I was reading a comment the other day on one of my blogs when I noticed someone mentioned “boring government work." This struck a cord with me because I have never found government IT work to be boring at all. I don’t think I am some weirdo or glutton for punishment regarding the workplace, so there must be something regarding government IT that makes me feel that way. Actually there are several things that make government IT quite exciting and I thought I would share them with you.
The first is variety in the nature of the business itself. Depending on the size of government you work for, your customers business can include Police, Fire, EMS, Health and Human Services, Public Works, Public Safety, Education, Animal Control, Armed Services, Defense and many others besides your typical Finance and Administration type of work. This makes for an interesting and challenging range of customers to satisfy and work for. To me, one of the most interesting parts of IT is learning the business of your customers. With so many that fall under the umbrella of government, there is always something new to learn.
The second is size. Governments span the gamut from itty-bitty to huge and monolithic. The smaller governments tend to be local government, while the larger tend to be state and federal. So there are organization sizes to meet everyone’s tastes.
Related to size is span of control and interaction, but it is not just size dependent. In government, your position tends to be less specialized than in the private sector and you tend to wear more hats than your typical private sector counterpart. This is partly due to size and partly due to budget. There are usually not enough IT positions to go around in government and therefore each position has to do more and be more involved in different areas. That’s not to say that as the organization gets larger your position won’t be more specialized, but even in the largest state governments and at the federal level, you will find areas where IT staff are generalists as opposed to purists.
Also related to size somewhat but again not completely dependent, is the ability to make a difference. If you have the initiative you usually can find a way to make a real impact in your organization and to the community/constituency the government supports.
Third is meaningfulness. Not taking anything away from the private sector, because I as much as anyone else appreciates the goods and services I can purchase, but I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that I work for the “people”. The work I do and have done in the past does and has made a difference to the community that I live in or even state or nation wide.
Fourth is forced creativity. Most government IT shops do not have the resources that can be brought to bear on a problem or opportunity that a private sector organization can. That being said, the good IT practitioners in government find ways to get things done that are often times extremely innovative and clever. Always having to do more with less can make you a much sharper individual than always having the tool at hand to do the job.
Fifth is opportunity. Because government IT jobs tend to pay less than in the private sector they are more willing to give you the chance to prove yourself than perhaps your private sector counterpart. Having been on the hiring side of the table for many years, I know that there were qualified candidates that I could only dream of acquiring due to salary restrictions and I therefore had to go with someone with less experience or expertise and let them grow in the position.
Speaking of growing in positions, it is not uncommon to find senior management that started at the lowest level position in the organization and worked their way up. This often corresponds with the organization investing in the employee through training and/or letting them learn on the fly. You get more chances to experiment and make mistakes in government than you do in the private sector.
Lastly, for everything I have said here, EVERY job in any organization can be boring or have its boring moments. Much of it has to do with your own personal initiative, the management of your organization, and your workplace and organizational culture. I know people who hate their government jobs and I know people who hate their private sector jobs. I have worked in the most wonderful environments and I have worked in miserable environments. Obviously one makes a choice what to do in those situations, and the choice is a personal one. However, there is nothing inherently boring about government IT. It is a reputation that is largely undeserved.
I encourage anyone looking for a new opportunity to consider government work. You just may find that all those horror stories that you have heard or read are just exaggerations of common workplace ills. I know I have never regretted my decision to come to work for government many years ago and I am still with government. Just in a different place and with a different mission than before - More new stuff to learn and more opportunities to make a difference. Boring? Not a chance.