For years, getting a job in IT was a ticket to a stable, relatively high-paying career. Even though IT engineering jobs haven't traditionally paid as much as other tech jobs, like software engineering, IT pay isn't at all bad, and it has long been easy for IT engineers to find jobs.
But there are signs that that is changing and that traditional IT roles are in decline. Choosing to work in a traditional IT role today may not be the excellent choice it was for decades past.
The good news is that IT-adjacent roles remain in demand. The challenge facing IT engineers going forward isn't that their jobs are totally going away as much as that they're changing.
Here are tips on how to adapt to the decline in IT roles.
Why IT Roles Are in Decline
Historically, IT engineers were expected to set up and manage infrastructure and applications using a primarily manual approach. The resources that they managed ran mostly on-prem, and the expectations for service availability and performance were relatively modest.
All of that has changed. IT operations has grown increasingly automated, which means IT engineers need to know how to use new categories of tools — such as infrastructure-as-code (IaC) and container orchestration engines — to do their jobs.
At the same time, modern IT roles must support environments that have grown much more complex due to the move to the cloud and the adoption of microservices architectures, which add many layers (like service meshes and API gateways) to hosting stacks. Here again, they need to know how to work with technologies that barely existed a decade ago.
Couple these changes with the fact that IT engineers are often expected to maintain uptimes of 99.9% or better, and that application performance delays of fractions of a second might not be acceptable, and it's clear why IT engineers face a whole host of new challenges and require additional skills that didn't factor into conventional IT roles.
Transitioning Beyond IT Roles
The changes described above have led businesses to embrace new trends and new types of roles that, in many cases, supplant traditional IT engineering jobs.
For example, DevOps has become a replacement for IT roles in the respect that DevOps engineers can handle not only application development but also application deployment and management — tasks that traditionally fell to IT engineers.
Likewise, site reliability engineers, or SREs, who specialize in optimizing workload availability and performance, have assumed the monitoring, observability, and incident response responsibilities of traditional IT engineers at many businesses.
The platform engineering trend, too, complicates the future of IT roles because platform engineering automates some tasks that traditionally fell to IT teams, such as provisioning and managing development environments.
So, again, it's not as if businesses are deciding that they no longer need IT roles. It's more that they're looking to break those roles into more granular specializations and fill them with people whose skills extend beyond those of traditional IT engineers.
How to Protect Your IT Career
If you work in IT — or aspire to — the question you're probably asking is: "How can I keep my IT job?"
The answer is simple enough: IT engineers who want to succeed in a world where IT roles appear to be in decline need to extend their skill sets. Knowing how to install operating systems or manage tickets is no longer enough to succeed in IT. Most IT engineers going forward will also need to know how to code, how to manage software delivery pipelines, how to administer cloud workloads, and so on.
Conclusion: The Future of IT Roles
To be sure, there will be conventional IT jobs to be had at many businesses for a long time to come. Few companies are going to restructure their IT departments completely in a short period by replacing all of their generic IT roles with more specialized ones.
But the writing is on the wall: IT roles are changing, and traditional IT engineers must change, too, if they want to remain competitive.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.