Reg debate asks readers about their post pandemic status. Half ask, 'What status?'

Some get a halo from the boss. Others barely get a hello

Register Debate This week, Register readers debated the motion The Pandemic improved the status of IT workers… forever.

When we proposed the motion that The Pandemic Improved the Status of IT workers… Forever, we knew the debate was not going to be a theoretical one. Salary? Gratitude? Status? Respect? These are all part of daily working life.

So on this issue at least, we reasoned, every vote was going be grounded in lived experience. As should the comments. This could be lively, we thought.

However, as you can see, the result is ... clear as mud.

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Our first contributor, arguing for the motion, was Dominic Connor, a City headhunter and long-standing tech commentator.

Dominic's starting point was that management only thinks about things it can see, and before COVID-19 struck, management took IT for granted: "Like air conditioning, they only noticed it when it suddenly stopped," he argued. So "supporting home workers, including the big bosses, made IT far more visible. And will continue to do so."

At the same time, Dominic predicted, the same management is looking to drive the business forward with AI, IoT and Big Data. Techies might be familiar with, even sick of hearing about these things, but home-bound execs have gotten all fired up about them, particularly now as many feel we're coming out of the worst of the COVID and Brexit downturns. (These are opinions, not facts, and not the topic of debate here.)

This means that while pay is already going up, IT pros will have to maintain visibility and productivity if they want to keep their halos bright. Or at least their salaries.

The first comment was from Anonymous Coward who was heavily upvoted for saying: "I don't know if it has changed the status as such, but certainly I feel that people within our organization have a greater appreciation of the things we do. That's definitely a win, and definitely something I'm happy about."

The next comment was slightly more measured, suggesting it's simply "[f]ar, far too early to tell."

Dan 55 stepped in for a bit of a history lesson, pointing out that while IT hit a lull in the mid-'90s, "[t]hen Y2K came along and we were needed again. Almost at the same time there was the dot-com bubble, which I guess wasn't needed but that was fun for a while. After that IT became disposable again. Now we are needed again so make hay while you can because management never forgives and never forgets."

Mmmm. So, looks like this is going to be a relatively sedate discussion, we thought.

The IT Crowd sums it all up…again

Wrong. Then there was a spate of posts about IR35, contractors and disguised employees, with plenty of "what do you expect, you're a contractor" and "but I never wanted to be one" going back and forth. One for a separate debate perhaps.

In the meantime, hats off to the Anonymous Coward whose headline said it all: "Thanks? IT Crowd nailed it!"

On day two, veteran Reg contributor and CISO Dave Cartwright didn't doubt there had been a honeymoon after the great rush home but argued it was over now – just as it is with every other IT project that transforms from "amazing" to just IT. The novelty wears off, and with it, that shine on the IT halo – even if the technology is still, objectively, amazing.

The fact is, Dave argued, "Nobody gives a stuff about IT that just works." A general post-Brexit, post-pandemic, (post-Euros?) malaise about, well everything, doesn't help. Ultimately, how people feel about IT and techies is out of techies' control.

And plenty agreed with Dave. One AC cited "the cold wind of experience..." to point out that "any increase in status (apparent or otherwise) isn't going to last beyond your half-yearly review - if it lasts that long at all."

Daedelus pointed out: "As long as companies in a certain country will make outlandish claims as to their own efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and as long as suits in other countries will believe in those claims (or at least push them to get a promotion), IT will continue to be subject to long periods of downsizing interrupted by episodes of sheer unbridled panic."

We think we know which country he's referring to.

Sam not the Viking offered, "To adopt a phrase from a different engineering profession: My status will improve when the boss invites me to meet his daughter/son - not to fix his PC."

And spare a thought for Pinero50: "Well I buggered that up.. I voted against the motion, then discovered I should have voted for the argument. Still not sure what exactly I was voting on…"

You can't argue with statistics…

Second in favour was yours truly, who, while accepting that "forever is a long time", argued that yes, IT workers have never had it so good. Evidence? Well, there's the surging demand for tech workers – up 42 per cent on 2019 according to Tech Nation. And there's the fact that those vacancies came with salaries half as much again as the average. And it's not just the UK. Techies are in demand worldwide, seeing pay rises, and expecting more.

And that's the point. Techies can retain their status, in the form of better work and pay, if they demand it and demonstrate they're worth it – the same way their counterparts in certain big companies are demanding their employers are more ethical in their business dealings.

So, why not take the first step, I suggested. Believe in yourself and vote yes to the proposal. "Today the Register debate. Tomorrow the world. And let's not think too much beyond that." (OK, it's not "to the barricades", but still…)

elsergio volador said the salaries discussed were "laughable" given the cost of living and high taxes, following up with the perhaps controversial statement: "That's how modern slavery is being developed in front of our eyes."

This prompted Glen 1 to hit back with that most fiendish of weapons – government statistics: "A salary of ~£50k puts you in the 86th percentile. A salary of ~£70k puts you in the 93rd percentile. £100k is in the 97th percentile £150k is in the 98th percentile. A friend from Norway tells me that salaries there are twice as much as the UK, but everything is twice as expensive, so it evens out."

And an Anonymous Coward opined: "Would have voted For the proposition had the word 'forever' been omitted?" Fair point, but we can't make it too easy for you.

It was down to tech veteran and sci-fi author, Anne Currie, to wield the literary cudgel against the motion on Thursday.

The halo won't wear off, she argued, because it was never there. Even if tech did save the world, the public don’t understand how they did it. They'll put the survival of their sanity during lockdown down to Grey's Anatomy being on tap via streaming services. There's something about the messenger and the message there.

Deep down we all know this, Anne argued, but deep down we also know that working in tech is generally miles better than working in a waterlogged ditch to fix sewage pipes. And, she added, "Every day, I just thank Cthulhu I haven't been run out of town by anti-5Gers with pitchforks."

On the issue of tech being better than diggin' a ditch, former archaeologist nematoad offered, "Having done both in my time I would have to agree with the proposition. Not only is tech work better paid in my somewhat dated experience you also have the considerable advantage of performing most of it indoors."

And Howard Sway pointed out: "The less visible you are in getting things done, the better you are in my experience. Of course, that tends to be less valued than the loud braggarts who make sure everybody knows how wonderful they think they are. …In the end, it doesn't matter. You do this because you enjoy working with technology, and get satisfaction from delivering a good solution to a hard problem, not for the applause and the glory. Go into show business if you want that. Or sales and marketing."

OK, we're not sure if Howard meant to say AKA sales and marketing… But talking of applause and glory, Charlie Clark scored something of a mic drop with: "Personally, I think more credit is due to the healthcare professionals and the various boffins prepared to do research on unfashionable things like zoonosis and vaccine development."

So, yes there were a few fireworks, but overall, it was a reasoned debate which highlighted the varying day to day realities our readers are grappling with.

To misquote Sherlock Holmes, while each reader's feelings about their job are an insoluble puzzle, in aggregate, they become a mathematical certainty. And what we can be certain of is that result was effectively a dead heat. The Reg readership really is in two minds about their status. ®

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