The Evolution of the IT Specialist - Page 1

Jul 7, 2008

James de Raeve

As IT Infrastructures have evolved over the last four decades, moving from a mainframe-centric model to two- and three-tier client server models and finally to today’s diverse distributed computing model, so too have the key technical people who manage these systems.


Back in the mainframe days, the walls that separated the team of IT

specialists from the business people reinforced the concept that the IT folks “behind the glass” were isolated and different. Could they only talk bits and bytes but little else from a business perspective? More often than not, the answer was yes.


During the mainframe era, applications were simpler—most were based on COBOL and accessed by green screen “dumb” terminals—and applications did not interact. IT leaders were primarily concerned with technology for technology’s sake rather than whether it could provide business value. It wasn’t until the client/server days of the 1990s that IT specialists started becoming more involved in the business and business became more involved with IT.


In contrast, today’s IT environment is far more complex. Business and IT people now must function together and IT must be integrated with business processes. While this is now self evident from the architecture, solution and infrastructure perspective, it is equally true of the people that make the business and the IT happen.


So, who is ultimately responsible for today’s IT environments? The builders, integrators and managers of these highly complex infrastructures are now known as IT specialists. The IT profession has come a long way from those days when business and IT functions were segregated and had little impact on one another. Today’s IT specialists have to bridge the gap between business functions and departments while still maintaining the technical expertise to architect, develop, and manage the IT environment.




Perhaps it’s our own misperception of what business people think of highly technical IT specialists, but the profession is still plagued by stereotypes from forty years ago. Despite IT’s evolving and ever more integral role within business environments, the stereotypical perception of the “IT guy” remains: he is good for one thing—deep technical skills and little else. Give a programmer a generous supply of pizza and he’ll emerge a month later from the cubicle along with a solution to the company’s integration problems!


But the stereotypes of the code-obsessed “IT guy” are no longer true. Businesses today require a higher level of capable IT specialists who can translate business requirements and actualize an IT system to meet the company’s business needs. IT specialists not only need to possess strong technical skills in a technology area, but they must possess strong personal and business skills in order to interface with clients to provide client value.


What is An “IT specialist” Anyway?


The title of “IT specialist” has become a widely used term both within the technology industry over the past few years. With tens of thousands of “IT specialists” and a vast array of job responsibilities, it is important to understand what skills actually define an IT specialist; not an easy feat.


In a nutshell, an IT specialist is a service, support, sales or training professional who is able to bridge the gap between client concerns and technical challenges. IT specialists support solution construction, implementation and systems integration. They are primarily involved in the design, and implementation phases throughout the lifecycle of a project or engagement on up through management levels. In addition, they may also be involved in the architecture phase of a project or engagement and may even contribute to the vision and strategy of the project.

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