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They'll miss you when you are gone

© August 2003 Tony Lawrence

An underpaid, undervalued I.T. person wonders how to make his employers understand how valuable he really is. I've seen this a number of times in my career, and it's usually someone who started out as a very young person and has grown with the company. Because of the fairly recent history of desktop computer use in corporations, this person often was there at the beginning or near to it: they may have put the very first computers into place.

Their pay is often not unreasonable. It's likely to be around or even slightly above the median pay for I.T. professionals. The employer likely thinks that they are treating this person very well. Unfortunately, sometimes they really are not.

A typical I.T. person is often not a highly talented individual. They may be certified at some level, and may be able to deal with installation tasks and minor administrative functions, but they usually lack real expertise, and their pay scale reflects it. In contrast, the type of person I am talking about is a jack of all trades: system administrator, programmer, troubleshooter, and run of the mill I.T. worker. In addition, by benefit of having been with the company so long, they have tremendous knowledge of how to integrate business needs and technology. It's that last that is often most lacking in the "ordinary" technology worker: they may have technology skills, but seldom know how to apply those skills to the business at hand.

For the over-worked person who is in that position, my advice is always the same: move on. When someone starts out at ground zero with any company, they are always seen in that context, and their employers think that they have done rather well going from whatever they started at to where they are now. The employer's view will always include the green kid who didn't know a tenth of what they know now. A new company only sees the experienced veteran.

I often say that I don't want to be a company's first consultant. They never appreciate what I do for them because they think anyone could have done it. That's part of this problem too: the employer has no idea how good they have it, because they've never had anyone else.

Related to that is often the certainty that they can easily hire people for less or equal money. What they don't understand is that they really cannot: applicants probably will not have programming skills, may not even have basic scripting skills, will lack the experience of a seasoned administrator, and will not be able to translate business challenges into appropriate technical solutions.

Companies who haven't experienced typical I.T. qualifications just don't notice the things that never break because our experienced person has seen to it that these problems just will not happen.

I do not know how to get any company to understand all that. I've never seen a company that did understand it until it was too late: the really good guy moved on and they went through months or years of turmoil before getting back someone good - of course for much more money.

It's sad, but it's human nature. You never know how good you had it until you lose it.

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