I meet lots of IT folks at classes and conferences, all around the world. I’m struck by the marked difference in attitude that some folks have about what they do for a living.

Now, before I go further, note that this is just an observation. I’m not pinning one attitude as “good” and another as “bad;” they’re just different. They do result in different outcomes, and so long as your attitude is getting you the outcome you want – great! It’s when your attitude doesn’t match your desired outcome that you might think about why.

And the big difference is basically this: some people have jobs in IT, others have a career.

For me, a job is something you do, get paid for, and go home. Some folks will categorize these as “blue collar” workers, although I don’t think that’s an especially helpful term. But it means you don’t really take your job home with you. Sure, you might be on call or something, but when you’re not at work or dealing with an on-call problem, you’re playing with your kids. You’re watching a movie. You’re cooking dinner. Work time, in other words, is different from life time.

A career (and I realize I’m just kind of using these words and then defining them in a way that you might not agree with, but it’s helpful for the conversation) for me is someone who… well, kinda does take their job home with them. Maybe not their job per se, but the career. Ugh, that doesn’t make sense, does it? But in IT, it’s the guy who has a home lab, where he plays with new tech that his company isn’t using, yet. Or the gal who has a side business that’s tech-related – maybe Web design or something. Someone for whom technology is a hobby, something that continually fascinates them, something they’re passionate (hate that word, but there it is) about. Yeah, they play with the kids, they cook, they do all that – but they might do it a bit less than the “job” person.

Someone with a job does what the job demands. They learn what the job needs them to learn. But that’s as far as it goes. Someone with a job updates their resume when they’re looking for a new job. Someone with a career, on the other hand, always has an updated resume. They’re constantly learning new things, because they want to, not necessarily because it applies to their job.

So what about the different outcomes?

When a problem comes up at work, I find that career people are more likely to be efficient at researching a possible solution and then working to bring that solution into the environment. They did to have a bit of a longer view. They’re not necessarily convinced they’ll be at their current workplace forever; their career is IT itself, not the guy who’s paying the check this year. An employer that treats them right gets to keep them, but they’re not terrified of moving on, either. These career folks are more likely to be involved with a broader community: they’ll start a local user group, earn a vendor award (like MVP or vExpert), perhaps have an independent blog.

Job folks are more likely to fight a fire with whatever’s at hand – many of them tend to be less skilled (or willing?) when it comes to researching new technologies and trying to convince the boss to adopt them.

The disconnect I sometimes see is when someone who behaves like a “job” person gets annoyed that they’re not getting the outcomes of a “career” person. Why don’t I have an MVP award? Why don’t more people visit the blog I started, but haven’t posted to in eight months? Why is it so hard to find a job now that I’m laid off? The “career” folks have some definite advantages. They’re more flexible in the jobs they can hold down, in part because they’ve learned more. They’re more likely to be “recognized,” which helps too. But the “career” folks pay a price for their advantages: they’re more likely to spend less time with family and on hobbies. They’re a bit workaholic-ish. They may not even have a family.

So I’m not necessarily advocating being a “career” person. There are sacrifices to be made, no doubt. Yes, there are advantages. I’m just suggesting that you review your situation. Are you a “job” person who wants the “career” advantages? Then you’ll have to make some changes. Are you a “career” person upset that you have too little free time with the family? Maybe you’ve got some changes – although they may come with downsides, too.

The point, really, is to actively look at what kind of worker you want to be, knowing full well the pros and cons of different approaches to work.