Four Myths about Being an IT Professional

A laptop computer with code on it, headphones, hard drive, phone, screws, keys and an open notebook organized on a table.Growing up, I always had access to a computer and the internet. This is not surprising, considering my dad was (and still is) a programmer who enjoyed playing games, surfing AOL and using Microsoft FrontPage to create websites as much as my sister and I did. I don’t remember the exact moment I decided that I wanted to work in technology; I did know that I enjoyed building web pages and I somewhat knew my way around a computer. So, why not try to make a career out of it?

Fast forward to my college days, where I relied heavily on the internet for advice. I thought if I researched as much career advice as possible, my career and life would turn out swimmingly. Wow, was I naive! I've now worked in the IT industry for almost seven years. Seems like plenty of time for trial and error, right? My hope is that I nip common misconceptions of the field, like those below, for aspiring IT professionals and they learn from my experiences.

Myth: I got an IT job, I will be swimming in cash!

Truth: IT is definitely a lucrative career field. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026. As one of the fastest-growing occupations worldwide, it's obvious why many women (and men) are pursuing STEM jobs in the hopes of becoming financially secure. However, most IT jobs are not top-paying “silicon valley” gigs. Like most fields, higher-paying roles primarily exist for those who have years of experience. So don’t be surprised (or discouraged) when you’re just starting out and you find yourself taking a low-paying contract job in order to get said "experience." Consider this a moment to rise to the challenge, to make connections and even experiment to see if this role is right for you. In the meantime, here's an infographic that shows a number of career options in tech (and which ones are known to pay the best).

Myth: Projects and objectives will be crystal clear (we're dealing with numbers, right)?

Truth: Unfortunately, not every situation will not play out this way. Every project has multiple stakeholders. Each one of those stakeholders have a different idea, unique skill set and varied style of communication for a project. There were many times where I assumed that a person would or could supply information that I needed to work on a project and just as many times where they thought that of me --neither worked out. Good news is communication skills (as they relate to carrying out a successful project) can be learned. One skill I continue to struggle with is asking the right questions. As a programmer/analyst, it's important to know what type of information to ask for. This helpful flow chart illustrates 5 Steps to Asking Good Questions and explains the methodology behind asking the right questions to understand project scope. 

Myth: You are expected to be the expert in your field.

Truth: As a programmer, you may not be expected to know everything, but, you're expected to be resourceful enough to find the right answer. In my case, I thought if I could read code, then I would be able to understand the logic well enough to give a correct answer. Unfortunately, I fell into the terrible habit of not asking for help. I froze under the pressure to perform. I was too self-conscious to ask for clarification and didn't understand how to ask for help. Ultimately, I became the bottleneck within every project. 

With time, I learned that being resourceful was just as valuable. I now communicate my understanding of the question, but feel more comfortable saying, “let me get back to you on that,” while I do some research and/or ask for help. To become more confident in saying, “I don’t know,” check out this article: This is How To Respond to a Question You Don’t Know The Answer To.

Myth: You will write your own code and develop your own programs and apps.

Truth: College can only prepare you so much. When I started my first official programming job, it involved working with COBOL (shudder). When I opened that COBOL program, I almost lost my mind. The program was written somewhere between 800 BC to 1979. There were thousands of lines of code that I was never exposed to in college! Here's a fact: working in IT primarily consists of working on programs written by someone else. Foolishly, I thought all my work assignments would consist of writing flashy new applications. Never did I imagine that I would have to salvage some old code. So, what do you do in a situation like this? Again, you become resourceful or as Emerson refers to it, a "problem solver." Whether that means rolling up your sleeves and getting intimate with Google or finding a team member to help answer your questions is up to you. No matter what you choose to do, resourcefulness is possibly one of the most important soft skills to learn how to master.

Choosing (and sticking with) an IT career has been both one of the most-challenging and rewarding decisions I've ever made. Despite being a field of logic and rationales, it also requires creative problem-solving and learning a host of communications and other "soft skills" to be successful. 

Are you in the IT field and want to share your experiences? Perhaps your career field is also much different than you expected in college...but you survived...or even thrived!? Reply below to share your thoughts.