Gartner’s trend predictions for 2006 include one that may strike fear into the hearts of techies: By 2010, the job market for IT specialists will shrink by 40 per cent.Is IT, as a career, dead, then?
Of course not. Gartner goes on to say that the demand will shift from specialists to what it describes as “IT ‘versatilists’: People whose multi-disciplinary assignments, roles and experiences create a valuable blend of synthesized knowledge, competencies and context to fuel business value.”
In other words, just being a techie won’t cut it any more. You have to understand the business you’re employed in if you want to get ahead. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s something that’s been talked about for years (sadly, with little action). IT is not an end unto itself, it’s a tool to help people do their jobs, and if you’re creating, supplying or managing tools, you have to know the industry they’re to be used in. A jackhammer would be out of place in a woodworking shop, for example, and watchmaker’s screwdrivers would be useless on a construction site (unless someone had to fix their eyeglasses). Similarly, techies need to know which IT tools work best in a given business situation.
“Today’s IT specialists must focus on a rapid and intentional expansion from technical specialization to business competence in order to position themselves as tomorrow’s business contributors,” said Diane Morello, research vice-president at Gartner.
“The long-term value of today’s IT specialists will come from understanding and navigating the situations, processes and buying patterns that characterize vertical industries and cross-industry processes,” she said.
Did you catch the key words “long-term value?” It’s a clear warning that today’s one trick ponies had better expand their repertoires if they want a viable career path.
Some techies have already figured this out. They are almost as at home in the boardroom as in the server room.
Others are happier navigating the complexities of Cisco routers, not shipment routing. They’d rather work on Microsoft Windows than think about windows of opportunity for new products, and prefer to earn MCSEs instead of MBAs. They possess superb technical skills that serve their employers well, but avoid what is to them dull business stuff.
There’s a happy medium somewhere.
If Gartner is right, learning about business, and specifically the business of one’s employer, is a necessity to survive and prosper in the future. The more we know, the more valuable we are to our companies. Yet that’s not something taught in today’s technical curricula, and to tell the truth, business-savvy techies are regarded with suspicion by some executives. The notion of a geek contributing to management decisions is foreign to them.
For Gartner’s prophesy to be fulfilled, there has to be an education process on both sides. Techies have to make an effort to learn business skills and business people have to expand their view of techies. Once that gets worked out, both sides will win.

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