Only one young soul was brave enough to enter our offices this week as part of Take Your Grade Nine Student to Work Day. I was one stop in his tour of our operations, explaining my role and my biggest challenges. I went into great detail about the glamour of working in the media: of cutting and pasting stories out of Microsoft Word and into Adobe InDesign, of listening to PR pitches from people who never read my newspaper, of losing my eyesight in a fruitless search for typos.
I was sure I was boring him. Then I imagined what it would be like to explain the role of an IT manager. Or any other enterprise job, for that matter.
The tendency, you quickly learn, is to dwell on the most dreary aspects of the job. You talk about how you actually spend your time, then worry if the kid is going to think you’re little more than a trained monkey performing routine operations. At this point you want to start talking as though you had a vision of some kind, through you quickly mention all the mitigating factors that prevent you from accomplishing that vision. You find yourself grateful when the kid has to move on to the next department (which in my case, ironically, was IT. I should have stuck around and taken notes).
Dependent as they are on hardware and software, there probably aren’t a lot of people in other lines of business who would dutifully sit down with you and listen, as this young man did, to the minutiae of an IT manager’s daily grind. They almost certainly wouldn’t take notes, as he did, unless they were an HR executive or a consultant trying to figure out ways to trim staff and improve productivity. They also probably wouldn’t be as nervous, avoiding eye contract and, surprisingly, making you feel better able to say what you really think about your job and your ability to do it successfully.
When I was finished blathering on, I asked the student visitor whether he was at all interested in my line of work, or whether he saw his future in some other direction.
“I hope to produce films,” he said casually. When I was in grade nine I wouldn’t have even known what a film producer does. Even if I had entered the entertainment business, it probably would have taken years before I started saying that what I really want to do is direct, let alone produce.
That was the second epiphany: that young people may not be dreaming of the jobs we did when we were in grade nine, or even of jobs that exist in the world right now. Hopefully, they are dreaming of making contributions that are more dynamic, more creative and more fulfilling than the ones which have emerged through our corporate hierarchy. You could do a lot worse as an IT manager than spend the rest of your own career creating the kind of technology-powered business environment that will help them succeed in theirs.