What's the Future of the IT Pro?
I’ve been a working IT pro since 1997, and in that time, I’ve seen lots of changes. A new era has recently started, and many of the clues suggest that I might not have a place to work for much longer. Could it really be true that IT pros have no future and are going the way of the dinosaurs? Are IT pros going to have a place to work in 10 years’ time?
The Cloud Era
We IT pros have been in the business world in one form or another since the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), where I broke onto the scene in 1951. We have been installing networks, deploying servers and PCs, and managing software in many shapes and forms since we rocked around the clock with Bill Haley & His Comets. But it seems now that everyone wants to say “See you later, alligator” to us. Are we really passé? That’s what I want to discuss in this article, and I’d really like to hear your opinion on the matter before I book my place on a degree course in marketing!
The Rise of Software-as-a-Service
I work in the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) sector in Ireland, where those businesses vary wildly in size. The smaller ones might have had a single server, possibly running Small Business Server, some might have two machines, and perhaps others have had a single Hyper-V host or a small Hyper-V cluster. But times have changed. We have an incredibly successful market for Office 365, where my wife was actually at the forefront of this, so I got to witness the change. Today in Ireland, Office 365 is the norm. SBS has been replaced on a widespread basis by various Exchange Online or Office 365 plans. Few businesses, if any, are buying the on-premises Office servers anymore.
Say Goodbye to Traditional PC Lifecycle Management
Traditional IT tools, including Microsoft SCCM, Ghost Solution Suite, and KACE, often require considerable custom configurations by T3 technicians (an expensive and often elusive IT resource) to enable management of a hybrid onsite + remote workforce. In many cases, even with the best resources, organizations are finding that these on-premise tools simply cannot support remote endpoints consistently and reliably due to infrastructure limitations.
The migration to Office 365 was the tip of the spear. Smaller businesses don’t have a need for a server any longer. Other businesses have realized that software-as-a-service (SaaS) can work for other line-of-business (LOB) applications too; accounting, marketing, CRM, and more are shifting to the cloud.
This move to the cloud has created a challenge for IT pros, be they internal IT staff or service provider consultants and engineers. A lot of their billable time was spent on installing, managing, and troubleshooting the servers, but now those servers are either gone or greatly reduced in number. The likes of Microsoft, Sage, SalesForce, DropBox, and others are managing the service, and all that’s left for the IT pro is to set up a user account and maybe do the occasional password change, and even a lot of that work is being made redundant thanks to self-service abilities.
Clues from Microsoft
Love them or hate them, most of we IT pros derive a career from Microsoft. But Microsoft has been dropping some big clues that we’re not quite as important as we used to be.
The first big tip-off was the termination of the TechNet subscription, an affordable service that many of us used to get access to software for evaluation and self-training purposes. The negative reaction of IT pros was loud, and there were protests, but Microsoft persisted and now the TechNet subscription is a thing of the past.
The next tip of was that IT pro knowledge started to evaporate in Microsoft subsidiary offices. The role of technical sales or evangelist disappeared. Technical Sales staff became something else. The role of the IT pro evangelist in the Developer & Platform Evangelist teams (DPE, the contact that most IT pros have with Microsoft) was deprecated. Those IT pro evangelists moved to sales, marketing or program management roles with less in-person contact with their old audience. In fact, the DPE program was reborn as Developer Experience (DX) where evangelists must have a developer background.
Could it be more clear? Microsoft is focusing entirely on the developer market, and IT pros are second class citizens. The salt was rubbed in the wounds when attendees to the Build developer conference were walking away with thousands of dollars of free hardware, and IT pros at TechEd got nothing or the option to buy a soon-out-of-date Surface at a discount.
Where are the New IT Pros?
I attend a lot meetings and speak at a lot of events. There’s a certain profile that describes 95 percent of people that I see: male and mid-thirties or older. The education sector has always been awful at educating IT pros, and few businesses are willing to train staff either. The changing profile of what we work with requires a budget, and that means younger people cannot afford to self-train in their own time. Our numbers are dwindling, and it seems that at some point we will disappear, right?
SaaS Isn’t the End
So your customers have moved to Office 365. That doesn’t mean that there’s no work left. Most of the value in the product is untapped by most customers — these are features, such as SharePoint Online, that requires engineering, maintenance, and support that Microsoft does not and will not offer. Someone has to deliver those services, so why don’t you do that?
SharePoint Online is just one example — the Office 365 enterprise plans offer so much more, and that’s just one product. If a business has lots of SaaS applications, then someone needs to glue them together and manage that with Azure AD Premium. I don’t think Bob in the marketing department who is good with computers will be taking care of that work. That’s your niche. It’s time to evolve and keep yourself relevant because there’s a lot of work that’s not being done.
The Full Microsoft Story
The migration to the cloud isn’t just about SaaS. Why don’t you attend the 20,000+ user IT Pro-centric Ignite conference and learn about private cloud based on Azure Stack, see how much emphasis is placed on Windows Server and System Center management, or see how much work is done in Azure hybrid cloud services that enhance on-premises investments in Hyper-V or vSphere? Take a trip over the Channel 9 or the Microsoft Virtual Academy, and you’ll see content that is produced for you by many of those ex-evangelists.
Yes, Microsoft is placing a huge focus on developers, but you, the IT pro, is part of a huge piece of the puzzle and are a necessary enabler. I’ve talked to a few developer audiences about Azure and I’m amazed by how many want to use virtual machines instead of a pure-PaaS approach. This means that they need IT pro knowledge and skills for OS management, network design, security, and much more that they don’t know themselves, don’t have time to learn, and cannot automate with any tools.
Dwindling Numbers is a Good Thing
When I think back over my career, I can see that small supply often creates big demand, and that caused bumps in my income. I used to think that I’d have to find a way to evolve out of being a techie before I hit my 50s, otherwise I’d be unwanted; but that’s simply not true.
People like me are more in demand than ever. I regularly hear from consulting firms that they just can’t find the talent to service their customers. If the industry wants to continue requiring my skills while not training my replacement, then I’m happy with that. In fact, I’m doing my happy dance right now. My fellow IT pros, the state of our industry is good, and I foresee a prosperous future if, and only if, you continue to evolve with the changing demands of our employers.