Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

This article on CIO.com says it all: “So Long IT Specialist, Hello Full-Stack Engineer.” Business are realizing that they can’t have It people who only know one thing. They need IT people who can do it all – engineering, maintenance, troubleshooting, and coding.

No, not every single IT person will do every single job, especially in a large organization. You’ll specialize, to a degree, but that’s mainly be a job assignment thing. You’ll be expected to be able to pick up any task with just a little training or familiarization.

Including coding.

That’s going to depress the crap out of a lot of what Microsoft calls IT Pros, because they got into the business for entirely different reasons. They didn’t want to become programmers, and they still don’t. I used to have a lot of sympathy for that, and a lot of my teaching messaging tried to accommodate the fact that these folks kinda had the rug pulled out from under them.

Now I don’t care. This has been coming for a long time, and if you haven’t caught the memo it’s because you had your head int he sand, and willful ignorance is the one thing I can’t abide.

Let’s say you’re a younger, single guy. There’s a store not far from you where you buy your beer, your ramen noodles, and all the other stuff you need. Years pass, and you meet a nice girl. You get married, one thing leads to another, and now you’ve got a kid or two. Your needs have changed: you need diapers. Formula. Baby food. Valentine’s candy for your lady. If that store you used to shop at continues to meet your needs, you stick with them. If they don’t, you go somewhere else.

When it comes to IT, business’ needs are changing. They’re growing up. Things are moving faster, and they need to be able to deploy solutions, tools, and technologies more quickly. They can’t rely on the old silo model where developers went into a cave for a year, produced some code, and then “turned it over to ops” to deploy and maintain. Now, everyone’s got to be in the mix. “Admins” are expected to take up some of the coding tasks, so that “developers” can focus on specific bits. Developers are expected to produce code that’s designed to be operated and maintained, meaning they have to think a bit more about what operations does. In other words, the lines are getting fuzzy.

As business’ needs change, you – essentially a service provider to the business – need to adapt, or they’ll go elsewhere to shop. You don’t have to like it, because it’s your job, not your hobby. You don’t even have to do it – but don’t complain when the business decides to take its business elsewhere.

Learn a programming language, if you don’t know a couple already. Learn how to read PerfMon, if you’ve only ever been writing code. Adapt or die.

7 thoughts on “So Long, “IT Pro.”

  1. Maarten Van Damme (switzerland) says:

    Great article Don, do you have a recommendation which language to learn as a windows system admin – besides Powershell?

    1. Don Jones says:

      I’d say anything C based. C#, Java, Python, whatever. Once you have that basic syntax they’re all easy to pick up at need.

  2. James Birley says:

    Reading this made me happy. I couldn’t agree more. Before I got into IT, I completely assumed that knowing how to program was a prerequisite to almost any job as a pro. I was worried, even as comp sci major regarding my own skills. Obviously, I quickly realized how far from the truth this notion was and I never understood why. Keep up the great posts!

  3. Microsoft servers are moving to the cloud and with it web portals are replacing graphical interfaces causing admins headaches because the web interface only supports some of the admin functions, the rest requires using PowerShell scripting. Additionally many of those cloud versions only let you have a production environment so if you do not have programming skills (much more than knowing the language) admins risk catastrophic scripting errors due to not really understanding what the script/commands they are running really are doing because they cannot read the code. I see this all too often and hope more companies start to value IT Pros that have invested time to earn a Computer Science degree.

  4. Chris says:

    Now I don’t disagree but I’m a little confused. I haven’t been in the tech world for long but I haven’t seen many in house programs any more. In the early days they were everywhere but nowadays that tech person that writes a program for the finance department is very rare as companies want a throat to choke and sue when things go terribly wrong and firing one engineer will not recoup loses from a poorly written program and will scare the other engineers to attempt at fixing it. The finance department will just go outside to find either a program that meets their needs or contract to a company that can make what they need specifically so they can sue when things go terrible. Most recent example is the USA Federal government with their Health Care site…they contracted it out instead of expecting in house IT staff to build it so they can have someone to blame when it goes wrong.

    I’d also have to say the shoes are on the other foot as well. Programmers who just want to be programmers might find themselves learning how to setup a virtual infrastructure(etc) per this notion.

    1. Don Jones says:

      This isn’t JUST a dev vs. admin message. It’s also admin specializations. The idea is that while you might be stronger in one area than another, you can jump in anyplace, anytime. Broad, diverse skill sets. As for custom applications – they’re still a huge thing. You may not have many in your environment, but I don’t walk into a single customer location where they’re not using SOMETHING custom. I wouldn’t categorize it as “rare” at all. But the message applies to those contractors, too. They can be more cost-effective and efficient when all of THEIR IT people know how to pull together.

      1. Chris says:

        ahh ok, that clears it up for me a bit. I appreciate your reply. Thanks.

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