Up or Out: Where Are IT Jobs Headed?

Yes, outsourcing is everywhere. Yes, management used to be where techies went to die. For IT workers under pressure from cheap, outsourced competition, management is where they'll need to go to thrive.

By Charlie Schluting | Posted Jul 17, 2008
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Charlie SchlutingOpinion: We often hear, "all roads lead to management." While that certainly isn't true for everyone, it becomes a stark reality when a long-time techie decides to move up the corporate ladder. Businesses are also less dependent on some IT services, and to remain competitive or even employable, employees need to become more business-aware. As a result, it is increasingly more common to see hard-core techies venturing out to acquire an MBA. They aren't jumping the IT ship; in fact, they're becoming more competitive in the IT world.

Shifting Needs of IT Services

Businesses don't need the help desk as much as they used to. People from all backgrounds are more aware of technology than ever before, and they just don't need help with the simple stuff. As time goes on, this will become even more apparent, since younger employees will generally understand more about technology than their elders. IT, for the most part, is part of what everyone does on a daily basis. It is not a secret society any longer, nor is it difficult to find people when you need help.

Outsourcing, in the past, was used to farm out the undesirable jobs, but many companies are now outsourcing their entire IT operations. Outsourcing isn't just for software development any more. That means lower-level IT workers aren't as much in demand as they once were. The problem, of course, is that without a lower rung, it's nearly impossible to attract and train new talent. But maybe this isn't a problem.

Commoditization of IT

As companies become more and more comfortable with software as a service and outsourced datacenters, the need for skilled IT staff dwindles as well. In the future, expect companies to make extensive use of consultants, more so than in today's IT world. All that may be necessary on-staff are solutions managers, a few low- to mid-level administrators, and a CIO.

As more services are outsourced and hosted elsewhere, an IT worker should pay attention to why this is happening. Businesses don't need to develop their own internal tools, or spend months trying to set up some new invoicing system. For less expense, a business can simply buy a service that's very likely to work well. Programmers, therefore, aren't likely going to be employed by most companies in the future. Software and service delivery companies will eventually prove to be the only major employers of programmers. When a solution doesn't exist, companies will still need custom development work. The difference is that the volume of these projects will decrease, making a full-time staff of programmers an unnecessary expense.

Staying Sharp

In the global economy, lower-skill jobs are (still) moving toward cheaper labor. India's salaries are increasing, but other countries are waiting, poised with job applications. IT administrators should never feel secure just idly pressing buttons and punching the clock. The IT world doesn't work like that; successful administrators learn many new things on a daily basis.

More to the point, tomorrow's successful IT worker will be a business partner. He or she will need to decide what technologies work best for specific purposes, where they should be purchased, and how they will be integrated. The main difference is that IT departments are ramping up on "solutions" people, and lessening their investment in systems administrators. Numerous companies have solved most common problems already, and their future needs are not that different from those of other businesses. Just think of the duplication of effort that goes on daily, on a global scale. Software as a service and storage or datacenter outsourcing isn't just a fad; it's the only reasonable solution.

IT isn't going away, but it is changing. As companies move toward this new IT world, the role of IT is evolving. Instead of focusing on delivering the technology and running servers, IT will spend most of its time designing the solutions, managing the implementation by contractors, and improving processes. Business processes cannot be improved without intimate knowledge of the business. The absolute best job assurance IT workers can buy, aside from being great at their jobs, is becoming acutely aware of the business and industry they are in.

Companies will still always have a need for technical work to get done. The people managing implementations, whether or not they are deployed in-house or not, will need to have an extensive technical background. They need to know when things are going well, when things simply will not work, and also when they're being lied to. Experienced techies, as managers, fulfill this role easily.

It's easier to teach a techie to manage than it is to teach a manager about information technology. Without technical manager, however, IT initiatives are sure to fail. The best way for business-minded IT staff to ascend the ladder but still keep their IT passions alive, is through managing IT. I don't mean "manage" in the strict sense, in fact, the management of IT without tons of IT staff becomes the management of projects.

Coming up with solutions; designing them; managing the implementation. Rinse and repeat. That is the new IT world we will continue to evolve toward in the coming years.


When he's not writing for Enterprise Networking Planet or riding his motorcycle, Charlie Schluting is the Associate Director of Computing Infrastructure and Lead Unix Architect at Portland State University. Charlie operates OmniTraining.net , which offers IT research materials, training and consulting services.

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