Dirty jobs on the front lines of IT

Jobs may still be scarce in today's economy, but there's no shortage of nasty IT work - as the third annual instalment of our Dirty IT Jobs series clearly demonstrates.

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Some tech jobs are literally dirty; digging around the innards of a data centre or running network cables through crawlspaces, for example, can leave you deeply in need of a shower.

More often, though, dirty IT jobs put people in tough positions - like having to explain to a crew of arrogant geeks why the network can't be upgraded the same day payroll needs to run; or why you're not a spammer despite what it says on your business card; or how lying about your company's products is probably not a good strategy for long-term growth. You may be forced to take the blame for a failed project even when it's not your fault or to expose wrongdoing at your workplace even if it puts your career at risk.

Dirty jobs never rest, and neither do the people charged with doing them. Be thankful you aren't one of them. And if you are -- well, at least you have a job. Right?

What dirty jobs have we missed? Nominate yours in our dirty IT jobs discussion thread.

Dirty IT job No. 7: Email ninja

Wanted: Email wonk intimately familiar with intricacies of Authentication, SMTP, DNS, DNSBLs, and MTA, as well as antispam laws across the globe. Must work closely with marketing hags and help desk zombies, and log quality time in airport lounges. Thick skin a plus.

The hardest part of Andrew Bonar's job is convincing the world he's not a spammer. It's not easy. Just having "email deliverability consultant" on his business cards is enough to start the Viagra jokes.

Bonar works with companies whose email isn't getting through to customers, thanks to overzealous spam filters. CEO and founder of EmailExpert, Bonar has to convince ISPs to let his clients' legitimate emails past their filters, while persuading his clients not to bend the rules.

For the record, Bonar says, "I have never done anything related to pharmaceuticals, nutrients, health supplements, weight loss, gambling, or lipo/cosmetic surgery/penis enlargement," though he once completed a project for the UK Tax Office.

There aren't many freelance email deliverability specialists out there, says Bonar, which is one reason why he's logged almost as many frequent-flyer miles as George Clooney in "Up in the Air" - jetting from his base in London to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and back again. Thirty-five hours in transit is not uncommon.

The worst part? "Having to deal with marketing departments - their cooties can be worse than user cooties, because they are viral." The biggest challenge: "Trying to convince ISP abuse departments that I'm not a bad guy, finding out what they want me to change in these emails, and proving that these emails really are wanted - all 5 million of them," he says.

Bonar urges his clients to adopt the gold standard for commercial email - closed loop, double opt-in - so people are getting information they actually requested, not ads for Russian mail-order brides. And transferring or selling email address lists to third parties is definitely not kosher.

But many commercial emailers don't want to play by the rules, so Bonar gets a lot of stupid questions: Can I buy a list from you with the names of 10,000 doctors on it? Can we remove the unsubscribe link? How do we get users to stop hitting the "report spam" button? Can you set up a blacklist to block my competitor's email?

"These people will present one face in public and quite another behind closed doors," he says. "They don't realise that at the end of the day, doing these kinds of things will come back and bite them in the ass."

Next Page: Clocking on the pay cheats

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