A year and a half ago, my director and I were having a discussion about my career plans and and the IT landscape in the coming years. “IT is the next blue-collar industry,” he said. I agreed, but didn’t give the matter much consideration. Recent discussions on /. and Standalone Sysadmin have brought the subject back to the front of my mind.
There was a time when computer knowledge was a relatively rare, and thus valuable, asset. When I was in middle school, I was one of the few people I knew who had AOL. Many had computers, but few were connected to any network. In shop class, the teacher, a fellow student and I would share our experiences with the performance of the different access numbers. I don’t claim to be anywhere near the cutting edge, but at the time, I was one in a relatively small club.
According to the Census Bureau, 62% of US households had Internet access in the home in 2007. This number continues to rise, and it seems most middle-class families are online. People my age and younger have grown up using computers. Older people, including my parents, have acquired computer skills at home and/or at work. As a result, computer knowledge, at least from the desktop perspective, has become commodity. There’s a large population that can e-mail, browse the web, manage photos, add printers, etc. — at least to some degree.
Because more users have the ability to manage the routine tasks, the people paid to do these tasks lose stature. Of course, not all IT staff do these tasks. What we’ll see is the separation of IT from a monolithic entity into levels of expertise/responsibility. Just like not everyone in the automotive industry is a mechanic, not everyone in IT is a technician either.
Help desk and other technician type positions will continue to become more blue collar, and I think that it is appropriate. Systems and network admins, architects, and other higher-level positions are still, in my opinion, professional positions. In environments where that’s not the case, it is up to these employees and their managers to make the case.