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IT skills: Jumping the chasm

Tracy Mayor and Julia King | June 5, 2012
The current tech talent gap is just the first sign of a coming revolution in the IT labor market. Here's how to secure your footing now and brace for what's ahead.

Cook Children's Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, is similarly de-emphasizing individual technology specializations and "melding roles," says CIO Theresa Meadows.

To cross-train workers for the broader new roles, she instituted a "pod system" where three or four people with different skills work in groups so they can learn from one another. "That's how we're beginning to address [the skills gap]," says Meadows.

Specifically, she needs more business process knowledge within her IT staff, which currently numbers around 170. "Tools are important, but it's equally important to know the business and how the tool you're implementing impacts that process. It's almost more critical to get that business process knowledge, because we can teach the tools," Meadows observes.

Dru Urbaniak works at a company far smaller than Kimberly-Clark or Cook Children's -- in fact, the systems network administrator is one of just two true IT specialists at Midwest Legal & eData Services, a Milwaukee firm specializing in document imaging, data forensics and e-discovery. He embraces the idea that an IT professional needs a broad skill set and multiple areas of expertise.

Despite all he hears about outsourcing, Urbaniak says IT still has a role to play inside organizations, even ones as small as his. "In the future, more things are going to get outsourced, but it's not going to be all or nothing," he predicts. "I could see a 75/25 split between outsourced and in-house."

In that scenario, someone will still need to be on-site with hands-on knowledge of local software, networks and hardware. "You're going to need more of a multifaceted person, not so much in-depth on any one product, but knowledgeable enough to help or know where to get help," he says.

Urbaniak knows that if he's going to be that guy, he needs to stay current in all the technologies his employer uses. "I'm a generalist. I need to keep my skills up. It's just what our industry demands," he explains.

(Story continues on next page)

An IT career: Would you recommend it?

Computerworld asked several IT professionals in a range disciplines to ponder the following question: Knowing all that you know now, would you advise your son or daughter, or a young person just entering college, to choose a career in IT?

Here are some of their answers:

"My cousins' kids ask, 'what should I do?' and I tell them, 'you will never be unemployed if you go into networking or network security.' If you want to run the data center or work with physical hardware, you might not be able to get a job. But whatever the [computing] device winds up being -- a tablet or a phone or whatever -- someone's going to have to standardize it, manage it, manage the software licenses. I think IT jobs are going to change, but they're not going to go away." -- Vincent Montalbano, senior infrastructure consultant, Catapult Systems


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