Of all the job industries out there, it’s easy to believe that careers in the tech world are some of the best. Many tech jobs are some of the highest-paying available, following only after doctors and lawyers with salaries of at least $70,000 or even $100,000. What’s more, they have unrivaled job security in a world that depends on network connections and functioning servers. But even information technology isn’t without its flaws. Every industry has its bottom-of-the-barrel positions that are either soul-sucking, low-paying, or a combination of the two. For a number of reasons, these roles have become some of the worst jobs available, even if you did the work to get a computer science degree.
The term “programmer” can exist in a number of roles in IT, but the position is pretty ubiquitous with being a high-stress, zero-gratification job. The median income for most computer programmers is around $79,500, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pay doesn’t sound like it belongs among the worst jobs in tech, but the daily expectations for most programmers make them earn every penny.
In theory, programmers have cushy office jobs where they write strings of code all day to create the software and programs that the rest of us use every day. In reality, it’s more complicated than it sounds. Production demands encourage programmers to use shortcuts, often making the code behind the scenes messy, difficult to decipher, and more like a patchwork quilt than a clear, defined string of commands.
Is it a first world problem? Kind of. But even without accounting for programmers trying to ward off hacks and viruses, time crunches create stressful situations, and programmers are the first line of defense. “You can’t restart the internet. Trillions of dollars depend on a rickety cobweb of unofficial agreements and ‘good enough for now’ code with comments like “TODO: FIX THIS IT’S A REALLY DANGEROUS HACK BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG” that were written ten years ago,” explains Peter Welch on Gizmodo.
Coding is the duct tape of the internet, and most programmers are tasked with making it stick just long enough until another patch of tape can keep a website or software program up and running. There’s a reason there’s a website dubbed “Coding Horror,” with stories of people who thought they would be a programmer, and changed their minds after seeing the realities of the job.
2. Chief security officer
When you have “chief” in your job description, chances are your salary and your office space are both pretty large, which certainly isn’t common with the worst jobs in any industry. In the IT industry it also means you probably have decent job security, but only if you can keep the hackers at bay. As Forbes contributor Dominick Paul puts it, it’s quickly becoming the job no one in the industry wants.
There are a few reasons for this, Paul explains. One, companies must adhere to a number of complicated and ever-changing regulations about what information can be shared in which ways, how it can be stored, who can have access to it, and so on. They are also the ones who make sure the company has proper procedures in place, and figure out how to keep the security measures at an affordable level without making the company vulnerable to hacking. A nice paycheck is one thing, but the high stress and front-lines mentality add incredible responsibility — something not everyone is cut out for.
“But here’s the real kicker and the true reason why this is the job no one wants in IT: if something goes wrong, the CISO [Chief Information Security Officer] is on the line. Personally,” Paul writes. “I don’t know about you, but I would think twice before signing on to a job where, if there was a breach, my job might be terminated, I might be fined, and I could face legal action.”
3. Tech support
Jobs in customer service and support are some of the worst jobs in tech you’ll find. Workers are often on the receiving end of customer frustration, even when it’s not their fault the internet is down, a program doesn’t work, or your phone took an accidental swim in the pool on vacation. Still, they’re the ones who have to ask if your computer is plugged in and try to fix the problem over the phone with customers who are likely already losing their cool.
It’s not their fault you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes, either: Their employer chooses not to spend the money to have extra staff on hand. And even if they did, it’s impossible to predict when a large volume of calls will come in, as Cracked contributor and former tech support staffer Ian Fortey explains. Fortey goes on to describe why some of the people can’t actually help all that much: The company they work for doesn’t always hire pros, and they’re not always qualified to fix your issue.
Most tech support agents you’ve spoken with are sitting in a giant, cubicle-strewn mess of a room with hundreds of other agents, all at their computers with headsets on, all running the same tech support software. Most don’t actually have any computer expertise. By and large they’re recent high school grads, single moms or social malcontents who refuse to wear anything that doesn’t feature a character from a Tim Burton children’s movie on it. They’re trained for 30 days on the software and are encouraged to just read along with the computer for each call.
While it’s frustrating to get these people as your “helper” on the phone, it’s just as awful to be on the other side, Fortey attests.
4. Internet content reviewer
You can find nasty photos and videos at any time on the internet, if you choose to do so. But internet content reviewers have the job of sifting through alerts of child pornography, fetishes, and violent acts like beheadings to make sure they don’t pop up out of nowhere while you’re on Facebook or Google. That’s enough right there to land them on the worst jobs list. There is software to help search for this unsavory material, but there’s really not a substitute for human eyes. This means that some people spend 40 hours per week looking at horrific images they can’t erase from their minds after they go home.
“You have 20-year-old kids who get hired to do content review, and who get excited because they think they are going to see adult porn,” Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer at MySpace, told The New York Times. “They have no idea that some of the despicable and illegal images they will see can haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
In some cases, pay is low (about $8 to $12 per hour) and the work is daunting. Patricia M. Laperal, a psychologist who has talked with content reviewers, told the Times that they are often likely to become depressed, have trouble forming relationships, and have decreased sexual appetites themselves. “The images interfere with their thinking processes. It messes up the way you react to your partner,” Laperal said. “If you work with garbage, you will get dirty.”
5. Federal IT employees
Though the government needs IT support and staffers just like any other organization, jobs in the public sector aren’t nearly as attractive as ones in the private sphere. A top concern is that the government can’t recruit the necessary talent to keep tech services running smoothly, according to a report from Nextgov. Among federal jobs, people in the IT sector had some of the lowest levels of engagement, with only 37% of respondents saying their employer had the ability to attract the talent it needed to operate well.
Federal jobs can offer a better work-life balance than others in the private sector, but can’t always offer resources for innovation and exposure to advanced technologies — both factors that are important for satisfaction in tech jobs, Nextgov reports. In addition, training opportunities are generally subpar. Many of these issues are explained by tightened budgets and short-term funding that isn’t as common in the private sector, leaving government IT staff with a new set of challenges. Not surprisingly, about 37% of federal employees in IT report that they’re looking for opportunities elsewhere.
“Particularly given the improvement in the labor market and in the D.C. IT labor market since 2008, there are just more options for them externally,” Kirs van Riper, a practice leader at consulting firm CEB, told Nextgov. “So, you worry that the people who are most talented are the ones that may be looking, and they’re the ones that have probably the easiest chance of landing something on the private sector side.”