It creeps up slowly and then, suddenly, overwhelms its victim: the feeling that IT has become just another job, not a driving passion.
For Alan Zucker, the moment arrived over a decade ago, shortly after he left his job at MCI Communications. "We were innovative and implemented new products every few months to take customers and revenue from AT&T and the Baby Bells," he recalls. "The culture was entrepreneurial and empowering; it was a great place to work."
Zucker's next job, a director at a large financial services company, managing massive IT programs, was remunerative but dull. "I liked my job, but needed to reignite my passion and enthusiasm," he explains.
A routine day-long training session gave Zucker the motivation to recapture his old love for meaningful IT management. Observing the instructor, he realized that the only way to restore his passion would be to help other people perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively. "Over the next couple of years, I started writing and speaking about project management," he says.
Zucker is hardly the only IT leader to watch his early enthusiasm spill into a drain of frustration, boredom and ennui. A 2016 Stress and Pride survey, sponsored by IT talent management and solutions company TEK Systems, found that a sizeable number of senior-level IT professionals are dissatisfied with their jobs. In fact, 24 percent of respondents stated that while they were proud they had chosen IT as a career, they were not proud of their current role, assignments and responsibilities. Worse yet, a discouraging 16 percent agreed that if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn't go into IT.
Reigniting the fire
If you feel that management responsibilities and workday routines have combined to squeeze out all your IT zeal, perhaps it's time to start making changes in your work, your attitude or even your lifestyle. Here are 20 different ways you can restore passion to your IT career, many of which don't require you to leave your current position.
1. Take a course
If you're bored doing the same work day after day, gaining knowledge in a more interesting tech area, such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, data analytics or information security could lead you to a more fulfilling career. Online and classroom options abound, many leading to degrees or certification.
2. Join the Army
According to Signal Magazine, the U.S. Army is rolling out a new cybersecurity career management program that could let qualified civilians bypass prerequisites and be commissioned directly into the service with a rank up to colonel.
Furthermore, the Defense Department has directed all military services to research the idea and submit findings by 2020 to determine if a pilot program should be implemented across the department.
3. Do something risky
In the movie "Office Space," outcast staffer Milton Waddams made an impact at Initech by burning the place to the ground. But you don't have to be quite as radical as Milton to make a statement to your employer. Make your work more interesting by suggesting a new project or showing how an existing process can be improved. Remember, even if your ideas flop, you'll probably be allowed to keep your red stapler.
4. Become a teacher
There's a strong demand for IT knowledge. If you're already an expert in a particular IT area, you should have no trouble finding a school that could use your services. Becoming an ad hoc lecturer, instructor or professor will also look good on your resume.
5. Shoot a YouTube video
Share your IT expertise with the world via an informative or instructional video. If your presentations attract enough followers, you'll improve your reputation and outlook while pocketing some extra money.
6. Get an amateur radio license
It's hard to believe that ham radio recently celebrated its centennial. Yet 21st century hams are shedding their Morse code roots by pushing wireless communication to its limits, exploring new transmission modes, configuring software-defined radio radios (SDRs) and bouncing signals off of drones, balloons, satellites and meteor trails. You'll have fun while developing some useful technical skills. More details are available from ARRL, the national association for amateur radio.
7. Become an expert witness
Computer evidence is now an integral part of many legal cases. Lawyers need expert witnesses to offer insights and opinions that back up or refute claims. Organizations such as The Expert Institute help connect attorneys to qualified IT experts.
8. Start a Facebook group
Social media leadership is a great way to develop fresh ideas and meet new experts. Facebook is already packed with IT-oriented groups, so you'll have to find a concept that hasn't already been beaten to death. On the other hand, if you think that all of the good topics have been already taken, you're probably just not thinking hard enough.
9. Visit an unfamiliar trade event
Temporarily escape your everyday IT world by exploring something new. Tired of networking and virtualization? Visit an autonomous vehicle conference. Exhausted by staff management issues? Try taking in a tech startups forum. Attending events that aren't normally on your calendar will help you learn new things, make fresh friends and reinvigorate yourself.
10. Have lunch with an IT veteran
Technologies advance rapidly, but IT business practices tend to evolve much more slowly. An IT old-timer can give you a new outlook by showing you how he or she coped with challenges that may prove to be remarkably similar to the ones you are currently facing.
11. Think ahead
Your current job may be a grind, but think about where you would like to be five or 10 years from now. Charting a career course and setting reachable goals is a great way to work your way through dull and boring times.
12. Leave it all behind (temporarily)
Visit a place where you can forget about IT for a few days, preferably a location with little or no Wi-Fi or cellular service. Death Valley in the winter is close to ideal. A moister yet equally isolated alternative is a Windjammer cruise.
13. Join an association
The IT industry is packed to the brim with all sorts of professional organizations focusing on various types of industries and technologies. By becoming an active member in one of these groups — perhaps even acquiring a leadership role — you can raise your professional profile, bring more meaning to your work and help the IT industry move forward.
14. Perform some pro bono work
Local charities often need help installing and maintaining systems, designing websites and training volunteers to use various types of IT resources. While writing a check to a charity may make you feel better, providing hands-on support can be infinitely more fulfilling.
15. Become a part-time consultant
Why wait until retirement? Share your IT knowledge with businesses that are willing to pay for your insights and advice. Just be sure that your current employer is okay with your moonlighting activities.
16. Create a work of art
In 1963, Korean artist Nam June Paik stunned the arts community with his "Exposition of Music-Electronic Television," in which he used magnets to alter or distort the images displayed on televisions scattered around a room. Shortly thereafter, Lee Friedlander began photographing TV screens as a unique way to offer wry social commentary. Around the same time, Robert Moog revolutionized music with his Moog synthesizer. Get your creative juices flowing again by thinking about how you can transform technology into artistic expression.
17. Mentor a millennial
Young people in your organization want to know how to succeed in IT. You can help. In the process, some of their excitement and optimism is bound to rub off on jaded old you.
18. Create something great
Use your IT expertise to build a useful new app or utility. If your software is good enough, it may even turn out to be a money maker. Just be sure to check your employment contract before moving forward. This is particularly important if it makes reference to inventions and intellectual property(IP) that you develop as part of your job.
19. Play with a toy
Fiddling with a goofy gadget will help you remember why you decided to pursue a tech career in the first place. Try your hand at flying a drone or building a customized PC. Even better, dig into Raspberry Pi and program something remarkable.
20. Binge-watch ‘Dirty Jobs’
You'll quickly realize that routine IT work isn't so bad after all.