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IT job satisfaction plummets to all-time low (computerworld.com)
55 points by edw519 on Jan 7, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

This isn't surprising. Big companies see that their employees can't easily leave so they take advantage of it. Of course when the economy picks up people are going to leave, but this will be happening to lots of companies so they'll have plenty of available talent to replace their losses.

The company I'm at made a huge profit last year. Half as much as the year before, but still a massive profit. In my year end meeting the manager who gave me my embarrassingly awful bonus check told me "we're lucky to be getting anything with the year we've had"!! Of course the CEO didn't get hurt much. It was pretty interesting. I never see anyone in the office after 5pm since that day...

Indeed, I'm sure many of us saw the same things happen when the dot com bubble popped.

There is a silver lining to stressors like this: it helps people see fair-weather employers for who they are.

The dissatisfaction is real but temporary. People hate their jobs because they feel trapped. As soon as the recession lifts, prospects for the old bonuses return, and they have more job options, most will stay instead of leaving as the article contends.

Having options to leave improves job satisfaction immensely.

I'm pretty sure the guys picking up work from their laid-off coworkers, pulling extra un-paid hours to cover it all and being denied bonuses/raises despite profitability are dissatisfied with something more than a feeling of being trapped.

As soon as the recession lifts, the fair-weather employers will be forced to correct those inequities - which is why those who stay, will stay.

You absolutely can not write off the objective ways people's working environments have changed and will change again, when you look at whether they leave or not.

I don't think nwatson wrote those off. He was probably referring to the fairly in-depth article, on HN some time ago, which discussed how "having options to leave" was a huge psychological factor for job satisfaction. I can't recall exactly how they supported that argument, but I think it was fairly convincing.

What nwatson is suggesting is that along with improvements in bonuses and working conditions, there will be the improvement of once again having options - which is itself a very significant boost to morale.

Yes, I had read that article recently, and it must have been from the HN reference. A quick google search doesn't bring up an obvious HN link or the original article, I wish I could find it.

edit: hmmm ... HN reader 'spokey' has found it, see [one of] his comments here.

Are employees really trapped? I changed jobs this year, and my company (a large, household-name-type-place) is continuing to hire a lot of developers. I think the team I'm on was about 2 people a year ago, now it's 10+.

Maybe people right out of college are having trouble finding jobs, but I think anyone with actual programming experience is in high demand right now. (Just like always...)

IT != programming

Programmers are in a very different boat, job-wise, especially programmers with some experience. Recessions don't hit us as hard.

Do you think the article considers programmers as IT workers? I think so. It's in the quote:

The folks at Apple Computer, I'm guessing right now, are feeling very purposeful at work

Sure Apple has an IT department, but I'll bet that quote isn't talking about Apple's internal systems that its IT department maintains. I've recently learned the hard way, that IT does not really mean programming as those who frequent HN think of it.

Programmers in IT, spend much of their time writing the necessary glue code that gets 2 or more other systems talking. Usually, at least one of those systems is a poorly-documented piece of vendorware. If your IT programming job includes the web, then add to that making things work in IE6. It's hell on earth.

Dunno. I have to deal with poorly-documented vendorware (and Windows, from time to time) and I have had to make websites that work in IE6. I would not count either as "hell on earth". It's just stuff that needs to be done, and people will pay a lot of money to have it done.

From my experience it takes about 3-5 times longer to get a job now vs. 2004.

In line with this, I recently have been trying to exit grad school. I applied with a large tech company (within the top Fortune 20), interviewed, and got an offer. The problem was that they offered 15K less than anyone else, and refused to negotiate. I feel like they took advantage of the economy and their name. I turned them down, but I can't help but wonder how satisified I wouldn't have been if I had taken that job.

I'm not sure I buy it, but Scott Adams has an interesting theory that could explain this at:


Essentially, he argues that when jobs are plentiful cognitive dissonance forces you to believe your job is a good one, otherwise you'd get off your butt and seek a better one. When times are tough, you are more free to believe that you are unhappy at your job since the economy gets you off the hook for doing anything about it.

(Of course, I'm pretty sure that in bust times jobs are objectively worse than in boom times--more work, less pay or hope for advancement, greater uncertainty and stress, etc. so I'm not sure a cognitive dissonance theory is needed.)

(Edit: fixing typo)

I wonder how much of that also has to do with people that simply chose the wrong line of work? Back when I was in school it was coming towards the peak of the dot com bubble and I know there were tons of new students in CS that were there just to make money.

