There are several reasons I love being on the road. One of them is the sense of accomplishment I get from doing a particular job in a set amount of time. There is a defined period in which I will be on site with a client to do a job, or a set number of days I will be sitting in training. The light is always at the end of the tunnel. I find that when I am involved in projects around where I live, that they tend to drag on. Time is always important, but not as important as when I am on the road.
Another reason I love being on the road is the fact that I get to interact with a number of my fellow IT professionals on their home turf. I love talking to them about their networks and seeing how they solve the particular issues of their business with technology. I also love to help them improve their networks when needed. Depending on the engagement length, a good working relationship may develop to the point where you seek each other out for conversation or shared meals when you are in the same general vicinity. In the course of my 3 city tour these past 11 days, I have met up with friends in 2 of the 3 cities. The third city was a bit smaller, but I still met some really great people. I can’t do much of that sitting at home because I am a husband and a father of two children whose time living under my roof decreases with every new day.
The last thing I enjoy about being on the road is the time spent alone in the hotel room reflecting on what it is that I do for a living. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my family. They are the only reason my tolerance level for any number of things is as high as it is. Were I single with no responsibilities other than feeding myself, I would probably make a lot of rash decisions that would either propel my career to the next level, or sink it to the lowest depths where I would be borderline unemployable. My family keeps me grounded, and ensures any decisions I make in terms of my career are made with consideration of their never-ending food and shelter addictions.
The road brings me clarity, and after more than a week away from home, it brings me brutal honesty.
I’ve come to a realization in the last several years regarding what it is that I do for a living. The realization is that I don’t make that much of a difference in the world. I am an arms dealer for the IT industry. I’m not here to heal the sick or raise the dead. I’m here to ensure my company is represented at a high technical level(This one takes a lot more work than you would think and doesn’t always happen like I wish it did due to my own deficiencies.) and that the needs of the client are met. That’s it. Being a salaried employee, I am not dependent on a commission from a sale to get paid. Granted, if you don’t sell, you don’t work, but if a sale goes down for 100k less than what was originally proposed, my paycheck won’t be affected. I certainly don’t want to give you the impression that the sales folks I work hand in hand with are used car salesmen(Sorry. We don’t have any female reps at the moment.). They aren’t. I wouldn’t work somewhere that was unethical or immoral. I teach Sunday School for crying out loud. I have a conscience to contend with.
Back to the “not making a difference” thing…..
I’m okay with being a cog in the machine that is the IT industry. I am at peace with it. I don’t feel the need to act as if I am trying to make the world a better place one router or access point at a time. I have a job to do, and I have no problems doing it. I want to be as good of an engineer/architect/installer/pre-sales guy as I can be. The harder I work, the more successful I become. The more successful I become, the sooner I get to retire and go do something with my life that can directly benefit others without me needing to work 40 or more hours a week to put food on the table. I have at least 20 years left in the trenches, and I plan on grinding it out until I hit my retirement number, or I end up at a pre-IPO company and get enough equity to burn $100 bills in my fireplace to keep warm in the winter time. The former is probably more realistic than the latter.
Does that sound self-centered? Perhaps, but in that internal brutal honesty comes the realization that my life goals will only be achieved by doing my job better than the next person, and helping my company’s clients. When I work harder than the next person to deliver a better widget, it makes the client happy. When the client is happy, my company is happy. When my company is happy, they keep giving me more work and paying me. Everybody wins.
Ask yourself this: Do you work out of the kindness of your heart? Would you do the same job for 50% less pay as long as your employer wrote you thank you notes every week and gave you a hearty thumbs up whenever you walked up and down the hallway of your office? Of course you wouldn’t.
I genuinely like what I do for a living. I love never knowing it all, but still trying to. I love interacting with other IT folks on a daily basis. I love seeing people get excited about their network infrastructure, as odd as that sounds. If wages in IT were depressed to the point where we all had to take a decent pay cut, I would probably still be in IT.
Let’s be clear on one thing though. I’m not sitting in your data center in the wee hours of the night on a weekend because I want to be. That ship has sailed. The adrenaline rush from doing IT black magic while the general public slumbers away blissfully has long departed my body. Every now and then I get to do something cool and I feel a slight rush of CLI-induced splendor at 2am, but that soon passes and I am left with the realization that I am there because I get paid to be there. If there is no financial incentive for me to be there, I am at home laying in bed next to my wife dreaming of a really good meal or pondering why Firefly only lasted one season. You know. Important stuff! My one caveat to that would be if I was doing some pro-bono work for another organization and they needed work done at off hours. So far, I have yet to find the need for my services in a data center at a charitable organization. If you know of one in the Nashville area, hit me up and I will lend a hand.
There’s nothing wrong with being honest about why some of us do what we do. I don’t have a void in my life that is filled by working in IT. Any void I have isn’t going to be filled with a job. It will be filled with things far more important. One thing I can assure you of is that my tombstone won’t say: “Here lies Matthew. He really loved BGP.”