The following is a letter that I plan to send to students studying information technology (IT-related) majors at my alma mater. Someone has to step forward and tell those entering the IT profession
what to expect when they get here. I have decided to take my shot.
February 1, 1999
Dear IT Students (or those changing to the IT profession),
As you plan to enter the world of the computer and data professional, there are a few things that you should know.
You are probably aware that schools are not graduating enough computer or information science majors to keep up with demand. Both experienced (skilled) computer-professionals and young talents can
demand the big bucks. Companies are having a difficult time holding onto even their highest-priced IT talent because other companies are luring them away with bonus plans and other incentives
directed at grabbing the best and the brightest minds. It is a seller’s market from the perspective of the IT professional. It boggles my mind why more students aren’t jumping on this
Companies are taking advantage of new technologies to fiercely compete for customers through better business intelligence, electronic commerce, enterprise resource planning and customer
relationship management. All of these trends are a result of business-driven demands. This fact alone assures us that there will be plenty of work well into the next millennium.
Computers are getting faster and easier to use. We can talk to our computers, write on our computers, live inside of our computers (virtual reality), point with our fingers to tell computers what
to do and have the computers respond as if they know what we are thinking. Computers can remind us of what is important, recommend the best possible answers, guide us through practically every task
that used to be manual and basically do our work for us. And let me remind you that we are the ones that are getting paid.
In other words, these are the “best of times” for computer-related professionals. Or are they?
Several realities stand in the way of utopia for information scientists. The rest of this column addresses five realities of IT as we prepare to enter the new millennium. You may not experience all
of these realities at once, but take my word; you will experience every one of them in due time.
Living in the Past – Many companies run their computer divisions the same way they did twenty years ago. These are the companies that do not plan for IT the same way they plan for
business. These companies de-emphasize (or never emphasized) data administration, data quality and reusability, meta data management, information accountability (stewardship), change management,
and the other data management functions that pave the way to improved use of data as a valued corporate resource. These companies are living in the past and are in bad need of a boost of young
talent to open their eyes and encourage change. YOU may be that catalyst. However, expect to find that change comes at a price that many companies are not willing to pay.
Outsourcing is the term used for having somebody else do the work. Many companies and government agencies are becoming less and less enamored with managing their own IT projects
and the costs/hassles involved with building and maintaining a efficient and reliable internal IT division. For a price, other companies are willing to take over IT services. Connecticut has struck
a billion-dollar deal with EDS to outsource government IT for years to come. Plenty of corporate and government IT professionals are running scared that their time in their present jobs may be
Mergers and Acquisitions – Managing the systems/data of a single company is a difficult task. Managing the systems/data of two or more companies brought together by mergers and
acquisitions becomes extremely complex. IT is asked to help merged businesses to leverage common customer information while organizations with completely different cultures and agendas, not to
mention platforms, methodologies, hardware and software are being brought together. Mergers and acquisitions can cause mass-confusion when it comes to planning and building integrated IT solutions.
The truth is that if the company that you go to work for is not a buyer of other companies, the chances are that they themselves are being looked at as a potential buyee.
Lack of Business Sponsorship – IT problems are viewed as IT problems. Budget-conscious business divisions believe that the IT divisions should bear the brunt of the expense for
improving IT systems, data quality, accountability for data (stewardship), meta data management, etc. At the same time, IT divisions of companies are being asked to do more with less.
Doing More with Less – This phrase is commonly heard in regards to IT divisions. Cutbacks in IT are not uncommon especially when business starts to decline. The realities of living
in the past, mergers & acquisitions, outsourcing, and lack of business sponsorship are a direct result of companies trying to do more with less.
I do not mean to dampen your spirits. My experience (and contrary to belief among many prospective college graduates) is that the computer profession is very interesting and fast-paced. There is
money to be made and there are endless opportunities for bright individuals to direct and re-direct their careers in IT.
One thing that we have going for us is that business has become dependent on computers systems and data. Our personal lives are quickly becoming dependent on the same thing. This trend does not
appear ready to falter anytime soon. For us in the IT profession, this is a good thing. Watch out Jetsons – here we come.
Idealism aside, the reality for computer professionals is that IT life is not a bed of roses. Many computer professionals are not prepared for these realities when they enter the work force fresh
out of school. It can be disheartening. It can also be viewed as a great challenge.
Best of luck in your careers. Should the frustrations of IT reality never persuade you to leave the industry. This is a best-of-times and worst-of-times profession. Welcome aboard.