May 2008

By Cale Back

My life as a programmer/analyst changed a few years ago when an IT supervisor moved away. He left a large hole in our little IT department; many tasks were temporarily delegated to people who were left behind.  I was the recipient of several of these tasks. Within the next several months, I was given the managerial role overseeing these programmers. Then, several months into the job, I was given the official title as the IT supervisor; all the responsibilities associated with middle-management. 

I viewed this change as a promotion, in recognition of a job well done as a programmer/analyst.  I held this position for two more years while still doing the duties of a COBOL programmer, which I had done for more than 20 years.  I enjoy coding programs and producing a product that is useful to a user community.  But this type of work took a back seat to supervisory duties. Instead of working on a program and trying to figure out what it is doing or trying to analyze a problem within a program, an IT supervisor is helping someone else to do these functions. It's a part of the job that can take a lot of man hours because it is highly dependent on the skill-level of the people you are supervising.

Furthermore, as a supervisor you are now reporting to upper management, such as a manager or CIO  You are also given tasks to complete by your manager, ranging from helping one of your people with a personal matter, to working on contracts and capital budgets.  In my case the tasks that I was performing on a regular basis as a programmer/analyst were still my responsibility. They were not delegated to someone else, which was suppose to happen when I received the official IT supervisor title.

After two years of doing two jobs (programmer/analyst and supervisor), I became tired and was ready to make a move to another position. One day I received a call from a head-hunter looking for a programmer/analyst.  I found that I could go back to programming for basically the same pay as I was getting for doing the two jobs I currently was working on. So I decided to take a step backward and return to being just a programmer. I now work on an IBM mainframe OS/390.  I am doing my own coding changes and working with COBOL/DB2 programs. More important, I am back in control of my work. I am not trying to get someone to do a particular task and hoping they don't make a mistake.

I now know that I don't want to be a supervisor.  I will do it if the need arises but it will never be my first choice.  I don't want anyone to think that being an IT supervisor is so bad that nobody should move into this field.  Just be sure you like this type of work and are suited for the pressures that come with this position.  Oftentimes, if you do a good job, you will receive a promotion as a reward.  But sometimes this promotion will move you away from what you are good at and enjoy; into a job that you little about and have little training or preparation.

If you are given this opportunity, be careful when you make this move. Take some management courses if this is something you can see yourself doing in the near future.  Develop your supervisor skills before jumping into such a position.  My last bit of advice: if you enjoy what you are doing stick with it.  The IT industry affords us the ability to work in just about any area from insurance, banking, oil and gas, to name a few. Life is too short, so don't work for several years in a position that you don't like. Look around; something better may just be around the corner.

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Cambridge, Mass.