What Does an IT Manager Do?

I had a chance to catch up with my high school friend, who now works it IT. He’s been in tech for over 10 years, but originally has a BS in Economics, with a minor in CIS – this was back when state colleges offered things like CIS degrees in Oregon. The University of Oregon flip-flops on what it offers any given year, with funding allocated kind of sporadically; thus, the UO doesn’t offer a social work degree, even though it is a social service hub, and doesn’t have a CIS program, even with the tech field booming…

Chris serves to highlight that people in IT often have it ‘in the blood’, or like a ‘fire in the head’ In his words:”I first started getting into computers back when I was in middle school.  My brother had a couple of friends who had Commodore 64s and I was fascinated by them.  I tried to program in BASIC on an Apple, but wasn’t too successful.  I dove into programming when I started as a CIS major at the UO in ’94”. This is a classic evolution of an IT professional, but with CS programs nationwide only graduating 15,000 graduates last year, and an expected need of 150,000 professionals (each year, mind you!) then there is going to be a serious tech-crunch soon. We may have even passed that event horizon.

Regarding the professional evolution into management (Chris, again): “I’ve been managing the IT Dept for about 7 years now.  I started working for this company as a user-support staff member and worked my way up in the company.” Everybody starts somewhere, and I think that technical jobs have a kind of “promote from within” framework often built into the job itself – if you know how to do everything the business needs, then it makes a lot of sense to keep/elevate you.

As an IT manager, there are a few huge domains that fall under his baileywick: policy writing, researching and implementing Federal, state, and local technical guidelines, maintaining network security,  phone system/server (data/communications, moreso) management, and the departmental budget. I’ll let you read his words, because his passion for security is evident.

1. Network security: “This area covers network analysis, responding to incidents, reviewing attempted breaches, penetration testing, and network hardening.  I don’t get to do as much of this (on the clock) as I’d like to, but I do play around with tools in my free time.  In order to retain a secure network, you have to keep aware of security issues in software as well as monitor access points and implement multiple levels of end-point security (antivirus, anti-malware, spam/phishing, etc.)”

2. Server/network management: “My department is rather small for the size of our organization and we all wear various hats.  I haven’t been a part of most server implementations, but I now help with managing all servers (Windows, Linux, and OpenBSD) as well as our network switches.  I manage all server functions (firewalls, email, printers, file shares, collaboration software, Hyper-V servers, VMware servers, security system, etc.)”

3. Phone system management: “We implemented a VoIP system last year and since I helped build the system, I’ve been managing users and troubleshooting issues with it.  We do have a company that performed the main installation, but since I’m fairly familiar with the system I’ll handle most issues that pop up.

When it comes to the department budget, a huge element is project management, which didn’t even get mentioned in his job scope. Trust me, though: as an IT professional, his job scope definitely includes project management for the business: “I’ve recently given that task to one of my employees, but I still retain the management of the department’s budget. Besides just managing the numbers, you have to pay attention to what projects WILL cost to implement and what the long-term hit on the budget will be.  For me, this means finding a balance between open-source solutions and ones with calculable costs (e.g. Microsoft licenses.)” I thought it was great that he’s looking into open-source, because that’s where the future of affordable technology is, and often where the cutting-edge computer science can be found -well, that and DARPA.

When we got into goals, certifications and more education came up as topics. Possibly a law degree, which would be an interesting take on things – tech and law make a solid, if unusual, combination. Also security certifications, which are probably a good bet as well.

When I asked him what advice he would have given himself in the past, as a student, he had some pretty spot-on words for his previous self: “I wish I would have found an area of focus (IT Security) earlier in my career.  I’ve always been attracted to that area, but never knew how to get there.  I think that part of my issue was bad timing: main-stream companies are only now taking IT security more seriously.”

Also: “Although it’s good to see a situation from both sides, be quick at making the right decision even if it’s going to ruffle some feathers.  You can try and please as many people as possible, but decisions are always going to rub someone the wrong way.”

Lastly: “Be more proactive with what you want to focus on.  Jobs aren’t going to fall into your lap.”

There you have it: a view from the trenches of a system administrator and IT department. manager.

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