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Geek mystique isn't what it used to be

IT pros used to become gods in a crunch, when big machines came crashing down and ominous threats endangered helpless data. But now collaborative platforms, do-it-yourself website creation and administration, open source, etc., have given everybody superpowers.

When it comes to superheroes, I'm as old-school as they come. To me, Superman is George Reeves in black and white, Batman is Adam West in spandex, and I guess that makes me a sucker for the legends as originally written - right down to Lois Lane's inane inability to penetrate Clark Kent's cunning disguise.

The modern sensibility, of course - advanced in TV's "Smallville" and the film franchise reboot, Man of Steel - is that Superman's secret identity isn't much of a secret to begin with, and Lois is in on it now. Now don't get me wrong, I'm on board - I'm no Sheldon Cooper, I'm a sucker for just about any incarnation of my oldest friends! - but this new fast-and-loose identity freedom is an adjustment for me.

The mystique is gone, you see! That phone-booth moment, the ripping-off-the-glasses and tearing-open-the-shirt, the transformation of Clark Kent to Superman - that was a big deal to me! And now, well, everybody around him - Pete, Lana, Lois - they all just sort of wink. The times, they are a-changin' ...

And they've changed for us IT folks, too.

We used to enjoy that same Kal-El-ish mystique - goofy, clumsy nerds in a corner, who became gods in the crunch, when big machines came crashing down and ominous threats endangered helpless data. We had our moment, we transformed ... and the indifference of very attractive others in the lunchroom became awe, when we stepped in and flexed our IT muscle.

Think about that for a moment: we made a difference because only we could make that difference. That makes us attractive, not just as co-workers, but as people. At all levels of human interaction, people take note of that which is rare and unique. IT skills have always given its practitioners that quality.

Until now. In recent years, our glasses have come off. Our mystique, however contrived and silly it may have been, has begun to dissipate. Why? Because empowerment is the new industry trend, and it's a trend that isn't going away. Collaborative platforms, do-it-yourself website creation and administration, open source - embodied by SharePoint and other trendy technologies - have given everybody superpowers. Lana has superpowers. Chloe has superpowers.

Increasingly, the phones in IT ring less and less with calls for mighty mighty greatness, and more and more for help rescuing cats from trees.

Less and less are we the ones bending steel; users are doing that for themselves now. A few years ago, I remember that we complained about this - all that power, in the wrong hands ...! But then we realized we were getting pestered a lot less. Our role changed. We ceased to be the guardians of all code, and became the stewards of the metropolis itself.

IT today is more about architecture, scalable design, and resource optimization than it is about propping up monolithic assemblies and fusing broken tracks together. We are more environmental, and we have to be: SharePoint and her sister technologies consume lots of resource, and everything has to connect to everything, so the environment as a whole has to be more efficient, more robust, more skillfully integrated than ever.

And my argument is that this makes those of us in IT even mightier in the end. Sure, we lose our theatricality, but we have to be more proficient, more creative, more forward-thinking, more self-critical than ever, in order to empower the mortals around us. They can only do the cool things they're now doing if we move on to bigger things, and do them better than ever. And it is our meteor rocks, remember, that gave them their new powers.

True, we no longer leap tall buildings, we no longer bend steel - but damn, we're still the ones changing the course of mighty rivers.

Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence and social informatics, primarily in the health care and HR industries.

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Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence...

18 comments
gmanon
gmanon

What happens is that the goal of computer technology by nature is to automate things and debug to the point that tools become reliable enough.

The industry is growing leaving a whole legacy of reusable and automatic tools.  Now users can make use of what it's already done and don't need the IT Geeks to redo or fix those tools.  After a little while, they end up user realizing that they need the IT guys to move them to the new version or to the latest technology and they call you, just not as often.
 

But the trend of improving and growing never stops.  Technology does not stop, it just that the need for new technology is passing from individuals and small business to the corporate and big enterprises.  Things are getting more unified and more complicated.

There is always space for improvement and new technologies to emerge.  To stay at the top in IT is like running a race, and if we do not run fast enough, we are left behind.  It can happen to anyone. 

