Should I Work For In-House IT or for an MSP?

Your career choices can be important, and one of the bigger ones is whether to work in-house or with a service provider. Here's the pros and cons of both.

There a lot of things to consider when you’re choosing a new job, and you can never have too much advice. Here’s some things to consider when you’re flipping between working as in-house IT or for a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

Working for an MSP

When you’re working for an MSP, you’re working for an organization other businesses come to when they want to outsource their IT. This means it’s a lot like the service industry – you’ve got clients coming in, and keeping them happy is very important.

The Pros of Working for an MSP:

  • Higher pay: As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to be offered more financially to work for an MSP. If the bottom dollar is your biggest (or only) consideration, working for an MSP is quite an attractive proposition.
  • Exposure to new tech: Since you’re working with a large variety of clients, you’re going to get to play around with a lot of new hardware and software. There is one exception; if you’re working for an MSP in a rural area, you may just be working on a lot of older, smaller rigs.
  • Higher job reliability: Companies who are under budget constraints will sometimes outsource their IT to MSPs, which is why there are jobs in MSPs in the first place. But because MSPs don’t typically outsource, that means you’ve got higher odds of keeping your job.
  • Good personal development: Depending on your role with an MSP, you’re probably going to be working with a lot of different hardware and software, which means you’re going to be upskilling and keeping your abilities current. This is really good for your personal development.
  • Less single-person liability: When something goes wrong, you’re not the only static person in the building to blame.

The Cons of Working for an MSP: 

  • Higher stress: One of the biggest complaints about working for an MSP – and one of the reasons for the bigger paycheck – is that it’s a stressful job. When a job hits your desk, you’re under the pump to get it done.
  • Quick burnout: See ‘Higher Stress’. A lot of people burn out working for MSPs because it’s non-stop. If you’re looking to come in and do a 9-to-5, it may not be for you.
  • Sales over-promising: When you’re working for an MSP, sales reps may overpromise what you can actually deliver. Unfortunately, you don’t get the option to set the record straight – you’ll probably have to bend over backwards to match whatever was sold.
  • Breaking stuff: Because you’re working with your client’s hardware and software, if you make a mistake you’re sabotaging someone else’s stuff. This can be a bit stressful.
  • Bad IT relationships: If a company has outsourced their IT, it can sometimes be because they don’t value IT enough to have their own staff on-hand. This says a lot about the attitude they’re going to have when you tell them about the importance of maintaining their systems. If you get someone like this, expect to hear the line “But we’ve got a contract, so just fix it.”
  • Customer management: If you just want to do the IT side of things without doing anything too social, you’re out of luck. Customer relationship management is a large part of working for an MSP. You may be asked to upsell, side-sell, and do expectation management. It’s a service industry, so relationship building and keeping the client happy is paramount.
  • Travelling about: Depending on your role, you may be asked to drive around a lot and duck under desks in foreign environments.
  • Pot luck technology: The variety of your clients means that one day it may be working with the best tech ever (Yay!) or working with an absolute nightmare system. This inconsistency can be a boon or a curse.

Working Client-Side / In-House IT

There are generally two versions of this – working client-side for a small-to-medium business (SMB) or for a large corporation. If you’re working for a small-to-medium business, you’ll be asked to wear a lot of different hats. If you’re working for a large corporation, you’ll probably be specialized (which has it’s own pros and cons). Right now, we’ll just stick to comparing in-house and MSP work.

The Pros of Working as In-House IT:

  • Consistency: If you’re the sort of person who likes things to be generally the same day-to-day without many curve-balls, you’ll enjoy working as in-house IT. You know exactly what software and hardware you have in-house, and what people you’re working with. Everything is incredibly familiar over the year or years, and when things change you generally have notice.
  • Lighter task list: Compared to MSP work, you have a narrow task list which is more structured and planned. This means you can prioritize easier and even catch up on your backlog!
  • Preventative maintenance: When you’re working for an MSP, you’re usually putting out fires. But as in-house IT, you can actually prevent them before they start. That doesn’t mean there won’t be incidents, but you can lay the groundwork and establish policy ahead of time.
  • Less talking: You’re not going to be dealing with an erratic array of clients. Instead, you’re going to be dealing with a number of well-known people, so the social aspect is a lot less demanding.

The Cons of Working as In-House IT:

  • Boredom: If you’re a high-octane kind of person, you may get bored working on the same things every day with no major challenges. What you start yesterday is probably what you’ll be working on today, and so forth.
  • Less varied infrastructure: You’re working with the same server and the same software, so your exposure to new tech is going to be low. Any personal development will likely have to be off your own back.
  • Outsourcing: If you don’t justify your existence as in-house IT every so often, a resource-strapped company may consider outsourcing your role. If you’re making paper aeroplanes, that’s a bad sign.

The Conclusion

Whether or not to work as part of corporate in-house IT or for an MSP is really going to be down to your individual temperament. If you’ve got a high tolerance for stress, thrive on relationship building and a daily challenge, then working for an MSP will probably work out for you. If you don’t want a lot of stress, like consistency and want to have a set relationship with the same company over a long period of time, then it’s probably best to avoid joining an MSP and look at in-house IT.

Of course, there’s always exceptions to any rule, and there will be more relaxed MSPs or more energetic and challenging in-house roles out there. These are just general trends to keep in mind, drawn from a number of industry professionals who have worked in both fields.

Got any thoughts on working as in-house IT or for an MSP? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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