IT careers: Retire? How about never?

Bye-bye, time share. Late-career IT pros retool for an extended stay in the workforce.

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Even IT professionals who are financially sound say they are putting off retirement for other reasons. Some can't -- or aren't willing to -- underwrite the substantial health insurance costs they'd have to pay out of pocket until they were eligible for Medicare.

And many of those who were hoping to ease into a semi-retirement with contract work have seen a lot of those opportunities dry up and no longer feel comfortable leaving a full-time gig just now.

There's always the group that isn't ready for retirement because they're enjoying their jobs so much, and yet even that segment of IT has had to make some adjustments during this trying economic period. Instead of being able to cruise comfortably through the twilight of their careers, these IT veterans have had to step it up a notch, making an effort to stay on top of management and technology trends, invest in ongoing training and, in some cases, take the plunge and completely retool their skill sets.

"There is no place to hide in this economy -- IT has been affected by budget and staffing cuts and impacted by layoffs," says Dave Willmer, executive director for staffing firm Robert Half Technology.

The reality for IT workers of any age is that they are being asked to do more with less, take on roles outside of their areas of expertise, forgo raises, and deal with more strenuous deadlines and the stress that comes with them. It might not be the grand finale that tech veterans envisioned for themselves, but it's the reality of today's market, and IT professionals need to adapt.

"No one can sit on their laurels in the current work environment," Willmer says. "Folks may not have planned on this, but it's better than the alternative, which is not working. People can't afford to coast. They have to perform and get back in the game, especially if they're going to be here longer than they anticipated."

To see how IT veterans are weathering these changes, Computerworld checked in with a group of late-career professionals. Here's what they had to say about the impact of the recession and their late-career Plan B.

52 and reconnecting with the desk job

CVS/Caremark's Richardson diligently planned for an early retirement -- he dutifully socked away 10% of his earnings for years into a 401(k), received matching funds from employers and aggressively paid down his mortgage. But he now believes the time isn't right to start anything new. His nest egg is a whole lot smaller, he says, and regrettably, there isn't much of a market in his current home state of Arizona to make a go at contracting work or starting his own HVAC business.

Fortunately, Richardson, who graduated from college with a chemistry degree, had decided even before the economy tanked that he should pursue a degree in computer science for job insurance. He graduated in 2007 from Colorado Technical University, even as he was dreaming of making a career from his blue-collar hobbies.

Now, instead of once more retooling his skills for a career in HVAC, Richardson is recommitting to the idea of staying in IT at CVS/Caremark. He's trying to make the most of that recent degree, which he believes increases his value to the company while opening doors to other roles, if and when he chooses.

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