The Very Model of a Modern Major er… Technologist

The truth be known, I entered the information technology industry to be a computer programmer, not a business person. Back in those days, computer programmers, operators, and other such technicians were the “doers”. We were expected to stay in our world, while the “business guys” sorted out what needed to be done next. When that miraculous decision was reached, it was “thrown over the wall” to the engineers. It was then that we got busy trying to live up to the expectations of whatever was actually sold to the customer. Techies and business folks didn’t co-mingle. That would have been the equivalent of the Hatfields and the McCoys having a lovely Thanksgiving dinner together. My how the times have changed.

When I landed my first job as a young, entry-level computer programmer, it was by responding to a newspaper ad (yes, a newspaper ad). it was similar to this:

Wanted computer programmers. Must be able to type. Must know IBM assembly language and basic flowcharting. Will train on industry, great pay, good benefits.


While I doubt many folks are finding tons of technology jobs through the newspaper these days, a modern ad for that same type of position might appear as follows (note: this is part of a real posting, copied from Monster.com):

SYSTEMS DEVELOPER

~Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering or Agriculture Engineering
~1+ years design engineer experience
~Experience with Commercial Software a must
~Experience with Visualization Software / Groupware / Collaboration software
~Excellent verbal and written communication and presentation skills
~Ability to make presentations to platform leadership
~Ability to travel 10% of the time both domestically and internationally

A MAJOR PLUS IF YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING:

~Jack
~Division / Mockup
~JAVA
~C++
~OpenGL
~Hardware experience in a multi-processor and multi-pipe computer graphics system
~Six Sigma
~Masters Degree
~Pro-E
~Farm Equipment Experience


If I had read the latter in the paper back in the 1980s, I probably would have taken up a different profession. I probably should have anyway, as my starting salary was only $13,500 a year, but that’s another story. Who would have ever thought that experience with “farm equipment” would be the deciding factor in a neck-and-neck race against another equally-as-qualified computer programmer? Farm equipment? Delivering presentations? International travel? … “I’d love to help you out with debugging that Fourier algorithm, Jed, but right now, I need to go and jumpstart the John Deere, then I’m off to Paris to deliver a presentation for the Chiracs.  Can we get together next month instead?”

The hiring profiles have changed significantly over the years. In the old days, employers were thankful to even find people with programming aptitude, much less actual experience. Many technology roles require ancillary, non-technical experience, in areas such as regulatory compliance (e.g. Sarbanes Oxley), project management (PMI), quality management (TQM, Six Sigma, Lean) and process management (ITIL, CMMI).

Technologists are also expected to be more “customer facing” these days. Being able to function in a pre-sales or sales support capacity is fast becoming a critical skill for even junior-level programmers (excuse me, “software developers” – only us old guys still have the word “programmers” as part of our professional vernacular).

Another interesting evolution is in the wardrobe department. Techies are no longer expected to wear one technology hat, but many. Very many. The days of the pure specialist are all but over. Programmers need experience in database management, web design/HTML, new media, and at least 300 different programming languages. Today, techies are only considered marketable if they can list about 800 acronyms on the resume. If the resume doesn’t look like alphabet soup, forget about it. Experience with tools traditionally reserved for business analysts, such as Excel, Word, and Powerpoint, are absolute requirements.

The educational requirements have gone up – way up – when I got into the industry, a 2 year Associate’s degree was a ticket to a fantastic career. Now, Master’s degrees in computer science, CIS, or other related fields are quickly becoming the norm – not just for promotion to higher levels, but for entry-level roles as well.

Ah, but the changes aren’t limited to just the folks in the trenches. Change is also afoot at the executive level. The best friend of the CIO used to be the head of operations (COO), or possibly the CEO. These days, the CIO’s number one relationship is with the CFO – financial and regulatory pressures being the driver there.

As I was preparing this piece, I received the latest copy of CIO Magazine in the mail. This is the “State of the CIO” issue that I look forward to each year – very timely considering the topic I am discussing here (yes, I know this report was published at the beginning of the year, and it is now March – that tells you how long some of my blog drafts stay on my to-do list!). The issue hits on a number of major areas, including some of the ones I’ve talked about above. It is definitely worth a read if you get a chance.

We in IT are working with partners we could have never predicted years ago. The business is becoming much more aware of how information runs through the veins of technology.

– Susan Kozik, CIO, TIAA-CREF


Despite the appearance of having all of these changes “thrust” upon us, I consider the collective change to be a very positive development. Technology is an enabler for the business, and is no longer considered something that operates in a vacuum; a silo’d cost center that no one cares much about. We will see continued focus on IT’s alignment with the overall business, and this is a good thing for technologists – despite the fact that we may have to choose which hat we’ll need to wear to work each day.

With sincerest apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Cheers.

– Scott Burkett

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