How to deal with the Stress in IT profession

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I happen to be from IT industry with double digit experience. I have seen this industry going through many changes all these years. Some of these changes are good like the advent of smartphone industry and cloud computing. However there are far more changes which are not so good which has resulted in increased levels of stress for the IT professionals in lives.

In this post I am not going to do How-to’s like “how to deal with stress in 7 ways” or “stress relief in 7 steps” etc kind of stuff. This post is the anchor post for many of the upcoming posts on the topic of dealing with the stress in IT professionals’ life. I do not imply that there is no stress in other professions. But this is one profession I know inside-out and familiar with the work culture and the stress levels. One of the purposes of this blog is to help my fellow IT professionals become more effective, deal with the “stress” in their lives and create “work life balance”.  As a side effect I will also learn many new things while interacting with you guys and researching various materials while trying to find answers to new issues.

At the time, I joined the college, the IT industry was considered as one of the highest paying industries. I think now it might be classified into the list of industries with the highest levels of stress.

Every year millions of fresh college grads join the IT industry worldwide. Due to the monetary rewards of the profession and the rosy examples of already well established IT professionals, the number of new entrants keeps growing despite massive slowdowns like the 1999’s dot-com burst and 2008’s subprime crisis. This has created demand supply imbalance in the industry despite the new innovations like smartphones and the associated mobile application development industry. The IT industry is simply not able to grow at par with the supply of the manpower. This has resulted in the new trend of regular lay-offs even by the companies which used to be known for their quality and quantity of the recruitments.

Meanwhile, the traditional software development has come to a relatively stable point. The quantity/quality of new innovation is not as high as it used to be before the dot-com bubble burst and subprime crisis. This can be attributed to two reasons :

  1. The innovation in the IT industry is going on since 70’s and most of the code is stabilized and key-players for various niches have been established and they have built an ecosystem which is not replaceable by new players
  2. The customers have reduced IT spending after subprime crisis which has stalled the investments in innovation.

If you disagree with this point and believe that the innovation in IT industry is still happening at rapid pace then either (1) you are in a young startup company which is trying  things in new technology (like app development/cloud computing) or  (2) you are living a lie. Just ask yourself, what is the broader scenario (out of your company)? Is any company innovating at the pace like companies used to do before dot-com burst? The answer would most likely be NO. Nowadays the companies are spending in maintaining or optimizing rather than innovating.

As a result, the demand for the experienced professionals is decreasing and they are being replaced with less expensive young professionals. Experienced people are required for innovation. Since the amount of innovation has decreased, they are retained in less numbers sufficient to the little innovation that the company needs or some optimization work which cannot be done by less experienced professionals.

As I mentioned, most of the work in today’s scenario is maintenance or optimization. This can be done by less experienced professionals.  But that doesn’t mean that the young professionals are enjoying the ideal life. These guys in most cases have to manage the expenses in one of the hopelessly expensive IT hubs and have to deliver at par with the experienced guys whom they are replacing… so their lives are also not stress free.  Their learning pace is not as good as it used to be just few years back for same experience level. This can be serious problem in case the company downsizes and decides to let them go. When I joined industry I learned so much within first 2 years of my professional career even on the payroll of a service based company that by the end of second years I had mentored 10 new college grads in one of the most complicated technologies of data communication. But my young friends who entered the industry in last 3-4 years through the product based companies are not able to learn even 1/3rd of the content I learned in those years.  Today, even in product based company, only after 3-5 years of experience a person is asked eligible to start mentoring new hires in same technology. The point is that back then we were learning at high pace, because the clients were spending a lot on innovation and weren’t able to manage whole thing by themselves. Hence good amount of highly technical work was also trickling to the service based organizations. And today, the scene is different. Same companies are firing experienced professionals and replacing them with less experienced or even fresh college grads.

Back then a person with high experience was highly desired and paid handsomely. Companies used to go to great lengths to hire and retain experienced workforce. This is no longer the case today. Earlier, I never used to hear that so and so person is over experienced for some job in industry. Nowadays, the companies call a candidate and ask his experience. And then the next line is, “Oh you have got 10 years experience in industry. We are looking for someone with 5-7 years kind of experience. Could you please refer any of your friends?”.  Back then, the same company would have preferred  convince the HR to change the requirement from 5-7 years to 10 years rather than dropping a good candidate.

Today, the companies don’t want to hire expensive workforce as the nature of the work has changed from highly concentrated innovation to maintenance/optimization/limited innovation.  And some companies are even outsourcing the innovation as well, because what they call innovation is sometimes just enhancement or porting of code to new platform.  So the use of term innovation itself has got changed. 10 years before, using innovation for such purpose would have been ridiculed.  Coming up with a light bulb is innovation… but can coming up with a bigger and brighter light bulb be called innovation? In my view it is optimization and maturing of the technology even though it might require innovative mind set. Similarly, can porting an IM client (say yahoo messenger) to new eco-system say android/iOS be termed as innovation? No, it is maintenance or porting work.

My point is that the IT industry is not as rosy at it used to be. This has created a huge demand-supply mismatch and toll on the lives of industry professionals. A typical IT professional who joined the industry (like myself) after dot-com crash is now settled in one of the IT hubs and has his own family and mostly has school going kids. He has got various EMIs  and other bills which are getting huge every year.  The inflation is eating into his savings and does not enjoy hikes every year.  On top of that there is always a concern of job security. He is continuously trying for better hike/promotion. This gives a nice opportunity for his managers to exploit him. The same is true about his managers and “managers of his managers” …  and so on. He is trying to multi-task and work extra hours to outshine his peers… but the catch is he is not alone in this race…. there is huge demand-supply gap.There are only a few slots available and comparatively large number of peers trying for them. This poisons whole culture in organization and politics kicks in.

This highly politicized, competitive and demanding environment leads to stress at workplace, stressful relationships with family, broken relationships, toxic relationships, health issues, psychosomatic issues, stress related psychological issues, divorces etc.

His personal life is screwed up… because he lives in nuclear family and  his spouse is either stay-at-home mom or also working like him. If she is stay-at-home mom then this means that 100% financial burden falls on him and that calls for spending on the contingency measures as well (insurances etc).  If she is also working then the situation may be bit comfortable (assuming that they don’t increase the expenses proportionately which is not always the case) on financial end, but then she is also forced to participate in the race at her workplace. That is both of them are running from morning till late night, just to pay the bills….. the question is at what cost? How about spending the time with their children? How to ensure children get good values? How to ensure they do not fall into bad company…? For past many years, we have seen continuous rise in juvenile crimes, drug addiction, teenage pregnancies etc. How can the parents safeguard their children? Should they make a financial trade-off and and sacrifice the career of one of the parents? Or should they continue working as it is and try to give a comfortable life to their children and build their financial resources?

I have personally struggled with many of these questions and tried to maintain a decent balance by making some (hopefully wise) tradeoffs.  Deep thinking, talking to my wife and many successful friends, reading self-help literature and trying various systems have helped a lot. Not every system or product was as successful as its hype, but few things have certainly worked out. This has definitely made me a better person and so far I don’t have any regrets w.r.t work-life balance and being effective person at workplace.

There are few questions which I am still trying to figure out and I am hopeful about making wise decisions and continue evolving in life. I will keep posting my experiences and borrow few from other friends and acquaintances and share what worked and what was just a fuss.

During this process, I will need the continued support and input from my readers to help evolve this blog into a helpful community to help the fellow professionals in their quest to lead more effective lives and create work-life balance.

Kindly leave your experiences and ideas to make this blog successful in the comments section.