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.