The picture, as a second Bush term begins, is still very
mixed as best. The “obvious problem” is that many of the more routine jobs,
particularly in the mainframe area and in areas like production control and
basic business applications maintenance, have gone overseas, particularly to India.
This is not necessary all a bad thing. How many programmers hated getting up in
the middle of the night at the cry of a pager to fix “other peoples’ mistakes”
in a nightly batch cycle (those infamous SOC7’s,
or perhaps those SOC4’s that left no
Now, some of that
support takes place about half-way around the world, where it is daytime.
I developed this idea in my book, and the honest truth is
that what we call “information technology” needs to be more like a real
profession (law, medicine, engineering, accounting), where people who make good
livings at it are licensed or certified and held accountable publicly for how
they perform. Certification needs to be more than a vendor’s attempt to hook
the industrial public on its software (that is not to say that some of the
certification programs aren’t good—look at Sun’s java certification all the way
back to 1999). It also needs to be more than a general all-things-to-all-people
like what the Institute for the Certification of
Computing Professionalsused to offer.
Now I like laissez-faire society, but it seems that
employers and headhunters have become obsessed with getting the most short term
benefit from candidates in the shortest time possible, mixed with some curious
inflexibility that reminds one of government. This has led to some strange
anomalies—I get repeated emails and calls from headhunters asking me to submit
resumes for mainframe state Medicaid MMIS contracts, always to find that my
nineteen months (of MARS) back in the late 1970s in New York state is not
What candidates need today is specific expertise. Look at
any tech employment section in any city newspaper today and you can get an idea
of what the market wants: shopping lists of very specific skills, particularly
in some areas like security (often requiring high-level security clearance,
which provides its own “Catch 22”), language paradigms, and even engineering.
In some cases of software engineering, companies may actually be looking again
for more formal mathematics and statistics education and expertise (consider
how Google makes its money). Younger candidates now in college (or even
advanced placement in high school, especially in mathematics and career center
education) obviously have an enormous advantage, of being able to tailor their
coursework to what employers want.
I’ll add here that in 2006 I will be
gathering more specific information about the quantity of various kinds of
expertise needed and communicating it on this website. That is out of
self-interest and survival. Another anomaly worth noting is that sometimes
employers will desperately hunt around the country for one candidate with
outdated mainframe skills, so sometimes there is a hidden reward for keeping up
technical support expertise in areas like DB2, IMS, IDMS, CICS, SAS, Case
Another dark horse, of
particular interest to me, is combining content with technology so as to
improve the quality of motion pictures, network television, educational
programs, and other content-related distributions—and by “quality” here I am
referring partly to educating the public to expect more from media companies
than formulaic profiteering. Even considering all of this, it is often very
difficult for a given “techie” to predict what areas of expertise (purely
technical, or business systems oriented) will remain in demand for long periods
of time, long enough to justify self-paid training of school. An individual
should also listen to Donald Trump’s advice—consider what you enjoy doing the
most, and think of how you can build a unique level of expertise where you know
there will be some demand in specialized, niche-type businesses.
The same forces that enabled me to get published and
moderately known as a writer destroyed my old I.T. career. Broadband and outsourcing are not going away,
although recent trends to move some work to rural domestic areas in a
competitive fashion are encouraging.
But what this comes back to is how
employers and “computer professionals” should behave. Employees should develop
specific expertise on the job, in areas that they (in an era of “Google
hacking”) will be proud of publicly.
Employers should expect their employees to develop specific expertise
vertically and insist that they do so, and employers should work more closely
with universities and public school systems.
Career development and realignment invokes much more for older
professionals than augmenting batch, procedural mainframe skills with
client-server and “sexy” languages in a leisurely fashion, and older
professionals will find that developing marketable expertise in object oriented
languages (OOP) is much more difficult than it sounds (think of it as learning
a new branch of mathematics—a “boot camp” approach may or may not help).
Information “techies” (a bit of a pejorative now!) should be especially wary of
staying in “support” or areas where they will not progress.
marketability paradigm has changed since the early 1990s and the first Bush
recession, when the emphasis was on keeping people who could keep a shop
running until it was merged with another one.
Truth be told, a lot of mainframe programmers in the early in mid 1990s
were weak, often working for unstable companies, and had their careers
artificially prolonged by the historical anomaly of the Y2K event. (I saw a lot
of their resumes!) Now, the emphasis is
on progress, innovation and specialization—just as with doctors. It’s up or