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Most people tell me the Information Technology industry is a 24/7 hour industry.

It kinda of screams bad work life balance at first.

So it made me ask what kind of areas or jobs in IT generally have good work life balance? Like I know theres Help Desk, System Admin, Software Engineers, Desktop Support, QA assistants, Technology Support Staff, NOC and SOC, Business IT analyst and so on

Like where you can work M-F 9 to 5 with weekends and holidays off and don't think about work until the next day( 40 hours a week). This is was my ideal work schedule is there an IT job ( technical or non technical that offers a strict hour work schedule for the most part) or is it company dependent? It does not have to pay all that extremely.

I have 3 years of IT work experience mostly as a Campus IT Lab Assistant and recently got a Bachelors Degree in Information Technology?

Is it really job dependent or company dependent?

I was thinking something like a School Computer Technician.

closed as primarily opinion-based by keshlam, alroc, gnat, The Wandering Dev Manager, HorusKol Aug 4 '16 at 22:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • M-F 9-5 sounds sweet, but although my contract has a schedule, we rarely get out at said hour. It truly depends on whos (employer) IT guy you are – Just Do It Aug 4 '16 at 18:43
  • What kind of IT do you do? Help Desk, Network admin, Software Programmer, Business Analyst? Are you in a Private Company, Non profit, or government? – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 18:46
  • I do all of them, for a private company – Just Do It Aug 4 '16 at 18:47
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    Just know, that less responsibilities/commitment to the job = lower pay. – Just Do It Aug 4 '16 at 18:49
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    Im guessing government jobs are my best bet. Or any shops that are open 8-5. I just hear horror stories about IT guys who are always working 60 hours a week and always on call 24/7 so yea thats why I ask. My ideal work life balance is 40 hours a week with occasional overtime and what not but yea I mostly want to be leaving work at the office until the next day – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 19:18
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Generally speaking IT fields have few over time, at least from my experience. We might occasionally have overtime when we're close to a release date or if a sudden technical problem crops up. But these are usually rare, and usually get time off the following week.

If you are a IT tech, it might be company dependent as if your company is very large, you might have a timezone issue (ex someone on the east coast helping someone on the west coast). You might have to research the company you want to help and their work schedule. Expect some overtime. I think it's silly to assume you'll never have overtime, especially in IT jobs where certain conditions may arise.

You might tell a company expects you to work overtime when you look at their company culture. Take for example Facebook has indoor gyms, cafeteria, beds, and other things that might seem appealing until you hear they want you to work weekends and bring your entire family to live there just so you can work. Still, Facebook is considered a hot employment spot. If you notice a company has a lot of facilities indoors and a lot of "gadgets" (ex cell phones, laptops with vpn, etc) to give you, then they're expecting you to work overtime.

  • But what kind of IT do you do? – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 19:03
  • I am a developer. – Dan Aug 4 '16 at 19:03
  • Yes I only ask because being in IT can mean a lot of things. From Computer Techs to IT Project manager and business analyst – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 19:06
  • True, again I think the IT field is generally considered a good-to-moderate as far as work-life balance. I heard of folks wanting to get into IT to be with their family more than I do the opposite. It really depends on the shop and I think you can get a good idea with what they're offering and reading company reviews online. Some shops are sweat-shop style coding and have very high turn over rates. – Dan Aug 4 '16 at 19:07
  • What about like a government help desk or desktop support? – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 19:09
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Help Desk usually has regular, predictable hours as people only need your help whey they themselves are in the office.

I was the sole IT guy for a few years at a rapidly growing company. I would spend business hours addressing help desk concerns, and evening/weekends deploying new systems, doing upgrades, migrations, etc... Doing both definitely did not allow for much of a personal life, however, if the company has other people doing the backend stuff and all you do is help desk, that should work out fairly well.

Avoid systems engineering or DevOps. I did this for a while also and would get calls/emails at all times of the day from developers in a panic because they accidentally dropped a database and needed me to restore from the latest backup ASAP! Also, our systems were used by people in a variety of time zones, so I had to keep my phone and a laptop on me pretty much at all times.

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    It's too bad most of the higher end IT jobs requires lots of off hours I guess that justifies high pay for these positions. Help Desk seems okay it may not be high paying but if it pays the bills ill be okay thanks David What about Desktop Support? – Ben Boader Aug 4 '16 at 19:54
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    I don't think there's much of a difference in pay between desktop support and help desk. My title was Help Desk but I actually did a combination of Help Desk, Desktop Support, and some light Systems administration. Being a smaller organization there were three of us in IT, so all of us wore multiple hats, which is pretty common. Larger corporations will of course have more people and more clearly defined roles. – David Aug 4 '16 at 20:07
  • US national averages: Helpdesk $35k. Programmer $65k. Database admin $75k. Project Manager $91k. Your pick. – MikeP Aug 4 '16 at 20:16
  • @BenBoader It just occurred to me that I mentioned one position in my initial answer and referenced a different one (from and earlier employer) in the comment - hope I didn't confuse you too badly! – David Aug 4 '16 at 20:30
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Any job that is based on support will always have issues of work/life balance - you will always be waiting for the hammer to drop at an inappropriate time. And that even includes your School Computer Technician suggestion.

