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Observations on the IT job market: The government sector

A former IT manager and current job hunter in this down economy, Mark Holt, shares his observations on the IT job market in this new column.

After a 15-year climb from desktop geek to manager of complex enterprise IT projects, I joined the million-man-and-woman march of laid-off citizens. Competing with the zillions of sharp knowledge workers who are now on the street, I have been forced to learn the rules of 21st-century job hunting. This is the first in a regular column on my observations on the IT job market.

The news keeps rolling out of Washington, D.C., about the huge boost in IT spending that's just around the corner. It was on the nightly news: the FBI added a thousand new positions!

So I got on the USAJobs website and searched. Sure enough, the FBI has some hot listings, which are linked to the FBI's own employment application site. OK, but since I had just filled out an extensive profile on USAJobs because it's supposed to be the repository of all things .gov related, I thought it would snap me right into an application!

Turns out each government agency has its own criteria for employment applications. The FAA, the CIA, the Interior Department, the IRS ... etc., etc.. Each one requires an hour or so of detailed responses, with various threat levels for not being honest or having a blemish on your "good citizenship" record. Every application is a start from scratch, no efficient sharing of information.

Of course, being a good citizen, I laboriously filled out each one in turn. The FAA is the strangest, with a mix of Homeland Security, geeky high-tech talk, and gee-whiz-kid enthusiasm about how important its work is. All these government agencies sport plenty of puffery about their role in saving the country, it's just a little disconcerting to hear that from the same people who can't get planes on the ground within hours of their allotted time. ... But I digress.

False IT job market picture?
It's probably clear that I'm a job seeker. Every notice about the exciting future of IT makes my heart skip a beat, and when I see a new opening that might be the match that I've been yearning for, I'm all atwitter. So when InfoWorld posted an article quoting the Business Software Alliance (doesn't that organization sue people?) that the next stimulus package will create thousands of IT jobs, my Facebook status went from "Hopeful" to "Encouraged." That's a big jump for me, being the sober fellow that I am.

The gist of the article is that the stimulus package from Washington will create jobs by targeting certain industries. It's a nice, simplistic view by those people (who sue people), saying that if you have the skills for what the government thinks you should do, you'll get paid. Wasn't that what turned the old Soviet system into an empty shell and the one that has Cuba hamstrung today? Or am I being reactionary? Do I really have to leave my past behind, and adopt a persona that serves the dictates of a government agency? Apparently inside the beltway, they only have eyes for policy initiatives, lawyers and financial gurus (harder to find lately).

Are there jobs only in "construction companies and engineering firms overseeing infrastructure upgrade projects ... companies creating alternative-energy systems or modernizing health-care processes ... bioinformatics, information security, or Web software development"? This talk sounds like there is no future in industries like media and entertainment -- don't tell that to Viacom -- or shipping and transportation –but those oil tankers seem pretty busy -- or education, for that matter.

I'm not buying it. The U.S. has jobs that are dynamic, competitive and global. If anything, there will be more and more companies expanding across borders without the need for government oversight or direction, using Internet collaboration in place of travel, and running projects worldwide from all corners of the globe. Sure it's important to build highway bridges, but that's a small chunk of the huge international explosion of IT needed literally everywhere. There's a big future outside the narrow scope of Washington D.C., agency dictates, a future full of accountability, risk and open-ended opportunity. And that is where most of us will find our next job, in my opinion.

Let us know what you think of this column, email Matt Stansberry. And check out our data center blogs.

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