Do You Work In The Technology Ghetto? - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
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Do You Work In The Technology Ghetto?

IT professionals job hop every two or three years looking for what might be the next engineering Utopia. But they usually end up unhappy.

You've seen the job description. It's a kitchen sink demanding expertise in a broad set of unrelated skills that no one could possibly ever have. But you apply anyway.

That's even though the recruiter tells you the salary range, and it's laughable -- especially when you consider what the employer wants. But you figure pay might be negotiable, and maybe the company will overlook your lack of certain skills. You feel pigeonholed in your current position and ignored by your manager, so you submit your resume. You pass the first phone screening and then run the technical gauntlet conducted by a grizzled engineer, who seems more interested in tripping you up on some obscure protocol than determining what you know.

Finally, you land the hallowed in-person interview. The process feels detached, and the hiring manager seems distracted, but you get an offer. The job is not really much different from the one you already have, but you feel stuck and bored, and the salary increase (yes, pay was negotiable) is more than the 3% raise you'd see at evaluation time if you stayed put. Congratulations. You've just entered another technology ghetto.

According to a 2013 Gallup report, employee engagement is at an all-time low; 70% of Americans hate their jobs. When did engineering become drudgery, equivalent to working an assembly line? We often feel unheard by management, uninspired by the work, and hampered by a lack of professional development opportunities. You can see the results on resumes everywhere. Technology professionals job hop every two or three years looking for what might be the next engineering Utopia.

The consequences appear deadly for the US economy. Towers Watson analyzed engagement data from 32,000 full-time employees in its 2012 Global Workforce Study. It found 40% of employees with low engagement scores were likely to leave an employer in the next two years.

[Is a job in IT security a way out of the ghetto? Read Money, Skills, And Hired Guns: 2014 Strategic Security Survey.]

What impact does this have on morale, productivity, and profitability? According to the Gallup report, it costs the US between $450 billion and $500 billion per year.

I see the consequences with fellow technologists every day. Well-paid birds sit in gilded cages, frequently counting the days to retirement or looking for that next startup opportunity to serve a lottery ticket out of their situations. They've allowed themselves to become victims instead of advocates for their professional lives. Maybe part of the problem is that organizations and employees don't fully grasp the factors contributing to a sense of fulfillment at work.

Research from Amy Cuddy, Susan Fiske, and Peter Glick found competence and warmth were the main factors in leadership influence and employee engagement. Organizations are starting to hear the call for leaders with emotional intelligence, but in technology fields, this seems more challenging; soft skills typically remain undervalued and underdeveloped in a workforce that prizes reason over the human connection.

Then there's the question of motivation. We think it's about money, but that doesn't seem to be the case, according Dan Pink's book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He cites studies from MIT and the Federal Reserve Bank that challenge the notion that money is a key motivator for performance. In some cases, higher incentives even led to worse performance. The most important factors in accomplishment and personal satisfaction were autonomy, mastery, and purpose, Pink wrote.

It's time to consider new strategies to eliminate technology ghettos. The alternative is continued economic erosion caused by a contagion of employee disengagement. This means encouraging a new type of leadership with critical knowledge in soft skills like emotional intelligence and conflict resolution -- managers who value connection and communication to attract and keep staff. It's time to recognize that employees are partners in the business. They need respect and attention in order to thrive and contribute to the bottom line.

Our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue -- our 26th ranking of technology innovators -- shines a spotlight on businesses that are succeeding because of their digital strategies. We take a close at look at the top five companies in this year's ranking and the eight winners of our Business Innovation awards, and offer 20 great ideas that you can use in your company. We also provide a ranked list of our Elite 100 innovators. Read our InformationWeek Elite 100 issue today.

Michele Chubirka, also known as Mrs. Y, is a recovering Unix engineer with a focus on network security. She likes long walks in hubsites, traveling to security conferences, and spending extended hours in the Bat Cave. She believes every problem can be solved with a "for" ... View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 4:22:26 PM
don't forget
>The most important factors in accomplishment and personal satisfaction were autonomy, mastery, and purpose, Pink wrote.

Don't forget good management. Reporting to a bad manager can sour the best employment situation. It's too bad job interviews often don't reveal the sort of person one will be working under.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/13/2014 | 10:47:10 AM
Working conditions
Your photo of workers in cubicle reminds me of many of the jobs as a temp worker that I have had with various Microsoft divisions.

At Microsoft the goal was to put each employee in his or her own room with a closed door. For the most part this is what happened although temp workers were placed 2 to a room. At one time at MSN they just ran out of building space and had us working in the hallways and under staircases. But it was soon fixed with more constructing more buildings. (There are over 250 Microsoft building in Redmond, Washington, 20 cafeterias, and 70 busses.)

Microsoft had it pluses which were high pay for temp workers (at least), subsidized cafeterias with great food, free parking, bus transportation between buildings, and tremendouse technology resources internally.

The negatives were the often long boring and too many meetings. There also were too many brillant intelligent bosses who could pass tricky interview questions but had no clue as to chat customers wanted. Many of the programmers were great at implementation but not in innovation which is probably why Microsoft is always late to new technology - and also has its failures like Vista and smartphones.

Overall Microsoft was a great learing experience and not much like the article complains of.
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