want from their computers is only limited by their imaginations... and those know no limits." Indeed, many respondents said they view their jobs as a creative outlet. "Constantly facing new challenges with both technology and in business user requirements" is inspiring to one IT director. He explained that, "Always being creative in our solutions and having a say in the creation of a new project" is a big factor in his job satisfaction.

Figure 2 shows seven factors that affect that satisfied glow. Compensation is still the top satisfaction influencer—after all, who doesn't want to be paid well for their work? Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they plan to stay with their employers long term (1 year, 2 years, or indefinitely), but they listed money matters as the top reasons they would consider taking a new job, as Figure 3 shows. These considerations are significant because even though respondents say they like what they do, nearly half of respondents (44 percent) say they aren't being adequately compensated for the work they do. These respondents said they would like significant increases to feel adequately compensated, as Figure 4 shows.

But the fact remains that more than half of respondents feel their pay is fine. And, as Jason Bovberg reports in "How Much Cash AreYou Raking In?" page 15, 82 percent of respondents said their pay increased in 2005. And as Russell reports in "Are You Satisfied?" the IT specialists who responded to the Windows IT Pro question of whether their compensation was adequate came up with a nearly even split: 49.4 percent said their compensation is adequate, and 50.6 percent said it isn't. Clearly, both database professionals and other IT specialists value other rewards besides money.

What, then, makes the database professionals who responded to our survey report such a higher level of satisfaction? To answer that question, we looked again at respondents' written comments about their jobs. One factor that came up repeatedly in respondent comments was that database professionals truly value the feeling that they have a valuable skill set and that they influence or create successful technical solutions. "The reward is awesome for creating a solution that customers will appreciate and bring value to their jobs," said an application developer. Another application developer testified that, "It's a stressful job, but it feels great to see the job done and people using your solutions. It makes you feel that you actually make a difference." In contrast, people who didn't feel that their skills were valued took a significant satisfaction hit. One DBA feels that people in other departments in his company harbor "too much negative attitude \[toward\] IT.There is no appreciation for how long a server has stayed up and nothing but complaining when it goes down." Another DBA echoed that feeling, saying, "I'm very sad with my situation and career. The people I work for don't know why or how systems work and don't care."

Personal growth and learning opportunities are also aspects of an IT career that help people feel satisfied about what they do. One Web developer said his IT career "is an opportunity to keep learning and keep reinventing yourself. I enjoy the constant learning. Accounting could be fun, but it's always the same 10 numbers and from the outside seems very monotonous. But IT is ALWAYS challenging!"A DBA said that he likes the fact that "technology... is evolving and always offers something new to learn." An application developer added that his job provides "interesting work, social contacts, and an opportunity to get to know the business from inside." Interestingly, as the sidebar "Up All Night" (page 26) shows, career development was listed as the number-one stressor that keeps respondents awake at night. But despite the apparent contradiction, respondents' comments support the speculation that database pros are people who relish a challenge.

Globalization and the New World of Work

The challenging nature of database work is something that all respondents acknowledged. Even when they embrace change and the opportunity to solve difficult puzzles, database pros know their work can be tough and stressful. A particular area of ongoing concern for many respondents was how globalization—specifically, outsourcing and its effects on the job market—has changed the employment opportunities for IT workers. As Figure 5, page 25, shows, a relatively small percentage of respondents said they were worried about losing their jobs to outsourcing. However, respondents' comments indicate that they are still struggling with the effects that outsourcing has had on how they do their jobs and how they view their future job prospects. One respondent flatly stated that his company was"outsourcing everything that's not nailed down." Some respondents feel that outsourcing is a threat because it drives down wages for IT workers. And others noted that jobs in their areas seem less stable. As one DBA put it, "Companies will throw you away once they find someone to perform your job for slave labor."

However, some respondents said they are noticing a reversal of the outsourcing trend. "There are still some good opportunities out there," said an application developer, adding that "the outsourcing trend will eventually reverse itself; everything comes full-circle in time."An IT director added his encouragement, saying, "Information technology is a mainstay in the business world. Outsourcing overseas is dropping due to all the problems that arise from it. It is a challenging and rewarding career choice." And a US DBA said, "I believe we are starting to see a trend of outsourcing coming back to the United States." This faith is supported by the US Department of Labor.The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicts a significant increase in the number of IT jobs by 2012. For the period between 2002 and 2012, the BLS forecasts increases of more than 45 percent in the number of application software engineers and systems software engineers, more than 36 percent in the number of computer and information systems managers and computer "specialists," and more than 44 percent in the number of DBAs.

Still other respondents view outsourcing and the globalization of IT jobs as an opportunity for skilled professionals to advance into more creative, exciting careers. An application developer said, "If someone is interested in providing the bridge between the business unit and the development community, I would recommend \[an IT career\]. If all they want to do is develop code, they have serious outsourcing issues to consider." That note of caution was echoed by a DBA, who advised IT hopefuls that they be aware of "the challenges inherent in this profession—particularly the constant need to stay up-to-date with technology and to diversify your skill set." For those who are willing to stay current and adapt to ever-changing technology, says an IT director, "IT provides significant challenges today that will only expand in the future. Outsourcing may change the IT role from purely technical to a mix of business and technical, but it opens up exciting new opportunities for career-oriented people." Another DBA said, "I think there is still a multitude of opportunities for the talented IT individual.The media figures that write about how IT is a dying industry are the same ones that call a Help desk to help them format landscape in Word... they are not credible."And yet another DBA said simply, "The world is becoming flat... Adapt and overcome."

Still Just Boiling Eggs...

Overall, the comments of this year's respondents show that they aren't just satisfied with their jobs—they're devoted to their professions. They are realists who acknowledge that the careers they've chosen aren't always easy. (For listings of common stress factors that respondents reported, see the sidebar "Up All Night.") But when we asked "Would you recommend working in some aspect of IT as a career path to young people looking to choose a profession?" 86 percent said yes. Some respondents qualified their recommendations with cautions and advice ("Don't get into contract-or project-based tasks;""As long as you have realistic expectations and you actively manage your own career;""Learn database theory—it will give you a broader vision than everyone else"), and some were matter-of-fact ("It beats flippingburgers").And, as Figure 6 shows, some recommendations depended on gender.(To read respondents' views about women in IT, see the sidebar "IT NeedsWomen!" page 24.)

But database professionals are generally upbeat and encouraging to others who are interested in pursuing similar careers. One DBA said simply, "It is interesting to work with the data that spins the world." Other respondents agreed. One application developer said, "I would recommend IT to anyone who wants to learn new technologies, likes to be challenged constantly, and wants to be part of creating solutions for users."And many respondents expressed the firm belief that IT is the foundation of a technological future that we've only barely tapped.As one application developer put it, "We are still just boiling eggs using the heat generated by our Ferrari."

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