Grandpah: Whats an IT Guy

Just close your eyes for a second and imagine sitting in your rocking chair with one of your grandchildren on your lap. As she absently plays with her holographic Nintendo DS66 she asks you a very odd question : “Grandpa, what’s an IT GUY ? ” You look up startled, momentarily distracted from the Yahoo-Tube video you where watching on your transparent digital contact lenses… sigh and start telling the story of the old days .. When we still had “IT Guys”.

Although this example may look like science fiction, the Yahoo / Youtube merger is actually the more implausible factor in my example. The DS, The transparent contacts AND the question , are one day to be very very real.

…where everybody with a keyboard and a Geocities account suddenly became a “webmaster” or “web designer”…

In my 15 years on the job i’ve seen many changes in the landscape of the IT profession. From the time where single programmers wrote up an entire suite of bookkeeping software for a company (and holding that company ransom later because they where the only ones who knew how it worked) to the aftermath of the dot.com bubble where everybody with a keyboard and a Geocities account suddenly became a “webmaster” or “web designer”. I remember the time where I pondered wether or not I needed to get my MCSE certification or where I franticly tried to find the right pins on a motherboard to attach the cable or the power switch. In those 15 years a lot has changed. Not only has my career moved along , I started out as a Tech/Sales guy at a small computershop and am currently holding a position as Demand Manager for New Technologies at a Dutch multinational, the landscape we work in has also changed.

When I used to ponder about the future, I thought us ‘tech heads’ would become the predominant group in the workforce of the future. As I saw IT technology grab hold of society and sink its digital teeth into the soft underbelly of our communities, I wondered how many “techies” we would need to keep it all running… Lots of them… right ? But perhaps I was wrong. As It integrated our daily lives more and more, the techies started to vanish. Where at first every company still had “his own IT Crowd”, nudged away somewhere in the basement (yes, I’ve been there) and given the task of keeping the servers up and running while also taking care of the fish in the company pond (yes, i’ve been there too) , the first generation of outsourcing was taking its toll. I have seen Helpdesk departments go extinct, gradually replaced by outsourcing partners on the floor. And in time, I walked the floor of companies where they did not have any techies in house whatsoever. Every server was housed somewhere in a datacenter. Every user was remote supported and once in a blue moon you would see a nerdy looking guy with white patches around the knee section of their jeans, linger by the coffee machine. Only by those “white kneecaps” could you recognise a field engineer ( The white kneecaps are a result of kneeling down on carpets a lot to fix computers… i too have been there). Coming from an age where the ‘ in house’ IT guys where revered or hated by the entire company , but where everybody knew your name… it changed to a work floor where some strange kid you don’t know comes by to fix your computer.

But even the “White Kneecaps” will start to go extinct someday. As we start using computers that don’t “open up” anymore and use (mobile) operating systems that do not require reinstalling… the roll of our system engineers is starting to dwindle away. As we slide down (or should I say ascend) into the world of cloud computers, there services, and those of their brethren taking care of our servers in a datacenter… are becoming obsolete. Hard disks fail ? The data is in the cloud. Network goes down ? I’ll just pop in my 3G dongle. Laptop eaten by dog ? I’ll just pick up a fresh one, all I need to do is configure my account.

I too am a fallen angel that now walks between the users.

With the consumerization of IT, The second generation of outsourcing, the migration to the cloud and the fundamental change in how we approach and use technology… things will change for the “IT guys”. In my own career I have found I have become a diplomatic liaison between technology and users. Assessing their needs and seeing what can be used to meet their demands. Although I still have a technical background it are more my communication skills and creativity that help me find a solution, then actually popping open a case and yanking out some wires. I too am a fallen angel that now walks between the users. My jeans are a deep blue (even around the knees) and my hands are no longer scratched from the sharp edges inside PC casings. As I look to the future I wonder what interesting times lie ahead for us in the IT business. How our roll, that I’ve seen evolving from “bookkeepers” to “engineers” will go more and more into the realm of digital diplomats. Where we wield knowledge and insights about technology we might no longer truly understand.

I once said that a computer should be like a toaster. Easy to operate and possessing the simplicity of an appliance. As I punch in this blogpost on my iPad , I realise that my prophecy has come true. My iPad is a toaster. It just works and there is nothing to ‘fix’. And we don’t need IT guys in the next room to fix a toaster… or do we ?