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19 October 2010

Twilight of the technologists

By Andrew Clifford

Will IT jobs as we know them cease to exist?

Here in the UK, autumn is in full swing. We like to fool ourselves that we will have some more warm sunny days, but really we know that winter is on its way.

Probably because of this, I find myself worrying about the future, particularly the future of our chosen profession as information technologists.

Two things worry me.

The first is outsourcing. In theory, there should be nothing to worry about outsourcing. If jobs move to service companies, then the people can move too.

But it is not that simple. The reason service companies can provide services more cheaply is that they have economies of scale, and that means doing the same work with fewer people.

Outsourcing to other countries is another worry. I think it is good, both economically and morally, that work flows to parts of the world where labour costs are lower. But in relatively rich countries like the UK, on a personal level, it is concerning to see so many jobs move elsewhere.

The second thing that worries me is that we are finally seeing some of the promised efficiencies of IT, in the form of packaged software and everything-as-a-service. Although these have been around in some form for many years, they are now taking hold. Twenty years ago large organisations would write their own software as a matter of course. Now that is a rarity. Now you really can rent your infrastructure, or your applications, for a monthly fee. All this efficiency means fewer jobs.

Business continues to change, and IT is often a casualty. I live about 50 miles North West of London, where local IT jobs have been dominated by large retail groups and banks. Aggressive outsourcing and mergers have taken their toll. Many, perhaps most, of the IT professionals I know locally have experienced redundancy, and a large number of these still have not found permanent positions elsewhere.

On top of these general industry trends, the political and economic situation is difficult here in the UK. The reduction in public spending, which personally I think is long overdue, will reduce the lucrative public sector contracts that many of us (me included) have benefited from.

All this paints a bleak picture for IT. There do not seem to be as many IT jobs as there were, particularly in end user organisations, and we do not enjoy the sort of rarity premium that we used to. There is still a lot of IT work within service providers, but if you have been working in an end user organisation for some years you may find you have not got the technical and business skills they demand. The income expectations and career security we used to take for granted have gone.

Has IT had its day?

I don't think it has. Things will change, and I do not think we will go back to what we used to have. But I think there will still be rewarding careers. Next week, I will look forward a few years to where I think these trends will take us, and how we, as information technologists, will fit into that picture.

Next: IT isn't over yet


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