In the long run they are now finding out that money wasn't enough to make them happy since they don't really enjoy programming and are thus unsatisfied...

Now I can pretend this isn't a personal problem!

Honestly though, at my day job, IT work has shifted from setting up new systems and replacing bad ones, to making bad ones work, and telling people what they have isn't so bad. (This goes for workstations, servers, etc.) I'm all for being economical but I'm seeing a lot more of "penny wise, pound foolish" lately.

New projects are also dead, even ones that wouldn't cost much money (if any). It seems that nobody wants to feel the cost of change even if it means finally replacing horrid excel based work flows. My satisfaction has gone way down. Thankfully I'm not in charge here.

Lately I spend my work days "coding" half on day job stuff and half on my startup MacSupport.com. On busy days I can't wait to get out of work so I can work on work that feels important to me. I'm one of the last people who still has a separate full time job. I can't wait for the next few months, when hopefully I'll be able to make the leap and switch carers.

I can imagine what the situation might be like at the company from which I was made redundant six months ago, and it probably is fairly unpleasant with whatever IT staff remain trying to support and maintain complicated systems that they have little knowledge or expertise on.

Probably related to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1032875 (Tim Bray's "Doing it Wrong" screed on enterprise software)

(ps edw519 I was waiting for you to chime in on that thread)

Hey joshwa, somehow I never even noticed that thread yesterday. Why? Because I was up to my earlobes implementing a business intelligence/data warehouse system in a very large SOX-compliant enterprise :-).

For current requirements, this solution is excellent. It is third party software, installed on top of an existing ERP system, that enables the users to extract whatever data they need and build their own reports without submitting a ticket to IT. Everyone loves the prototypes and is dreaming about the possibilities.

So instead of beating up on enterprise life, let me just share a little bit of yesterday, one typical enterprise day:

- A 3rd party build just stopped at 98% complete with no error message.

- Another build crashed with error messages I had never seen, so I had to open another ticket with our vendor

- We ran out of disk space on a volume we didn't know the software was using.

- I had to add additional data cleaning functions to remove heretofore unknown control characters in the enterprise data.

- I inadvertantly named 44 files with the vendor's own naming convention, so now no one can tell whose files are whose. We had to reset our standards and rebuild.

- Although this vendor has hundreds of installs, oddly, none of them are SOX compliant. The controls, audits, and duplication of data needed will more than double the resource requirements. Worse, I'll have to do an implementation that no one has ever done before with this software :-)

- Today we start writing our own tools to handle the SOX compliance and satisfy the auditors. Some fun.

I can go on and on. You get the idea. And I haven't even touched upon the usual enterprise culprits: the meetings, the politics, and the lack of project management. It kinda sucks to have to do triple work to get the same thing done.

So whose fault is all of this? No one's. That's just the way it is. Every time I think of a better way to get things done in a large enterprise, someone has 5 good reasons why they are the way they are. It's wasted energy fighting that.

As I've mentioned in previous posts (one example: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=760704), I think the long term solution will be to eat away at the soft underbelly of the enterprise one bite at a time, with small apps, nimble software, and cloud computing that augments but doesn't replace (yet) current systems.

I continue to ponder YC's RFS #6...

[EDIT: I continue to ponder "Ideas We'd Like To Fund: Enterprise Software" whichever number that was :-)]

Yeah, I think about that enterprise software RFS as well. I'm working on a data warehouse for a bioinformatics research center right now, so we are somewhat playing in the same place.

Can you share what third party software you're using? I'm looking at some of the BI platforms now and comparing that with a ruby/sinatra backend hooked up to a decent jquery based web frontend developed in-house. And, I'm using this experience to decide if I can come up with something that would be worth submitting to YC's next round. It would start with the users building their own reports without needing IT, but there is some other stuff more on the backend with data mining and correlation that I think would be the real win.

Oh, seeing joshwa response, I might fall into the hungry hacker category myself.

I've been looking into it a lot as well. It really depends what your BI is supposed to handle. Is it analytics with very wide but very flat tables that you don't join much (or at all)? Is it complex queries joining many tables together to respond to ad-hoc queries?

I recently needed to support the first case and found that one of the best cost/performance solutions for us was infobright given that a lot of our existing base and reporting can stay as-is since we used heavily partitioned mysql myisam tables but it was getting slow (and crashy) and even slower every day.

