In the early days of computing, there was really only one category of "computer professional." Some had formal education in computer science and some were self-taught. Some called themselves programmers and some called themselves hackers. But almost all had a similar and very broad skill set: they fiddled with hardware; they wrote code; and they set up, configured, and ran the programs written by themselves and others.
More and more, it seems IT pros are being expected to learn programming in order to do their jobs. The trend seemed to start with Exchange 2007, which frustrated many IT pros because they found that the old ways of doing things using the graphical interface had disappeared, requiring you to use PowerShell cmdlets and scripts instead. For those who came over to Windows from the UNIX world, this was a welcome development, and some Windows admins took to the new command line environment like fish to water, but others were less impressed. I heard over and over the mantra, "The whole reason I like Windows better than UNIX is because of the GUI! I want dialog boxes, not a command prompt!"
In fact, I knew some small business admins who stuck with Exchange 2003 and didn't upgrade for that very reason. However, they soon found PowerShell extending its tentacles into other parts of their administrative worlds and to them, this represented a giant step backward. Most acknowledged that it was great to have that tool, but they resented having their graphical tools taken away, and felt they were being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the "dark place" they thought they'd left behind when they left DOS. It wasn't always a typo when they wrote about "PowerHell."
Two different skill sets
To understand how frustrating this turn of events can be for an IT pro, let's put it in terms of the medical profession. Asking IT pros to program is like asking general practitioners to perform surgery. One is not better than the other but they involve different skill sets.
IT pros tend to be more people oriented, good at dealing with end-users and understanding computers from the user point of view. Developers are often more like the folks in scrubs, who just want to get in there and work with the internal organs (the code) and think in programming language - and don't understand why everyone else doesn't, too.
Also like surgeons, many developers seem to think they're better, smarter, and more valuable to their organizations than the mere IT admins. And that idea is being reinforced by the push to make admins learn programming skills. Those who don't do well at it feel that they're inferior to those who do, discounting their own specialized skills and talents. The move to the cloud by Microsoft and other major tech companies is causing IT pros to feel even more abandoned. In fact, many are wondering if their jobs will all go away when the cloud settles over everything. Developers will obviously still be needed to create all those cloud apps, but if organizations dismantle their on-premise IT departments in favor of cloud services, they won't need anyone whose expertise lies in administering, maintaining and troubleshooting servers and software.
And some feel that there has been a noticeable lack of love for IT pros coming from Microsoft recently, as the company goes "all in" with the cloud. Some are talking about leaving the tech business altogether. Others are just waiting and watching, full of anxiety about what the future holds, and wondering whether we're headed back to the time when working with computers meant you knew how to code.
Of course there are some people who are good at both programming and IT administration. I know multi-talented folks who went to both med school and law school and are just as at home in a courtroom as they are with a scalpel or stethoscope, but they're few and far between. IT pros and developers have peacefully coexisted for many years, but that seems to be changing. What do you think?
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.