IT Careers May Change, but Dont Count Them Out

The "next big thing" may prove the folks at Garter/ITxpo wrong.

It doesnt matter who you talk to. theres an unmistakable bearishness about the careers of IT professionals these days. Even people who disagree on the most fundamental premises of IT agree that the job of IT pro aint what it used to be. But more significant, they predict that it will never again be what it once was. The typical question is, "Would you recommend that your son or daughter pursue a career in IT?" The answer is invariably, "No."

Everyone knows that author Nicholas G. Carr questions the importance of IT and, consequently, those who perform IT work. As he wrote in a Free Spectrum column in eWEEK last week, Carr believes the IT manager is going the way of the electricity manager, an important corporate officer a century ago but forgotten today. But when Gartner analysts are singing the same tune—and if not exactly the same tune, at least one that seems to harmonize—then you have to sit up and take notice.

At the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco, Gartner analysts, led by Diane Morello, predicted there will be fewer IT pros in the future, and of those who remain, more will be business strategists and fewer will be technology experts. The Gartnerites were describing an IT person who didnt so much build systems as sign contracts with service providers—seemingly presaging the days of IT as a utility—a very Carr-like notion.

"By 2010, IT organizations in midsize and large companies will be at least one-third smaller than they were in 2000 (0.7 probability)," Morello said at the session titled "The IT Professional Outlook: Where Will We Go From Here?" Morello continued, "By 2010, six out of 10 people affiliated with the IT organization will assume business-facing roles around information, process and relationships." Morellos bottom line was that technology expertise tends to diminish and relationship and sourcing management tends to increase over time.

The knee-jerk reaction is to point to outsourcing as the culprit, but theres more to it than that, said Gartner analyst Donna Scott. She asserted that automation of IT operations alone may cut the IT operations work force by half. Still, Gartnerites argue the relevance of IT. None that I queried admitted to being in Carrs camp. Said Gartner Fellow Tom Austin: "We think there are opportunities for competitive advantage through IT."

So heres the disconnect: When Carr spoke at the annual Society for Information Management conference in Chicago last fall, he stirred up plenty of animosity among the senior IT execs in attendance. But when Morello asked attendees at her session if her presentation was on target, nearly 100 percent raised their hands in agreement. That raises the question: Whos right, the person who says that IT doesnt matter and is going away (Carr) or the one who says that IT does matter but is going away (Gartner)?

When it comes to the future, you never know. They could both be wrong. A few years back, it looked as if every man, woman and child on Earth would be running a dot-com business by now. That didnt happen. Its easy, and usually wrong, to extrapolate a snapshot of the present indefinitely into the future. Things change. Whats more likely is that the pendulum is swinging, and we are in the midst of the down stroke. Neither Carr nor Gartner take into account the possible emergence of "the next big thing," which, experience has shown, you cant rule out.

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When punch-card mainframes were cranking away, the minicomputer emerged. When the minicomputer was established, PCs staged a revolution. When PCs were established, the Internet changed everything. I would never bet against the next next big thing being just around the corner and with it a renewal of interest in IT and in IT careers.

Out and about

Its not only the theorists who are driving the "IT as utility" concept. Don Grantham, Sun Microsystems newly promoted executive vice president of services, said in a recent conversation, "Were moving to utility-based services. I firmly believe that its inevitable." A cornerstone of Suns strategy is the managed services centers of SevenSpace, which Sun acquired in January. Sun is now managing more than 100 data centers remotely, said Grantham.

Stan Gibsons e-mail address is

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