The Three Jobs Every IT Worker Will Be (or Is Already?) Doing
Going as far back as my professional IT memory will take me allows me to remember that when I started, there were just "IT Guys" — those ambidextrous, multitalented individuals who could do anything with a computer.
One of the IT Guys would be developing some code to close the month for accounting, or adding a frame-relay circuit on the core router, all while they were adding new users to the e-mail system. What happened to those people? Have we drifted so far from that era in time that we need a Splunk Admin or a Technical Project Manager?
Do we still have any "jack of all trades" individuals in IT? I've been thinking about this in response to forward-looking Tech Republic article written roughly seven years ago. The 2011 article predicted a future in which every IT job role would fall into one of three categories: Consultants, Project Managers, and Developers.
Seven years later, is the IT industry still inching toward, or perhaps already living in, that future?
By the broader implications of Moore's law, we could somewhat reasonably claim that information technology has gone through four cycles of advancement and growth since the article was written. The question then, is whether all of that change has been enough to move the needle to fully specialized jobs.
Let's look at little bit more closely at those three broad groupings that, it was boldly predicted, would encompass the whole of "working in IT."
First off we have the Consultant. IT consultants are tech confidants, problem solvers and fixers, people who can be like a seagull (noisy and distracting, a scavenger picking around the edges) when they are bad at what they do, or become a valued and trusted ally when they are good. Consultant are ground-level, nuts-and-bolts workhorses.
Next we have the Project Manager. A good project manager is a leader and organizer, a person who turns the crank, steers through rough patches, and makes sure an IT job is carried out properly. No matter who is doing the job, you can rely on a good PM to make sure it gets done right.
Last, but not least, we have the Developer. Code, specialization in programming, telling machines what to do in their own language — this is what a developer does. A good developer can take ideas and turn them into practical, functioning applications. Their hands don't actually touch the hardware, for the most part, but they unlock all sorts of possibilities.
Complexity breeds specific function. Consider the story of three brothers that started a home beer brewing "hobby." Of course what the brothers actually want is for their pastime to take off, to become more than something that they kick around on the side. They have no real sense of what it could be, however, or what they would become.
The brother hit on a formula for a light beer that soon takes off. The brothers, who were initially just brewers and bottlers, now must specialize in order to grow their brand and build up their inventory. One becomes CEO and takes charge of long-range planning, while another is better with money than the other two and tackles accounting and finances. The third brother becomes the company mouthpiece, specializing in sales and marketing.
In a simplified sense, this is the mechanism by which companies grow and by which people start to specialize. Notice that the brothers did not lose their overall expertise in brewing or bottling, but that each had to find a niche in order for their dream to survive. Too much of this can lead to negative consequences, but the overall pattern is necessary for growth.
As we move forward with the working theory that you can lump every job in IT into three categories, it is helpful to further define those categories and perhaps talk about some of the jobs that you would lump into them. Can we go the opposite direction of our brewer example and move back to humongous job categories?
First, the Consultant. The dictionary definition of "consultant" is "a person who delivers expert advice, professionally." This job category is the biggest catch-all of the three, because you can lump almost anyone whose job involves some degree of communication and recommendation into it.
Frankly, you can lump entire divisions of companies into the broad category of consulting. For purposes of this article, let us stick to the CEO, CIO, and CFO roles. They are you main consultants. They think of the big picture, rally the troops, and give guidance and direction when it comes to establishing a vision and defining roles for the rest of the company.
The funny thing about the category of consultant is that it not only takes in the top-level roles of a company, but also the ground-level technical roles. For instance, a Splunk Admin could be lumped into this same category and no one would think anything of it. They learn, teach, give advice — it's just that everything the consult on is technical.
The next category would be the oft-loved, sometimes hated, always essential Project Manager. I love project managers — when they are good at their jobs. I think this sentiment rings true of many professions, but not more prominently than when describing the true efficacy of good project management.
What jobs can you sink into this category? All the job titles with "PM" in them. Technical PM, Construction PM, PMP PM. You can also put every BA, or "business analyst," role into this category. I would put all the marketing and sales folks here as well, because planning to sell or making a marketing plan is the highest form of project planning.
The last category is Developer. Rounding out the list are no small sum of people or job descriptions that fit into this category. Traditional developers fit here, or course, but there's also room for non-tech jobs. Think about a bank teller, for example, or really anyone who enter data into a machine on a regular basis with the intention of generating a specific output.
As you can see, the categories foretold in 2011 do in fact apply to all jobs in IT — if you are willing to be a little flexible with the actual descriptions of those categories.
IT is expanding, not shrinking, in the diversity of its job roles, but those roles do all come under particular headings that can obscure their actual function somewhat. Just remember that there are niches beneath the surface.
Think of filling a children's pool in your yard. As you hose water into the pool, it flows into whatever spaces it finds, until the level of water begins to rise and the pool takes shape. In the end, there is a pool of water that holds everything, but that pool was created by filling in a lot of niches.
No matter what you call yourself, or what category you fit under, always measure yourself against a yardstick of your own devising. Even when you are part of a larger organization, you can never go wrong by being the CEO of your own one-person division.