Top 10 Most Always-On IT Jobs

Thriving In An Always-On IT World

In an increasingly ever-connected world in which technology is in a constant, always-on state, solution providers, MSPs and VARs have had to keep pace with not only the technology but also the services and support they provide, resulting in IT jobs that are also "always-on."

In the "Most Always-On IT Jobs" survey conducted by Emerson Network Power, a Columbus, Ohio-based division of Emerson Electric Co., of nearly 800 IT professionals from the U.S., Latin America, Europe and Asia, Emerson's Business-Critical Continuity experts found that on average, IT professionals are required to be available between 119 and 168 hours per week. And, although some may struggle with the work-life balance in the always-on environment, others find that it's their place to shine. "The results show that the top 10 Always-On jobs, as determined by respondents, can be the mental and emotional equivalent of sprinting uphill in the driving wind while juggling, wearing only one shoe. And some IT professionals thrive on this challenge," the report said. Here's a look at the top 10 always-on jobs.

No. 10: Database Management

With 87 percent of database managers saying others depend on their work a great deal, database manager positions rank No. 10 in terms of always-on jobs. When it comes to ensuring the quality of their work, 58 percent of respondents agreed they don't have the time to do so, and 47 percent said they don't have time to think through their work. As such, database pros, according to the report, expressed some level of frustration. "I have to work under pressure while troubleshooting any number of issues that come up on a daily basis," one respondent wrote. "There are strict time lines to finish projects while still working to put out fires."

No. 9: Application/Software Development

With only 33 percent of survey respondents saying they have no time for quality work and 26 percent saying they have no time to think things through, application/software development respondents, in comparison to other always-on jobs, are able to focus on their work and do their job well, according to the report. However, that's not to say that application/software development positions aren't without pressure. In fact, 87 percent said they agree that others greatly depend on their work. "The [company] I work for cannot run if their computers go down. Not even for a little bit. And they work around the clock," wrote a U.S. junior technical adviser in IT in the report. "So if something happens, I have to come in as quickly as possible and get the mess straightened out."

No. 8: IT Security

Though IT security ranked No. 8 on the list, it's still an always-on job. Ranking the highest at 89 percent, IT security respondents said they agree or strongly agree they have to make emergency decisions quickly. "Email is always crowded. Phone is always ringing," wrote one government supervisor. However, IT security pros scored the lowest for fast responses, with 61 percent saying they agree or strongly agree that they respond quickly to all inquiries. The average, according to the report, was 76 percent across all positions surveyed, which caused some confusion for the Business-Critical Continuity experts. "This puzzles us, and we're interested to hear the thoughts of IT security professionals," the report noted. That said, IT security pros, let 'em have it.

Fifty-seven percent agreed or strongly agreed their success was dependent upon aspects outside their control. The report notes this can often lead to frustration. "While being in control and accountable can contribute to Always-On, we think lack of control can lead to frustration in a role that generally is Always-On," the report said.

No. 7: Engineering

According to Emerson's Business-Critical Continuity report, more than 80 percent of engineers surveyed said they agree or strongly agree others are dependent upon their work, with 91 percent saying they read messages right away, and 86 percent saying they "quickly" respond to those messages. In addition to a quick message turnaround time, the job demands cited by engineer respondents included perfection, good management and communication skills, and the ability to work on design and structure, according to the report. One consulting engineer gave an example in which he "received a sudden call from one of our corporate customers to solve their software and networking problem instantly, as their national conference was adjourned for one hour due to the problems. They were using at least 80 computers," he wrote. "I received the call at around 11 a.m., and the problem had to be solved by 1 p.m."

No. 6: Data Center Manager

When it comes to data center managers, 100 percent of respondents said that a high level of intelligence was required for their position. According to the report, high intelligence is common among those in positions that require a person to wear many hats and has high-stress demands, and data center managers certainly fit the bill. Among survey respondents, data center managers ranked in the top three for "dependencies/multitasking," top four for "availability" and top five for "quick response." Working at a fast pace, managing budgets, troubleshooting, maintaining hardware and dealing with confidential information all fell under the purview of data center managers, according to the report.

