On one hand, there’s more demand than ever for specialized IT staff. But many of the jobs that IT professionals once used to gain the experience to get them are in danger of being eliminated.
Welcome to the newest paradox of tech employment.
IT vendors everywhere tout the benefits of IT automation, usually in the form of software-defined data centers that operate at “Web scale.” However, that automation of IT infrastructure reduces the need for lower-level IT administrators and other tech pros; whereas the long-ago rule of thumb was 100 servers per administrator, now Web behemoths such as Facebook and Google claim their administrators manage tens of thousands of servers at a time. Why assign a person to back up a server or provision a virtual machine when a piece of software can do it for you?
The next generation of x86 servers from vendors such as Dell, Lenovo, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard are all much simpler to manage. Dell, for example, claims that the Dell PowerEdge 13th Generation Servers it introduced this week automate most routine management functions. “The servers can self-configure themselves,” Brian Payne, executive director of server solutions for Dell, said in an interview. “We call it zero-touch automation.”
Over at MLB.com, the impact of all this automation is already being felt. After embracing the Unified Compute System (UCS) platform from Cisco, Major League Baseball Advanced Media CTO Joe Inzerillo detailed how, rather than having separate administrators for server, storage and networking, there’s an integrated infrastructure team that manages the organization’s converged systems. “We rely more on the IT generalists on the infrastructure side,” he said. “But the infrastructure and application teams are still separate.”
How long applications and infrastructure will remain separated is anybody’s guess. Joshua McKenty, CTO and co-founder of Piston Cloud Computing, a provider of a distribution of the OpenStack cloud management framework, suggests that, going forward, every IT professional is going to need programming skills. Credited with developing OpenStack during his tenure at NASA, McKenty thinks everyone in IT needs to learn to code: “When you really think about it everybody now needs to be a software developer… right now both my daughters are learning to code.”
Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior believes that, when you put all these changes together, the definition of an entry-level IT job has now been fundamentally changed. “They’re not going to be specialists for a physical component; they’ll be architects for the infrastructure and the data center,” he said. “Entry level IT positions now require people who are a lot more business savvy.”
The end result is that it’s now harder to break into IT than ever. The days when an IT professional would be hired to, for example, manage backup and recovery while they learned the ropes are coming to a close.
David Maffei, vice president of global channel sales for Carbonite, a provider of cloud backup services, even thinks that, in the not too distant future, there will be no reason to have dedicated backup and recovery administrators: “In the next five years the whole function is going to be automated.”
All this automation will pressure schools to turn out candidates for IT jobs who are much more fully formed than they are today. The degree to which different university programs can rise to that challenge, of course, remains to be seen. But in the immediate future, it’s already clear that the successful candidate for a job in IT will need to be a whole lot more well-rounded than they’ve been in the past.
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