Seems this club for the IT elite is getting crowded. So, how will you define your uniqueness?

The End of IT as We Know It

Seems this club for the IT elite is getting crowded. So, how will you define your uniqueness?

Back in my college days, I wore my hair in cinnamon rolls à la Princess Leia, John Travolta donned my dorm room walls (to think there was life before my Fabio), and computers had yet to cross my mind as a career option. Business computers were dark, mysterious devices in distant, air-conditioned sanctuaries, and precious computer time on these behemoths was controlled by a small mystic society. And PCs? If you wanted one, you soldered it together yourself and programmed it in machine code using toggle switches on little LEDs.

Today, I tie up my hair in a bun, and I describe Travolta as “a gifted actor,” rather than “a babe.” I’m also helping my precocious four-year-old niece install a Detective Barbie CD-ROM, and showing my eight-year-old nephew how to edit a config.sys file on a PC—which has more computing power than a 1970s mainframe—bought at a local warehouse club store. These days, many consumer PCs are coming preloaded with Windows NT, and it turns out that I’ve shattered through the glass ceiling into the realm of the mystics.

But you need only reach back five years to get an idea of the pervasiveness of computers and the maddening growth of the ranks of IT professionals. If you were among those heavily entrenched in the IT business with a certification then, you may remember that being an MCP—especially an MCSE or MCSD—meant membership in an elite club. A small elite club. You looked at the prospects for work, saw dang little competition, and figured it would last a long, long time.

You were very wrong, of course. This reflects Em C. Pea’s First Law of Information Technology: You will be very wrong. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. Millions of others in hundreds of industries have made the same mistake.

When you’re grinding it out on the front lines, you can easily forget to stand back and take a look at your industry. We’ve all been beneficiaries of the fact that Microsoft’s market reach has grown like the dickens, especially in NT and BackOffice. There have been oodles of opportunities for us all.

While that’s been happening, though, about 532 million people have passed at least one MCP exam, and the amount of antacids they’ve consumed, if placed end to end, would stretch from here to the planet Tatooine.

The instinctive reaction of those of us already in the business is to decry the newcomers as paper MCPs, MCSEs, MCSDs, etc., and to lobby as hard as we can for Redmond to make the tests harder and more restrictive—so we can keep our goodies as long as possible.

Sure, Microsoft will continue to tighten up the exams, but there’ll be a point where you’ll have to accept the fact that your former elite has grown to the point where it’s just another workforce. Then you can either whine about how unfair it all is, or play the game like everyone in those other businesses—you’ll have to prove why you deserve the job, or the promotion, or the perk, and not just by flashing a Microsoft transcript! What value do you add to the deal that others don’t? Are you prepared to answer that question?

Don’t panic over it all, but do start thinking ahead. You can bet your Auntie has started pondering what sets her apart from the crowd. I’m not talking about my obvious beauties and charms—I’m talking qualifications I can put in writing, experience and job skills that make me indispensable.

Staying in one spot and fighting is a losing battle, because you absolutely cannot stop knowledge. There is now tons of readily available information at bookstores, in libraries, and online that explain what we do for a living.

Finally, since I see another bubble to burst, I might add that what we do is not rocket science. Sure, it can get complex, but a reasonably educated person does not have to study for four years to administer an NT network or code in VB. Pretty soon, there’ll be many more newcomers with expertise similar to yours. What will you do when that time comes?

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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