This year marks my 20th in Information Technology when I started out at UCLA doing desktop support work for the school’s Life Sciences departments (biology, microbiology, psychology, etc.) helping various faculty and staff with their many computer support needs.
Back in 1996, Intel’s “Pentium Pro” was considered state of the art in the Windows PC world; Apple’s “Power Macintosh 9500” made “Apple geeks” giddy; and, for some odd reason, people thought that Palm Pilots were actually good for something (they weren’t actually good for anything, of course, but they sure made you look cool back in ’96)…and don’t get me started on Apple Newtons (which were just as much garbage as Palm Pilots were except they were much more massive than Palm Pilots and they had the nifty Apple “rainbow logo” on them which made most biology professors who owned them think that they should be able to write their next multi-million dollar research grant proposal with them…g’rrr…)!
So a few things have changed in the IT world since 1996 but one thing has NOT changed since I started out so many years ago: That is, people have been predicting the “death of the ‘IT guy’” even way back then! Back in 1996, “IT people” (I’ll go gender-neutral here) were going to be made irrelevant by increasingly better/faster hardware/software; “plug-and-play” computer peripherals; self-configuring network devices and so on.
Fast forward to 2016 and IT people will be made irrelevant by Artificial Intelligence (“AI” is a topic that continues to fascinate me and it’s one that I’ve written about on several occasions); they will be made irrelevant by outsourcing to the lowest common denominator global labor market (India, China, Malaysia, The Philippines, etc.); they will be made irrelevant by cloud computing/services, etc.
Don’t get me wrong…AI, outsourcing and cloud computing have all had some incredible impacts on IT labor and employment opportunities (with AI having the potential to continue making the most impact of the three); however, IT people are still in high demand (yes, one can argue that since 2000 that productivity has been decoupled from employment but even in 2016 IT jobs still account for a HUGE proportion of the “most in-demand jobs” in America); IT people are still among the highest paid professionals (excluding medical and management professionals) in the country making on average $86,000 dollars annually; and a less quantifiable statistic here is that the number of technology billionaires has risen dramatically since 1996 – though, interestingly, Bill Gates was the richest American at $18.5 billion back then and is still the richest today at about $79 billion – further providing evidence that technology people aren’t going the way of buggy whip manufacturers anytime soon.
All of the above said, I’m going to freak you out by saying, “the ‘IT Guy’ (with a capital ‘G’) is dead!”
Yeah, I know, I just got through making the case that the IT Guy is NOT dead but he really is dead and here’s what I mean: The STEREOTYPICAL IT Guy is dead! Specifically…
- …the IT Guy who thinks that he can simply fix broken computers, servers and networking equipment while treating his customers with condescension or even outright hostility is DEAD.
- …the IT Guy who thinks that he can handle all aspects of technology on his own (either because of hubris or ignorance…take your pick) is DEAD.
- …the IT Guy who thinks that his job security lies in the fact that his executive/managerial “overlords” don’t have administrative access to the systems that he controls and/or don’t have a clear understanding of what he actually does is DEAD.
Yeah, THAT IT Guy really is DEAD and good riddance to him because he was a pain in our collective rear ends!
IT people these days understand not only “customer service” but also understand concepts like “user experience,” “trusted advisor” and even “Return On Investment” (capital or otherwise)! IT people these days do NOT see IT as a commoditized service but rather as an area of service professional growth…not as a race to the bottom in price but rather as a race to the top in value!
Bottom line: The “IT Guy” is on the escalator going down (gnashing his teeth and cursing the whole way, I’m sure) while the IT person is on the express elevator going up (while enjoying her double espresso latte)!