Top 5 Misconceptions about Working in Higher Ed IT

(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)

We’ve heard our fair share of opinions on whether working in Higher Ed IT is “worth it,” but while we recognize that it’s not for everyone, we’d like to confront some lingering misconceptions about the field that are especially popular. After browsing through several online communities that involved IT professionals looking to get into Higher Ed IT, we decided to deal with each of the most prominent issues.

You’ll Get Left Behind

The most common problem people cite about working in Higher Ed IT is that the field is slow to adopt new technologies. Being “left behind” is something that any IT professional should be careful to avoid, but it’s not nearly as big of a deal in Higher Ed as people seem to think. Consider this: students are about as cutting-edge as you can get when it comes to user expectations, especially in terms of how they prefer to be communicated with. Faculty members may require access to new tools and services to ensure that what they’re teaching is actually preparing their students for future careers. If universities are as slow to keep up with the newest trends as people say, then they wouldn’t be able to supply their faculty with the tools they need to teach or the resources their students need to learn.

Not all institutions are early adopters, as there are a lot of different factors that play into what technologies a university IT department has access to. They’re often working with very tight budgets, and trying to appease different types of users, so they have to be judicious when deciding where their funds go. It’s also not always the best idea to upgrade for the sake of upgrading; many faculty, staff, and students simply want their devices and software to function, so that they can focus on their work. Adopting a new piece of tech comes at the additional cost of forcing users to relearn how to do something that, in many cases, they could do well with what they already had.

Higher Ed Users Are…

There’s a distinct culture in Higher Ed that draws in people that are often more friendly, understanding, and willing to learn than others.

We’ve all heard user interaction horror stories, whether it’s from a coworker at the water cooler or from a Dilbert comic strip, but some seem to think that Higher Ed users are worse than others. There are always going to be difficult users to work with at any IT job, from students that need their passwords reset, to professors that call you asking how to get rid of pop-ups, but the idea that users at universities or colleges are any worse to deal with than any other type of user is preposterous. The fact is, there’s a distinct culture in Higher Ed that draws in people that are often more friendly, understanding, and willing to learn than others. University IT professionals deal with users whose job it is to be receptive to new ideas, users that are trained to be patient with others, and users that are at the cutting edge of their fields. You’re bound to find a bad egg once in awhile, but Higher Ed users are usually easier to work with.

A Great Work/Life Balance

Despite what you’ve read so far, not all of the misconceptions about working in Higher Ed are necessarily negative. One of the biggest reasons we found that people like working in the field is the balance it provides between one’s work and personal life. While there is a higher likelihood that IT professionals will enjoy more vacation time and a more flexible workload, that’s not always going to be true. There are times, especially when a project is about to go live, that IT departments can go through serious crunch time. There’s also going to be a large degree of variety based on what type of project you’re working on at any given time, which can be further complicated by your seniority and job description. While it may seem backward to correct a positive generalization, we’d rather any prospective Higher Ed IT professionals know what they’re getting into rather than jump into a job based on misunderstandings.

Not a Viable Career Path

Higher Ed thrives off of personal development, both in the classroom and the work environment.

While it is true that some IT jobs in Higher Ed pay less than a comparable job in the corporate world, it’s not true that your career paths will be limited. Higher Ed thrives off of personal development, both in the classroom and the work environment, meaning that you will inevitably meet people that are invested in your success and will help you achieve your goals. Financially, Higher Ed IT jobs vary just as jobs in other fields, based mostly on your job description and specific institution, so you’re not guaranteed to take a pay cut by accepting a job at a university. Rest assured that there are thousands of IT professionals that take jobs in Higher Ed every year and continue to advance their careers in the field.

Higher Ed IT Isn’t Worth It

When everything’s said and done, the ultimate question that people ask about working in university IT is whether or not it is “worth it.” The problem with that question is that the answer depends entirely on your end goals and expectations for your new job. Is your shiny new office at a university going to make you money hand over fist and provide a hassle-free work environment? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a future worth investing in. If fantastic benefits, vacation time, and a work culture devoted to making the world a better place sound appealing, then Higher Ed IT may be for you.

The goal of this article is not to convince every aspiring IT professional that Higher Ed is the guaranteed best route for them to take in their career. Instead, we aim to show that working in a college or university isn’t as black and white as some people would like you to think. Not every potential job is a pay cut, not all of the users are insufferable, and it doesn’t always offer a better work/life balance, but in the end, whether or not applying for a job in Higher Ed IT is worth it is entirely up to you.

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