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

The bane of IT and everyone else is "trendy technologies". If you are rescuing cats from trees it's because some dimwit believed knowledge of non-MS browsers, etc. turned them into an IT pro and they chased the damned cat into the tree. Cripes. Most trouble is caused by non-IT folks who think they know enough, or IT folks who think they know it all.

SiO2
SiO2

Since when were geeks ever superheroes?

I've been a geek all my life and laughed at for 30 odd years for an obsession with computers. I've carried them and worn them for over 2 decades now. I dreamed of robots and AI as a child and spent my youth in a library reading Asimov and Clarke - and the successive years obtaining knowledge that is now available to anyone. Clarke said that sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic, and that much is true to a certain point. What Clarke didnt realise without the benefit of precognition is that the advanced tech we now have would be used like magic and without comprehension of it's nature: Abracadabra and the dirt is gone, never mind where.

Everyone obsessively carries at least one computer with them at all times, and now everytime anyone encounters something that puzzles them they whip it out and consult the Oracle of Google, but they learn nothing but how to maintain the illusion.

The hardware has become prevalent, and software developed enough that anyone with a basic comprehension of devices can operate them. Take video recorders - it wasnt so long ago the 'little woman' had to ask her husband to set it to record but those days are gone and we all feel empowered by waving god-like at something to have it do our bidding.

Until it breaks, and then I get to wear my cape... Forced to perceive the world without the rose tint of technology, most people are utterly screwed. They've forgotten how to repair that internal combustion engine, that hoover, forgotten how to light that fire, even how to prepare their evening meal without it, and I'm not talking about specialised survivalist techniques here.

We're not gods or superheroes. Not even heroes until we bail out the masses when their toys break, we are simply educated properly. I'm a human doing, not a human being - and it's that which separates me from the vast majority.

Brandon Sims
Brandon Sims

Not only are IT pros still gods, but now there is a whole church. The user's IT Pro has to consult with clerics of each of the various disciplines on a regular basis. Those clerics must submit to the Lords of Development, the Deacon of Architecture, and Cardinal of Security. At the top are the true geek gods. Their names written in the great library of RFQs and in the annals of protocol committees.

Eric Kirsch
Eric Kirsch

Telling someone to get security plus is like asking them to get a doctorate.

Matt Windsor
Matt Windsor

What drives me nuts is that I TELL people anyone can learn what I do. They don't want to believe me. lol

Angel Reyes
Angel Reyes

The fact of the matter is that IT has become more complex over the years. You may think that a Do-it-yourself website builder or a point-and-click program makes your life much easier but the fact is that they are limited to a single function. To get the full strength of a Website, Database, or statistical software you need deep knowledge of programming, Database management, Security, and many more high level IT skills.

Francisco Granda
Francisco Granda

While some areas of It witch previously were too complicated for the general public have become simpler and automated, the whole of IT has become more complicated, stratified and specialized. High level languages, abstraction, and distributed computing are not really concepts the general public understands.. The typical geek squad doesn't either.. Your local jiffy lube isn't a mechanic. Has becoming a doctor gotten easier because of MRI, and automated diagnostic machinery.. No, I don't think this is much different.

Dan Waggoner
Dan Waggoner

Will say this... never give your users admin accts.

Vincent Furtado
Vincent Furtado

There will always be people too busy to really learn IT.

Dan Waggoner
Dan Waggoner

The whole time, you could be yoda, but perception is everything.

Dan Waggoner
Dan Waggoner

trouble shooting goes like this: when they need you, you're obi wan kenobi. when they don't people think you're jar jar.

Jubair Saidi
Jubair Saidi

I don't think it's given everyone super powers, it's given a lot of capabilities to the non-technical but you still need the IT pros to build these tools to begin with, and continue coming up with and innovating new technologies. In fact, if anything, IT pros have gained even greater status and respect in the world.

Shawn Quinn
Shawn Quinn

I think computer techs are treated like car mechanics mostly. Either the user has no clue and hands it off, or they do have some idea how to do it themselves but don't have time to fiddle with it.

BTRDAYZ
BTRDAYZ

I started in authorized sales back in 1985, then corporate IT support in 1990. I remember having to teach new hires how to move back and forth between directories when saving/opening files, or how to do a mailmerge in Word. These days, you have users that have grown up on technology and don't need all that basic instruction anymore.