And, data center managers agreed that they don't have control over their own schedule, scoring 30 percent higher than the average in that department, with 70 percent of data center managers saying they don't own their schedule in comparison to an average 45 percent of all surveyed.

No. 5: IT Operations

The title IT operations encompasses a number of positions, which included technicians, managers, analysts, operators and specialists. In addition to working on "high-stress projects" with impending deadlines, those IT operations respondents said they are also responding to incidents outside the typical 9-to-5 work day.

"Server uptime has to always be on 24-7/365 days a year. So if you get paged that a server went down, you have to try to get to work to fix the problem," wrote a senior computer operator in the report, which noted that this was "typical" of many comments from IT operations respondents. "Also, when performing monthly operations you have to enter the data perfectly. If you don't, interest calculations could be off for thousands of people," the respondent wrote.

No. 4: IT Manager/Director

Nights and weekends are luxuries IT managers/directors are often not afforded, according to the survey, which showed that many respondents who held this position might be called upon to "put out fires or do routine work at any time." One European IT director within the banking/financial industry wrote in the survey, "A security breach meant I had to miss a night out with my wife. I do weekend work on upgrades and other projects." In addition to juggling multiple projects at the same time while quickly solving problems and working at peak capacity, the IT manager/director is often seen as a sort of public leader, the one who is responsible not only for a major part of the company's budget but also for leading meetings. Fortunately, according to the report, most IT managers/directors said they have "adequate time to prepare for meetings."

No. 3: CIO

Chief information officers scored the highest on survey questions about "dependencies and multitasking" within their positions. CIOs are typically working on multiple projects simultaneously and required to make important decisions about those projects at any given moment, according to the report. "I have to be on call at night to do workday-quality work," said one CIO in the U.S. construction industry in the survey. And, more often than not, CIOs have to be available 24/7 to receive emergency calls, with many CIO respondents noting that they have been contacted while on vacation.

Additional demands often put upon CIOs, the survey found, included having to motivate and manage others' work, as well as "getting everyone on the same page" and ensuring all members of a team are contributing to their level of abilities. And, not surprisingly, more than any other IT role, CIOs manage a significant portion of the company's budget. "Making sure technology is put to good use keeping [the] company's cost in mind," wrote one CIO in Asia, is a common "Always-On" situation.

No. 2: IT Procurement

Despite having varying titles, those respondents who hold IT procurement positions, which included analysts, buyers, representatives, supervisors, consultants, directors and leaders, agreed that their schedules are often not in their control and they lack the time to produce quality work, according to the report. In addition, they indicated having pressure put on them from several fronts, whether it was demanding clients from different time zones, a general sense of urgency, keeping up to date on the newest technology and equipment, or stepping in to fill urgent staffing needs. "I cannot switch off the ringing phone, even if I want to," said a procurement professional for a European utility company in the report. "Or if I'm having lunch but someone needs something from me. Or I have to stay longer in the office because of things that need to be done."

No. 1: Executive Director/Administrator

As administrators, leaders, department heads and directors, executive directors/administrators ranked No. 1 in terms of always-on jobs, according to Emerson's Business-Critical Continuity report. For all survey respondents who fell under the executive director/administrator title, they had a few things in common: They work on multiple projects simultaneously, their work requires "a high level of intelligence" and they are involved in all strategic, operational and technical aspects of their job, which better enables the director to make business decisions. "You have to think of the best way to make sound decisions and above all meet deadlines," a director in the banking/finance industry in Latin America said in the report.

Within in this group, 25 percent of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their success is dependent upon factors out of their control. "I must always be available for an emergency, on alert and pushing the limits so we can deliver results to our clients," one director said in the report.