More On The Changing Face Of IT

Old TerminalNot long ago, my blogger colleague Don Willmott picked up an item by Jason Hiner in TechRepublic. Hiner’s argument that most IT departments “are a shadow of their former selves,” and will get even more shadowy as new technologies reshape their roles,  generated a few comments, and I’d like to add my 1 0 cents.

Mr. Hiner says:

IT used to be about managing and deploying hardware and software…. (T)he area where the largest number of IT jobs is going to move is into developer, programmer, and coder jobs.”

I’ll refrain from comment on his belief that Millennials are in effect so smart they need no training and view IT as an obstruction to their productivity.

Look Back, Look Ahead

Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Hiner, but I suppose he believes the majority of IT folk spend, or have spent, their time installing pre-packaged software on PCs and distributing those PCs to individual users. If that’s the case, it’s a rather narrow view of the IT/IS world. It’s akin to examining a Borg drone and then claiming you understand the scope of the collective.

One of the major areas involving IT/IS is data processing. It has been thus for many years. To process data, you rely on a program, developed by a programmer who wrote the code. Programmers have been developing and coding programs since well before the Net required “Web-based apps”, and your smartphone required mobile apps, and so forth and so on.

These data-processing programs, let’s call them apps, were written in languages such as CoBOL, ForTran, PL/1 and BASIC. I know of a company that developed an accounting app in BAL. I am certain there are even apps written in Pascal. They ran on mini and mainframe platforms manufactured by DEC, DG, Prime, Wang and IBM. The users, programmers and others interfaced with computers via “dumb” terminals, some capable of multiple sessions a la tabbed browsing.

Hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of data records of various or fixed length, some in sequential files, others in relative files or indexed files, were processed each day by those apps, with reports being generated and distributed to interested parties. This went on day after day, year after year, and it’s still happening all over the world. Some folks call this “legacy technology.” The fact it still runs is a testimony to how well it was designed.

Stay Current — All Of You

Sadly, the number of folk who can work with such systems is decreasing, but they’re supposed to become more valuable as the Java-centric Millennials take over the world and are faced with technology they didn’t learn in school. (For what it’s worth, Joel Sposky years ago had a comment or two on that very subject.)

No one technology is the be-all and end-all. If there was “a best” there would be an end to the creation of new programming languages, CMS, etc. In my opinion, Millennials would do well to learn how legacy apps work, just as legacy folk would do well to learn the newer technologies. I’ll go out on a limb and repeat something statement I was told some time ago: “We” legacy folk have an easier time learning the newer technologies than the Millennials have in coping without a GUI.

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    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, it’s a word that describes IT projects that worked; and continue to work even years later. The challenge for employers is to keep them running, or spend the necessary time and money to re-write the code in a more “modern” language then test it heavily before the “un cool” code is retired. I dare say to re-write (some) legacy apps is a daunting task not to be undertaken lightly.