Pros and Cons of Government IT Jobs

Is a government IT career right for you? It depends on whether you value financial stability and work-life balance over a higher salary.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

June 11, 2024

4 Min Read
American flag in front of a government building

Is an IT career in the government sector worth pursuing? The answer depends on what you value most. If benefits such as financial stability and work-life balance are high on your list, a government IT job might be the thing for you.

Here's what to know about working in IT for a government agency, and how to decide whether it's a good fit based on your preferences.

Which IT Jobs Are Available in Government?

Like virtually every other type of modern organization, government agencies need employees who can provide a wide variety of IT skills. From setting up and supporting the workstations used by other employees, to managing government software applications hosted in the cloud, to documenting how complex IT systems work, and more, there are a variety of IT needs in government.

That's why most government agencies hire for IT roles. The exact job descriptions and requirements for IT openings in government vary; some roles are for IT generalists, while others focus on special tasks or skills. But no matter your role in the IT industry, there's a strong likelihood you can find a government job that suits your skills.

What Makes Government IT Jobs Unique

By and large, the type of work that IT engineers do in the public sector is not different from IT work for private companies. You'll use the same technologies and skills in either context.

Related:Pros and Cons of IT Jobs in Education

Instead, what makes an IT career in government different are the benefits and perks you can expect from your job. In general, government IT jobs are distinguished by the following advantages:

  • A healthy work-life balance: Government jobs tend not to require as much overtime or on-call work from IT engineers as private sector jobs. Plenty of jobs outside of government offer good work-life balance, too, of course, but government roles tend to be especially attractive in this regard.

  • Infrequent layoffs: Government agencies lay off employees significantly less frequently than private companies. If you're worried about the ongoing layoff trend in the tech industry, a government job could be a great place to take refuge.

  • Access to pensions: Many government jobs offer pensions, a benefit that has become much rarer in the private sector over the past couple of decades.

  • Advancing a mission: Unlike a typical private company, which exists mostly to make money, most government agencies have a specific mission or function — like overseeing healthcare or education programs, to name just a couple. This can be a benefit if you want to do work that advances a certain type of cause.

The Downsides of Public Sector IT Jobs

On the other hand, IT jobs in government may come with some downsides.

The biggest is a tendency to pay less. On the whole, salaries in the public sector are lower than in the private sector, and the gap has increased in recent years. The lower pay is largely offset by the financial stability that comes with lower layoff risks and access to pensions. Still, if your goal as an IT engineer is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible, you probably shouldn't pursue an IT career in government.

The other major challenge of working in IT in the public sector is that getting a job can be tougher due to the complex hiring processes that government agencies typically follow. You may need to pass an exam or obtain specific credentials before you can even apply for a government job in IT.

Private sector jobs aren't always easy to get, either. But typically, any hurdles you encounter are imposed by the employers, who can make exceptions or roll back their requirements if they have trouble recruiting qualified candidates. In government, however, complex hiring rules are usually impossible to bypass — no matter how skilled you are or how urgently an agency needs to fill an IT role — because they are mandated by legislation.

Conclusion: Is a Government IT Job Right for You?

The bottom line: If maximizing your income is your primary goal, and/or if you hate navigating complex bureaucratic hiring processes, a government job in IT might not be for you.

But if you like the stability that typically comes with employment in the public sector, or you want to work for an agency with a particular mission, government IT careers can be great. Just make sure you are prepared to navigate any byzantine rules that may govern how the agency hires for the job.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

Sign up for the ITPro Today newsletter
Stay on top of the IT universe with commentary, news analysis, how-to's, and tips delivered to your inbox daily.

You May Also Like