In response to my column last week about the split between IT strategy and operations, several TechRepublic members responded that they have become disillusioned with the way the IT profession has developed and that they have a hard time recommending it as a career path to the next generation.

TechRepublic member johnm23357 wrote, “I am glad my children don’t want to go into IT. They saw their old man get long-term laid off in 2002 and decided that was it. My painful experience showed them that IT does not have the stability that would cause my kids to obtain a 4 year degree in any of the engineering professions… My children aren’t alone either, many of the college students in the USA feel the same way. Why go into engineering or IT? We don’t treat our engineers and programmers particularly well in this country. In this scenario they [are] laid off at the drop of a hat.”
Member Ron McNew wrote, ” A few weeks ago, I had a couple of kids ask me what they should do for a career ‘when we grow up.’ I found that I couldn’t look them in the eye and counsel them to acquire any skill. I’ve seen too many get deemphasized, right-sized, off-shored, outsourced, or outright replaced. I finally told them to try as many different activities as they could, and to keep track of them; especially keep any awards, certifications, or degrees that look good on paper, but not get stuck on any one thing. That way, when the time comes, they might recognize an opportunity when they see one, and know whether or not it was something they could do well, and be able to switch to the next one ASAP.

The question of why anyone in their right mind would want to become a technologist is an important one, but it won’t affect next quarter’s bottom line, and will not be addressed until it does.”

I wasn’t completely surprised to hear these opinions, since plenty of techies have experienced layoffs or general career turmoil during the consolidation period of the past five to six years, and it’s natural for many of them to feel burned by the experience. However, I have to admit that I was disappointed to hear the pessimism about the future. That’s probably because I still view IT as an enjoyable and rewarding career — even though I don’t work directly in IT any more. I also happen think that there’s a great future in IT, and I will explain why and where I think the best opportunities are.

Sanity check

IT has a bright future because technology is pervading every aspect of culture, commerce, and life, and there are still many places on earth where technology will be spreading in the coming decades. Plus, there are still lots of inefficient processes in the world that will be automated, streamlined, and simplified by technology, and the world will need engineers to design the solutions, project managers to implement them, and technical professionals to support them.

Despite my optimism, I also believe that the IT profession is still in the midst of a major transition. One of the reasons the IT profession is changing is that users are getting much smarter (yes, you read that correctly — that’s not a joke). A lot of the IT jobs in the past decade have involved technologists translating computer technologies to Baby Boomers and cleaning up the messes made by the technologically illiterate.

The next generation of workers — especially in the United States, Canada, and Europe, but also in a variety of other places across the globe — have grown up with computers, cell phones, and other gadgets. We will not be publishing many clueless user stories about them in the future. They will not require as much training to learn new technologies, they will not require as much on-going technical support, and they will not only be open to new solutions but they will often push for them.

This dynamic is changing the IT industry and the scope of IT careers. As a result, I think there are five IT job roles that will see greater demand and prominence in the future:

1. Software engineer — While there are lots of low-level coding jobs that are being commoditized and more code being modulized and reused, there will be an increasing number of software engineering jobs that will involve conceptualizing, planning, and developing software to power increasing numbers of things, from your oven to your wristwatch to your sneakers.
2. Systems architect — As internal IT departments focus more on overall direction and strategy, they will need highly capable systems architects to take business goals and strategies and design the specific technical infrastructure to meet those goals. The systems architects will need to be able to collaborate and communicate well with the IT operations group and/or any managed services providers.
3. NOC engineer — As more applications and systems (via virtualization) are moved to the data center, there will be a much greater need for NOC engineers to run more and larger data centers and command centers. Some of this will come at the expense of decreasing numbers of local network administrators, especially in small and medium businesses. NOC engineering will become a very competitive field and will demand cutting edge skills and continual education.
4. Project manager — Most IT organizations are realizing that projects dominate their workload and having good people who know how to organize and run projects — and communicate about them — is critical to IT’s success. My hope is that in the future, IT projects will become smaller and more frequent to help companies stay nimble. Nevertheless, good project managers will still be critical in an environment with fewer and more frequent projects, because they will need to be the ones to keep track of everything. And there will still be a few giant projects that make PMs indispensable.
5. Information security specialist — This is not a job title but an umbrella term to cover IT security professionals. More and more data is moving online. More and more organizations are developing a fluid, borderless IT infrastructure. More and more hackers are going professional and joining with organized crime to steal data and extort and launder money from their victims. Those factors are leading to a crisis in information security that will demand new solutions from the security specialists. And as the world increasingly goes digital, information security professionals will be the digital security guards of the future.

How do you feel about the future of the IT profession? What IT jobs do you think have the best future? Join the discussion.