The IT profession in 2010: Readers say the change is already here

* Readers respond to a Gartner report about the future of the IT profession

Readers responded in force to recent newsletters that delved into a Gartner report describing the IT profession in 2010. In a nutshell, Gartner believes that it is not enough to be knowledgeable about a given technology; IT pros need to show business knowledge and skills as well. Gartner also said employers are looking for so-called versatilists, who have a diversified set of skills that enable them to play a wide range of roles, providing numerous experiences including technical aptitude, local knowledge, knowledge of industry processes and leadership abilities.

Chris Wong, a technology researcher at a vendor company wrote: "My laid off friends bemoan the fact that Gartner is right. Management's current needs are for versatilists. But I don't believe that this 'new' need is the result of a fundamental change in human behavior and economics. Instead it is part of a larger cycle."

Wong explains that as the volume of work decreased after the dot-com crash, the variety of work didn't. Management opted to lay people off and, "Since it was necessary to complete the lower volume of work, but with fewer people, they decided to jettison the specialists who are able to complete specific tasks quickly," says Wong. "This environment favors the generalist who can do multiple tasks, albeit slowly. So this emphasis for versatilists will only last so long as this economic climate lasts."

Wong adds: ""I have no doubt that the specialists needed in the future are going to be different from the specialists needed in the past. This is the true advantage of being a versatilist - the ability to morph into the creature that management wants at the moment."

While readers agree that IT pros need to have business understanding to adequately serve their constituents, some disagreed with Gartner's assertion that technical certifications provide no long-term value to employers. John Wolfe, a 20-plus-year IT veteran who is now an information security engineer at a service provider, wrote: "When we hire in our network operations area we require a solid technical foundation, especially for line management. We've been burned in the past by not having deep core technical knowledge. An MBA means nothing when you need to design and support next-generation networks. Cisco certs do."

But Wolfe believes that there is a call for IT professionals who can explain how technologies can help businesses meet their goals. "Vendors by the thousands are touting what their products can do, but that's not the issue. The question is, 'What can your technology do to make my business more successful?' ... This is where the MBA and CMM [Capability Maturity Model] background (combined with technical knowledge) comes into play; as well as experience across at least three industries."

(Wolfe's comment got me thinking about the separate moves by Microsoft and the Open Group to create IT Architecture certifications that develop IT execs with real-world experiences of implementing technologies that improved the bottom line for businesses - but that's an idea for another newsletter!)

Ron O'Meara, network performance engineer and technical writer at Infinite Dimensions, also wrote in to say certifications matter. "There are a lot of high tech companies - like network service providers - that validate claims of excellence by publishing or using other means to disseminate information about their employees' certification levels. And virtually all companies that sell IT products and services post the qualifications of their management team on the Web site."

That's true, but unless the qualifications are business as well as technology-related, doesn't that illustrate Wolfe's comment about some vendors getting too hung up over technology for technology's sake?

Finally, I received a note from Noman Bari, a country manager, projects at Softlogic, a Dell authorized distributor in Pakistan, who wrote to say these issues are bubbling in his part of the world as well. Bari, who holds a string of technical certifications says: "Over the years my understanding of technology and how it relates to business has evolved and it's getting better. But this change hasn't happened overnight. I still remember when business-related work such as business maths and communications used to be a rocket science for me (sometimes it still is) and I used to be totally lost at times. But then I realized that if I want to get to the next level I will have to overcome my fears of 'losing my techieness and becoming some paper pusher' and start going outside my comfort zone."

He adds: "Cultivating soft skills as well as business skills is as important as hard skills but there should be a balanced approach to this. Those of us who will find this balance and find new ways to explore our limits and make the transition will always stand out from the crowd. I think that we don't have to wait for 2010 for this to happen. It's happening right now and I believe it's been like this for quite some time."

Thanks to all who wrote in. This has been a lively discussion. If you want to keep this discussion going my mailbox is always open: mailto:lleung@nww.com.

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