In the near future I plan on supporting the second case because I'm getting a little tired of having to write up new reports myself. I've automated pretty much all the frontend stuff so that generating new reports is mainly a question of plugging in the proper sql queries and massaging the resulting data appropriately (which may be why I find it so boring) and it'll only take me a day or two to write new reports on a new part of the business but I'd much rather pass that off to marketing and teach them how to do it themselves.

For the second case, what I think is very promising and will be prototyping very soon is a combination of LucidDB and the Pentaho BI Suite. (Check out a demo here, it's pretty impressive: http://demo.pentaho.com/pentaho/ )

Truly complex predictive reports I'll still have to handle myself but those are interesting because they at least require problem solving. The rote historical analysis reports I'd prefer handing off for good and the other departments would love to handle it themselves since they wouldn't always have to wait until I had time to get them their data.

Believe it or not, Pentaho is what we have in place right now. For the ETL backend, I think it is a really nice tool. Flexible, intuitive, and measures up well to Informatica and other $$$ tools.

But the reporting model, with the designer/xaction dev/publish quirkiness just bugs me. I find myself editing the XML definition files when I want to change stuff rather than firing up the tools. The documentation is a little lacking as well, but I have demanding standards there.

I also don't particularly care for how business models show up in the GUI for user-driven report building. To be fair, that is probably somewhat related to a poor model without proper dimensional design put in place. First pass efforts (before my time here) basically copied the operational system schemas into the data warehouse (shudder).

What database did you plug Pentaho into? Like I said earlier I was thinking of using LucidDB but according to this benchmark: http://www.mysqlperformanceblog.com/2010/01/07/star-schema-b... it seems InfiniDB might be a better candidate.

Caught this question only after a few days, sorry for the delay. We actually are using Oracle (we have a site license).

Sounds pretty similar to my day, too:

[redacted - list of gripes]

(realized it's easy for my employer to find these posts. Trust me, they were funny/sad. And involved a certain company out of Armonk.)

Re: YCRFS 6: do you mean #5 on this page? http://ycombinator.com/ideas.html

If you hit on anything good and need a hungry hacker with enterprise experience, you know where to find me. :)

is there really a RFS #6 or are you counting from 0? http://ycombinator.com/rfs.html

Yeah, as we are discussing the enterprise he should probably have included a disclaimer that that was a forward looking statement.

Helping my aunt download pics from her phone to Vista almost ruined my Christmas. IT work has got to be hell.

I agree, I've worked as a help desk person and a developer and I personally enjoy development type work. A lot of satisfaction comes from working at the right company too. I've worked at many companies and I finally found one I enjoy working at. The company I work for is within Fortune's top 100 companies to work for: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2009/fu.... I'd suggest going through the list and trying to find one of those companies. If you can't find one, make sure you do your home work during the interview process. I believe Joel on Software has a good article about what to look for when considering a new employer.

Finally, happiness is a choice. Go into your job each day telling yourself that no matter what happens you’re going to find something positive. It’s a lot of hard work to be happy.

This isn't too surprising. IT salaries have not even come close to keeping up with inflation. It's even worse in the cities. In the Silicon Valley your average engineer making $100k whose wife makes $40k and has 2-3 kids can't afford to buy a home. Especially considering the 9% sales tax and the 9.3% state income tax.

Combine that with expectations to commute 10-14 hours a week, and put in 60 hour weeks. Why should they be happy?

Throw in there the decimated banking system making it impossible to get a loan, and the American dream has been replaced with corporate wage slavery.

It's a messed up system we're in right now. But hey, at least banks are seeing record profits, and we've spent 1 TRILLION DOLLARS ON TWO WARS IN JUST A FEW YEARS.

Of course IT people are unhappy. Everybody is unhappy. Some executive at a large company whose compensation is 150x that engineer's meager salary wants him to work 60-70 hours per week?

Fuck that.

Sounds like people like this have made their own lives unhappy.

I ran the numbers, and $140k/year is more than enough money for a family of 5 (even including the taxes you pay to that evil warmongering government). You can comfortably spend $2000/month on your house/apartment, which gets you a nice size space even in major cities. (This assumes $6000/month after taxes; a 50% tax rate. You get to save $1000 and spend $1000 on non-essentials, and still have $2000 for food and bills with this plan.)

9% sales tax and 9.3% state income tax doesn't really matter. 9% sales tax doesn't affect essentials, like food. It just means that your new flat-screen TV is going to cost $1100 instead of $1000. Big deal. In exchange, you get a free school system, free roads, police / fire / etc. Taxes are a fact of life when living in a developed society. Lop the 9.3% off your salary and forget that money was ever even yours -- it's an employer's expense, not your expense.

