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Monday, 12 March 2012

10 low-stress jobs for IT Pros

Takeaway: If you love IT but the stress levels are wearing you down, you might consider one of these less-intense job roles.

It is hard to say that there are any truly low-stress or stress-free jobs in the IT industry. IT workers operate on tight deadlines, mistakes can take entire companies down (or worse), and there never seem to be enough people to do the job. To make it even harder, IT pros are often asked to work with and even take direction from people who really have no clue about the technical details. But it is still possible to have a job in the IT industry that reduces many or even most of these pain points. Here are 10 IT industry jobs with relatively low stress levels.

1: Computer sales

As far as IT jobs go, being a salesperson at a computer store is about as stress-free as it gets. Sure, you need to deal with customers who often have no idea what they are talking about but come armed with a bunch of misinformation from the Internet and from their friends. But you know what? Sales folks don’t take their work home or have to deal with deadlines, and that alone makes a huge difference in the stress levels.

2: Desktop support technician

Desktop support can be tough, for sure. People’s PCs are not working and you need to get them back up and running as quickly as possible. The good news is, you should have a supply of PCs ready to go to get the user back up and running quickly if the problem is bad, so you can fix the broken machine in the shop. And yes, you are often forced to support a wide variety of applications, many of which you rarely have to work with. At the same time, most of the problems you see are the same list of issues, like bad hard drives and broken mice. Most important for the stress levels, while someone’s personal work (or a project) may get delayed until you fix the issue, systems administrators and network engineers have to fix problems that often affect entire departments, buildings full or people, or even the entire company.

3: Backups administrator

Believe it or not, some companies are big enough to have folks dedicated completely to managing backups. The beauty of this job is that while needing to restore from backup is a super-critical task, it is a rare issue. The majority of your day is spent doing routine tasks that are not under the gun on deadlines.

4: Configuration (or presales) engineer

If you’ve ever dealt with a company to spec out a server, you’ve worked with a configuration engineer. They come in a variety of flavors, but the common theme is that they are not the ones doing the actual implementation — which is where the stress of timelines and things not going right come into play. Once the purchase order is authorized, the configuration engineer has moved on to the next client. Again, this is a customer-facing job. But your customers tend to be knowledgeable, which takes a lot of the stress away.

5: Computer lab support

When I was in college, we had many computer labs on campus, and one of the much-coveted on-campus jobs was to be one of the support folks for these labs. Many colleges still have computer labs, despite the proliferation of student-owned PCs. For me, this was the easiest, least stressful IT job ever. All I had to do was answer basic questions (like how to save a file), keep the printers full of paper and toner and jam-free, clean one or two computers per shift, and file a ticket if a computer broke. I wasn’t there to troubleshoot. I’d just reboot the computer if it gave the user grief. The only stress from this job was the low paycheck.

6: Application architect

Of the wide variety of development jobs, I tend to see application architects as having the least amount of direct pressure on them in general. All development jobs are stressful in their own way, but architects’ code usually doesn’t deal with the troubles caused by actual users since the architects mostly write libraries that other developers use and guide the overall development of the application. Architects are often more separated from deadlines than other developers because the bulk of their work occurs at the front end of a project.

7: Build engineer

The build engineer is the person responsible for automating the processes and procedures for building software from source code to running code. Many times, they will fold in a lot of other work as well, such as creating unit tests (or setting up unit tests to be run), making setup kits, handling automatic deployment of code to test machines on a regular basis, and managing the source control system. Like the architect, this job seems to butt up against timelines the least and requires minimal contact with people outside IT. While it is a difficult job that requires knowledge of a large number of technologies, it is the kind of position where you are left in relative peace and quiet to do your work.

8: Installation technicians

The installation technician is the person who performs the initial installation and configuration of a piece of hardware, especially things like cable boxes and DSL modems. The beauty of this job is that while you are on a timeline and have a schedule, any major problems found at the client’s site are justifiable grounds for delaying the installation and are generally understood by the customer. As a rule, any mission-critical installations are performed well in advance of their deadline, which keeps a lot of the stress levels down.

9: Trainer

Trainers have a great job: They come in, present their materials, and leave before the real carnage occurs. Yes, trainers are there to educate, and it can be frustrating at times to be a teacher. And of course, speaking for much of the day — and often on your feet for most of it — can be difficult. Trainers may spend a fair amount of time traveling, too. But all the tensions that the typical IT staff has to deal with, like projects, crashes, end users, just are not there.

10: IT industry analyst

Without a doubt, one of the best jobs in the IT industry is that of industry analyst. These are the people who talk to industry leaders and then write reports filled with predictions of the IT future. Of course, like most folks, they do operate on a deadline. And to make things a bit more stressful, they tend to not be well respected by the rank-and-file IT workers. At the same time, though, they never have to actually implement anything. Even better, their mistakes do not result in dead servers, security breaches, or buggy applications. And by the time it is possible to find out whether their predictions were right, no one remembers them — or if they do, the “uncertainty of the rapidly evolving industry” is a perfectly acceptable scapegoat for mistakes.
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