Imagine this .. it's 4:30PM on a Friday and some aspect of the school's systems goes down. They have to be up and running by 8AM Monday, but you treasure your 40 hour week, so you tell your boss that you will get right on to it .. at 7:30AM on Monday morning. Can you see that flying? And the systems will crash at 4:30 PM on a Friday of the weekend that you planned something big. That is guaranteed.

And of course Bill's comment reminded me that scheduled maintenance/upgrades is never at a convenient time. See my example below.

That leaves the development side of things. But that can be hit or miss depending on how aggressive your boss is with deadlines to complete projects and the sort of company that you work for etc. But eventually you will be pulling an 80 hour week at some point in your life to make a deadline. But hopefully you will look for a company where that is uncommon during your interview process.

Finally you could try to "be your own boss" and start your own company. But that would guarantee that you don't have a work/life balance!


2 weeks ago I had to update some systems in an industrial environment. I came in at 7AM on a Friday to get set up to do it. They told me "come back on Afternoon shift - they will be free then". So I left at 12 and came back at 4PM and did what I could and found out that the work schedule had changed so I didn't the have access I wanted. So they told me "Come back for the nightshift, but you have to be done by start of dayshift". So I went home at 8PM, went to bed, got up at 2:30AM and was at work by 3:00AM and managed to get almost all of the work done by 7AM. But then had to hang around until lunchtime to fix up something I had overlooked as that was when the systems were next free.

Yes it was a cluster, but production trumps basically everything as production earns money for the company.

  • Also people tend to not like downtime for system upgrades and the such during 'their' work hours. Meaning you are stuck doing that all day system migration on Saturday. – Bill Leeper Aug 4 '16 at 20:26
  • @BillLeeper Ha! Saturday daytime? 2 weeks ago I had to come in at 3AM to get access to some systems and I had to be done by 7AM or else. But yeah ..I forgot about that. – Peter M Aug 4 '16 at 20:27
  • We used to do all our code deploys starting around 10pm on Thursday night, so if you were behind someone elses code change you might be sitting around until 3, 4, or even 6a.m. waiting to push your one button, and you had to do it in office too., no call me when you are done and I'll jump up and do that. I also had a system where I had to do all my work 2nd shift because I couldn't interrupt the day opperations. – Bill Leeper Aug 4 '16 at 20:42
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IT is a huge field, so it depends on a number of factors, including your role, how many are also in your kind of role, and the company culture itself.

Your Role

Some jobs are inherently going to have on-call in some form or another. Developers, systems administrators, and some higher level help desk usually have to be on call at least intermittently, because, let's face it, things don't just break during the 9-5, and sometimes, you have to do a rollout or maintenance in the middle of the night. Such is the life of running critical infrastructure.

However, some jobs don't have on-call at all (or only do as a formality). The manager of a deployment server farm, for example, may not need to have on-call, because the nature of the setup or the business requirements allows a downed server to not be an issue that can't be handled during standard working hours. Likewise, some help desks have strict hours, and business needs that don't require anyone to be on call.

How Many Others Are In Your Role

The more people you have on your team, doing a similar job to yours, the less you have to do the de facto 24/7 on call thing, because there are others with whom to share the load.

If you're the developer and the sysadmin and the help desk, then you're stuck on 24/7 on call. However, if you're one of a team of 10 developers and you have dedicated sysadmins and help desk, then you might have to do a week of on-call once every three months, and unless you happen to get it during a roll-out of some sort, you're not likely to actually be called.

Company Culture

Poor project management and planning from the managers can create overtime where there needn't be any. Some companies even expect people to work more hours as part of their culture (it's not poor planning, but rather a cultural thing; they plan with the extended hours in mind; these are the "burn and churn" type companies).

Conversely, many companies specifically frown upon extra work time and make a point to encourage a typical 9-5, or even fewer work hours.

Likewise, some companies in which on-call is a necessity allow for "comp time" (this is particularly the case for employees that don't get overtime pay). That is, time spent actively working on-call hours (ie - actually fixing an issue) can be taken out of the regular work day. For example, if you spend 3 hours one night fixing an issue, you could come in after lunch, or leave before lunch on another day.

