You are that person, the one who gets called when the Blue Screen of Death appears on a computer, the one who is summoned when a server crashes, the one who gets berated when the company copier runs out of ink. You are an IT manager.
But what is an IT manager, exactly? While “information technology” refers to computer and telecom systems that store and move information around, a position in IT management can mean many different things to many different people. You could be anyone from the help desk dude who walks new Internet customers through setting up their Wi-Fi to the Chief Technical Officer who determines the technology strategy for a corporation with thousands of employees.
In this case, you lurk somewhere in the middle of these two super-separated tiers: you’re the crew member of the ship who keeps the technical aspects of an organization functioning so that your mates can do their jobs. At the lower end of the spectrum, this means you do simple stuff like install security updates on company computers and train new employees on how to use the company e-mail. At the upper end of the spectrum, you possess a more specialized (and more marketable) set of skills. You might:
Figure out what your employer’s network technology should look like and go in search of the products that would make your vision a reality
Install, upgrade, and repair all hardware and software
Maintain security on all networks and computers
Teach employees how to use hardware and software
Your primary task, however, whether you go by “IT support staff” or “systems administrator”, is to respond to any technology issues that arise promptly and effectively. If you and your position didn’t exist, stuff wouldn’t work, which means you are one important home skillet. You are Oz behind the curtain.
So, what does it take to make it in IT management? At the low end, not much: just a practical knowledge of technology. If, however, you’re feeling the allure of an $80K-a-year salary, you’re going to need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a technical field like computer science, information science, or computer engineering. You may want to pick up a certification in Linux or Red Hat. You’ll have to acquire a mix of work experience in systems administration and, possibly, software development.
Oh, and the skills you will need. Obviously, you’ll have to be the Computer Whisperer, able to diagnose and correct hardware and software issues quickly with the aid of the analytical and problem-solving abilities you’ll have picked up in school and on the job. You’ll also need to be a great communicator and manager of expectations, because you’re going to be doing a lot of explaining to people who don’t necessarily have the technical expertise you do. Multi-tasking should be a forte of yours, because if everything can go wrong at once, it most assuredly will.
There will be many, many times when people don’t appreciate the work you do: after all, the co-workers who rely on you only remember you exist when the shizzle hits the fan and not the rest of the time, when things are humming along smoothly. There will also be days when, no matter how you try to explain to a boneheaded colleague that you run a Dell office and he absolutely cannot have a Mac, your polite but firm words just aren’t going to mean or matter much.
And, while your job won’t generally be too stressful, when it sucks, it sucks. There’s nothing worse than waking up at 1:00 a.m. to the sound of your cell phone beeping because a server’s gone down, and then, even though you restart the server, it fails again at 1:30 a.m., and 1:45 a.m., and 2:00 a.m., and 2:30 a.m., until you finally just give up on sleep and go into work to figure out what’s going on. These middle-of-the-night emergencies will wear on your brain, and wear on your spouse’s patience and compassion.
The nice thing about IT management, however, is that everyone needs you: tech firms, school districts and universities, financial firms and insurance companies. Where there’s technology, there’s a job with your name on it. You’ll never be Steve Jobs-famous but, within the industry, you can become so well-known for your technical expertise that businesses will kill to consult with you. If you’re a great IT manager, you’ll get to work for the coolest companies out there, and who knows? You might get to take home a nice, juicy payout from a start-up that makes it big.
Given the education and work experience you’ll acquire on your path to IT management, there are a variety of jobs other than IT manager that you might become interested in. You could always switch over to software development, although, if you’re truly interested in IT management, coding all the time probably isn’t your thing. If you have a blend of systems administration and coding skills, you could go for a gig in development operations (these folks maintain code once it’s released into the wild by engineering). Or, you could look for work in database administration or web design. You’re going to have lots of options, and that’s a good thing.