Anyone making this amount of money can have a large living space 10 minutes away from work, savings, and plenty of money to pay your bills. And $1000 to spend on whatever-you-want every month.

If this doesn't make you happy, I guess it's time to work harder, or something. Most people would consider this a very comfortable life, perhaps even "the American dream". But taxes, the government, and society in general is probably not keeping you down, as your post seems to imply.

Your numbers sound really low.

I spend 1700$ a month on a nice 780 SF one bedroom apartment just outside of DC. If I want an hour long commute each way I can drop that down to 1200$ a month. (More if I move to a sketchy area.)

I spend $1400 for 850 SF in downtown Chicago (on the 16th floor, with a lake view). Bigger units that you could easily raise your kids in are around $2000.

I'm at $2725 for an 1100 square foot apartment in SOMA, which is way too much.

I guess what I have learned from this is that the problem is Silicon Valley, not IT.

Clearly you've never been to the bay area. Especially if you're working in San Francisco, then you're looking at living in the outer richmond or sunset if you want $2k to stretch out to enough space for a 5-person family. Expect to pay more like $3k on rent, or $5k on a mortgage. Anybody spending more than 25% of their net-income on housing is living beyond their means.

Add in $700/month in food, $300/month in insurance premiums, $1,000/month for a car (between car payments, gas, insurance, average of 10 parking tickets per year and $200/month for a garage parking spot). All of a sudden you're living paycheck to paycheck.

My point is, executives in that article are complaining that they are unable to coerce engineers into giving their companies an extra 50% of their time for free. I'm not saying it's poverty, but I fully understand how the life of a corporate wage-slave is stressful enough to induce unhappiness and an unwillingness to go the extra mile.

The past decade has been a loss for the economy. IPOs are gone in exchange for M&As which only benefit the founders and investors in any signifiant way. Yet startups still dangle football of IPO-induced wealth to hoodwink engineers into working themselves into an early grave in order for the founders to become marginally wealthy. And the big companies who would like us to work ourselves to death would gladly outsource our jobs if they could overcome the lack of talent and communications issues of workers abroad.

And in the end they're still renting, and not able build wealth of their own.

Agreed. I've never made so much while still feeling so poor as when I lived in the Bay Area.

And honestly I can't think of a city I've lived in that you could comfortably live with 3 kids for $2000/mo on rent/mortgage alone. You wouldn't be living in CA, NY or DC thats for sure.

Clearly you've never been to the bay area.

Apparently dating sucks, IT careers suck, housing sucks, transportation sucks, (... list continues ...) if you've been to the Bay Area.

I have an alternative explanation which is quite a bit shorter...

The weather is nice...

Its COLD in July.

Depends on the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods are always cold. SOMA is pretty sunny and consistent.

As someone who lives in LA your rationalization by neighborhood micro climate is falling on deaf ears haha

I have never been more consistently disappointed by weather than that of the bay area. Personally I'd rather have a snowy winter than be greeted with 58 degrees and overcast every single morning all year long, but maybe thats just me...

This is BS. A relative of mine has many rent-homes in the Fremont/Newark area, 3-4 bedrooms, nice homes in nice areas, for around $2k a month, including utilities. You don't have to live in Palo Alto or SF just because you work there.

Places like Fremont/Newark/Hayward are 45 minutes to everywhere. 45 mins with BART to SF, less than 45 mins (w/ traffic) to Mtn View/Palo Alto/Sunnyvale, and 45 minutes to San Jose. That's a perfectly reasonable commute.

If you really want to raise a family of 5 in the Haight, than that's awesome, but don't cry when your 140K household income isn't enough to give each kid a room AND still have a covered spot to park the M3. Moving to the Sunset is just kidding yourself, since the commute to downtown is going to be just as it would be if you moved to the 'burbs.

This is the natural state of the economy though and quite expected.

Every business wants to reduce expenses, and if that means importing H1-Bs, then it is going to happen bar government intervention. Satisfaction obviously goes down because that's what it takes to compete with workers who are used to non-first-world living conditions.

The tech industry is designed to profit off of young, single, impressionable white boys who are more than willing to drink the kool-aid. As you get older, say 30-35, all of a sudden the world changes on you. Relationships happen, families emerge, and the same industry you gave your youth too all of a sudden just doesn't fit you anymore because you are no longer it's ideal employee demographic.

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