Company Country Of Origin

As part of company culture, where the company originates from heavily influences its view on number of hours employees should work. Traditional American corporations, for example, often expect 40+ out of their people, whereas Dutch companies typically frown upon more than 32-35. Some newer American companies have been implementing such policies as unlimited paid time off, and even minimum required paid time off, so we may see this culture change in the coming decades in the US.

How Do You Find The Company That Matches Your Ideals?

First, write down your ideals. You can't seek out a match until you know what you're looking for -- and for what will drive you away. If you're just getting started, you might have to try a few places out, first.

In the job posting, there are often certain key words that you learn to look out for that are red flags to the type of environment the company fosters. For example, "fast-paced" is often code for "tight deadlines with no or even negative slack" and unless you're a really fast worker, will often result in overtime. "Silicon Valley feel" is usually code for super open floor plans in which there aren't even cube walls between you and your coworkers.

Have a look at their benefits, too. Are the extent of their benefits things you'd typically expect, or superficial things (like ping pong tables)? Or do they mention things like more than 2 weeks paid time off (or, better yet, unlimited, or mandatory minimums), paid maternity/paternity leave (particularly in the US, where it's not required), 20% time, etc? Ask about remote working, too. Even if you choose to work in the office, I've found that their attitude toward remote workers says a fair bit about their culture, overall. If they tout flexible hours, ask about it, too. Is it "flexible" in that you can come in anywhere between 9 and 9:30, or is it flexible in that you can work any time you want, as long as you have a few hours overlapping (or, even better, any time you want, period).

At the interview, ask for a tour of the company (if it's a physical location). Many places are happy to do so. Keep an eye and ear out in the environment in which you'll be working. Look/listen for key things that turn you off or on to the company. (Also, if something like a ping pong or pool table is touted as a perk, see if/when it actually gets used. If you can, ask the people working there that aren't interviewing you.)

Ask how they measure productivity. The mention of 80 tickets in 40 hours vs 40 tickets in 80 hours only applies if the skill requirements of the tickets are the same. A help desk peon might be able to close even 200 tickets in a 40 hour span, while a Tier 3 person may only close 10 tickets in that 40 hour span. Is the T3 less efficient? Not likely. The T1's are probably most password resets, while the T3's are downed servers and hardware failures.

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It is both job and company dependent. It is mostly career ambition dependent.

I actually see 2.5 questions in this:
"How can I have work-life balance and have a well-paying successful career"
"How can I be in IT and not be on-call" "How can I get a menial dead-end job in IT". Here's why.

To be successful:
Always be thinking about how to solve some problem - while showering, driving, or whatever. Do extracurricular learning and experimentation. Build your own home lab out of junk. Read up on the latest whatever in your field. Keep up or be left behind. Successful people only work 35-40 hours at the "job", often do 10-40 more hours to be successful. Some work FT and teach PT. Some have a 2nd PT consulting job. Some go to school. Success comes to those who DO things.

Age:
When you are young or have little IT experience, then you will need to work a LOT to prove yourself, and learn skills.
As you get experience, you can be more efficient and effective in the same amount of time, or less time, thus spend less time "working". And, more time thinking.

Role:
There are roles that you must be in a certain place at a certain time, this could be a NOC/SOC or SCIF. These likely are strict in their schedule, so if you want flex, then they won't work, but you won't be taking work home with you.
Other roles are architecture/engineering and not operational support.
Then there are things like Project Management, Audit, Programming, Database admin, and others which frequently can have flex time and not be on call.

Location:
East coast US is more of a workaholic culture than many other places. Consider that.

Company:
As Dan stated, if they have an on-site facilities for employees, then they want a lot of your time. Some companies, especially startups, have a burn-and-churn policy. Work you 100 hours a week till you quit. But, they get people by name recognition.

24/7:
Some companies need 24/7 uptime and support and they expect you to get out of bed at 4AM if they call that something is broke.
Some companies hire multiple shifts of people so that nobody gets out of bed - maybe they have two teams around the world and each one is responsible for a 12-hour on-call shift. Some will have full 24/7 coverage.

Working vs. being "at work":
Some jobs are really just filling a seat. Maybe they are on-demand, like helpdesk or some contract or government job. These are not good long-term careers.
Some organizations consider that you are only as useful as the hours you spend in the chair at work. They will reward a person who spends 80 hours at the office getting 40 tickets done vs. the one who does 80 tickets in 40 hours. These are bad places to work.
Some jobs will let some people telework. The ones who are allowed to are normally the ones who get stuff done with no/little management oversight. These can create amazing work-life balance if you can do it. But, only people who DO can do work from home. I know people who "work" from home 20 hours a week and get paid for 40 because they are fast and efficient. They do 40 hours of work in 20. The boss is happy because they "DO".

The decision is yours. Your life and career are what you make of it.

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