The Evolution of the IT Specialist

By James de Raeve

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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.

Companies today need the flexibility to respond to market conditions regardless of geography, time zones and organizational structures. They need to increase the performance of both systems and personnel so they can collaborate with each other. They need infrastructures that are supported by open and interoperable standards. In order to achieve these things, companies need a guarantee that they’re hiring IT specialists who possess the proper abilities, experience and skills.


A CIO or enterprise architect building a team needs to be able to look for IT specialists whose experience meets an accepted set of professional standards. When hiring accountants or lawyers, a business looks at certain credentials from educational background to board certification. CIOs and HR are just now beginning to exercise the same kind of rigor for IT specialists. For example, large IT consulting firms like IBM and Capgemini and their clients are increasingly looking to certification programs for their IT specialists.


Why Certify?


While industry certification programs do offer some level of assurance, the vast majority aren’t a good indicator of one’s ability to execute because they measure book knowledge, not job experience. Joe Certification might look great on paper, but lack the real world experience and communication skills to get the job done right.


Standardized skills and experience based certification, on the other hand, benefits both IT specialist practitioners as well as the companies that employ them. For the IT specialists themselves, certification against an open, global standard can help provide a path for career development and credentials that will be recognized and accepted worldwide. This class of certification also allows IT specialists membership in a community of peers that share the same skills and background, values and standards within their profession— akin to a certified accountant or licensed MD.


Business and IT people can’t afford to work in situations where there are distinct divisions between the “suits” and the “geeks” anymore. Today, both systems and people must be interdependent, collaborative, and interoperable. The success of IT-enabled business depends on the skills and experience of certified IT specialists who can work on both sides of the aisle.


James de Raeve is the vice president of Certification for The Open Group, overseeing all certification and testing programs, including the popular TOGAF certification, IT Architect Certification (ITAC) and the new IT specialist Certification (ITSC) program.


Brian Mitsuki is Americas IT Specialist Profession leader for IBM. In this role he is responsible for the development, growth and vitality of the IT specialist profession across both Latin America and North America which has an IT specialist population of over 17,000 people.