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IT's identity crisis

Some say the glory days are over; others believe IT's best days are ahead.

By Paul Desmond, Network World
July 10, 2006 12:02 AM ET
Don Dargel, IT burnout

Network World - Don Dargel, at left, has been working in IT since he was a teenager, and now, at age 37, he wants out so badly he's willing to join the National Guard to get extra money so he can go back to college. And yes, he's aware there's a war on.

Dargel works for a large outsourcing company that provides IT services to a medical research facility. The Intel systems administrator says he's lucky to have the job he does. He was laid off in 2001 and again in 2004. At one point the only work he could get in his hometown of Rockford, Ill., was installing point-of-sale terminals in restaurants.

"It was pretty embarrassing, installing touchscreen terminals in burger joints," Dargel says. He eventually landed a better, higher-paying job that required him to relocate, but he's still suffering from a bad case of IT identity crisis.

He looks back wistfully to the days when elite "command prompt commandos" ruled the IT universe, using skills that he says have been rendered largely obsolete by graphical interfaces and automation. "Now I'm a monkey just responding to lights," Dargel says.

His career crisis certainly isn't unique. A recent Network World story on the predicted shortage of IT workers touched a nerve among readers, many of whom shared their frustrations over the directions their careers have taken of late. Share your frustrations and stories in our identity-crisis forum.

"There's a lot of defensiveness," says Diane Morello, vice president and research director at Gartner. "[IT workers] watch as they themselves or spouses, family and friends get replaced, systemized, automated out or moved around. They say, 'This is not the glory profession that it was when I got interested in it.'"

Diane Morello, VP at Gartner
Diane Morello, VP at Gartner
"[IT workers] watch as they
themselves or spouses, family and
friends get replaced, systemized,
automated out or moved around.
They say, 'This is not the glory
profession that it was when I got
interested in it.'"
Click to see: Diane Morello, VP at Gartner

IT, it seems, is getting hammered from all sides. Industry analysts and pundits are making dire predictions. For example, Morello wrote a research report that said the ranks of IT will be chopped significantly in the coming years, as IT departments hire small numbers of "versatilists" to replace larger numbers of specialists.

The industry itself is maturing and changing in ways many IT execs don't like: there's outsourcing, automation, increased regulatory requirements many consider onerous and more emphasis on formalized processes, such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

Plus, the image of IT is taking a beating everywhere - from the college classroom, where the number of new computer science majors in colleges is plummeting (see graphic, below), to the boardroom, where the influence of IT seems to be waning.

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