The Evolution (and Opportunity) of IT Careers

BLG02x - imageI had a thought-provoking conversation this week with my friend and colleague, Jennifer Hay. Jennifer is an IT career specialist and the founder of IT Resume Service. The gist of the conversation was that job satisfaction and career success depend on talents more than on skills.

What makes the difference? Skills are things that can be learned and refined through training and practice. Talents are personal qualities that are part of your genetic make up and are present from birth. Skills need to be learned. Talents need to be nurtured and developed. Jennifer’s experience working with IT professionals finds that we all have greater interest and are more motivated when working in areas that match their natural talents.

The other significant influence on careers, according to Jennifer, is personal traits – specifically, personal traits that affect how you approach your work. Are you comfortable with open-ended responsibilities? Or do you prefer time-bounded assignments with specific begin and end dates? Is ambiguity intriguing or frustrating? Do you adapt to changes on the fly or prefer to work with structure and planning? These are but a few examples of the personal traits or preferences that make a difference.

Personal traits bear strong influence in IT careers because the field naturally divides into three major areas – programs, projects, and operations. Programs are ongoing initiatives such as business intelligence or analytics where roadmaps, priorities, stakeholder management, and project enabling are significant goals. Projects are time-bounded work to produce a defined result within schedule and resource constraints. Operations is day-to-day activity to deliver services, troubleshoot and solve problems, meet service levels, manage the peaks and valleys of dynamic workloads, etc. Jennifer uses an assessment tool to look at personal preferences and quantify the degree to which her clients have natural affinity for program, project, and operations work.


This is interesting stuff, but I see another dynamic in IT careers that has become amplified in the past several months. The data and information roles – once completely intertwined – are becoming increasingly separated. As analytics and self-service technologies shift information roles into business, the big data phenomenon drives data roles more strongly into the technical domain. The “I” and the “T’ are moving in different directions. I think today we’re really looking at three kinds jobs, roles, and people: information professionals, data professionals, and systems and software professionals.

Intersecting the categories of program, project, and operations with the concepts of information, data, and systems/software creates an interesting 3×3 matrix – nine cells of related and interdependent, but distinctly different roles. Consider how each of these nine spaces relates to personal preferences and, perhaps more importantly, to individual talents. What are the implications when planning, shaping, and evolving your own career? As hiring managers, how might it influence organizational structure and getting the right people in the right roles?

While the nine tiles are interesting, I find the white spaces between them to be even more fascinating. All of the tiles continue to be connected and interdependent. What kinds of roles align them, coordinate among them, and bind them together? I’m sure that governance fills part of the white space. The role of data stewards is sure to expand. What are the implications for architects? What new roles might arise? We are entering a time when transaction systems, business intelligence, analytics, agile methods, self-service, virtualization, cloud, big data, resurging artificial intelligence, data discovery, and more all share the same stage. I believe we have interesting times ahead with many changes and abundant opportunity for every data, information, and systems professional.


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About Dave Wells

Dave Wells is an advisory consultant, educator, and research analyst dedicated to building meaningful connections throughout the path from data to business impact. He works at the intersection of information and business, driving value through analytics, business intelligence, and innovation. More than forty years of information management experience combined with over ten years of business management create a unique perspective about the connections among business, information, data, and technology. Knowledge sharing and skills building are Dave’s passions, carried out through consulting, speaking, teaching, research, and writing. He is a continuous learner – fascinated with understanding how we think – and a student and practitioner of systems thinking, critical thinking, design thinking, divergent thinking, and innovation. Dave fills many roles including independent consultant, instructor and Education Director at eLearningCurve, member of the certification board for the Certified Data Steward (CDS) program, Research Consultant at Eckerson Group, and faculty member at TDWI.