The IT generalist's death is greatly exaggerated

Specialization has made the 'do everything' IT admin a rarer breed, but it is still a vital one

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Where IT was once a relatively simple layout of servers, networking, and clients, it has grown to intermingle all those core components within each other. We have servers that are virtual routers and firewalls, and below them, we could have hypervisors performing those tasks. Our clients might be handheld devices or actual desktops or desktops running on servers. Our servers are abstracted into VMs that we can whisk around the infrastructure at a whim, but those VMs still require the care and feeding of their physical counterparts no matter where they reside. We haven't even mentioned the administration of the myriad services, applications, and operating systems for those servers. To these traditional concerns, we've added countless other considerations to designing or maintaining a computing infrastructure.

For sure we've made strides in administrating all of these puzzle pieces. Our management tools have become better (but still not, perhaps, good enough). We also have many more options for deployment of any given technology than previously, but that too plays back the concept that it's harder for a single admin to handle so many disparate tasks and technologies than it once was. With expanded choice comes less specific knowledge in each.

This drift away from wearing a wide assortment of hats started long ago in larger infrastructures. Large infrastructures have had network, storage, physical server, OS, security, and development silos for years, usually with a few generalists that bridged the gaps between them. But while the large shops demanded specialization, the smaller shops were still very much in need of a central technological backstop. Perhaps even that last bastion of generalism is fading now. These businesses may move some things to the cloud, hire specialist consultants for other aspects, and rely heavily on support contracts for the remainder. This follows the top-down model of IT, where what the enterprise is running one year, the midsize business is running the next.

For all the challenges presented to the general IT admin or architect, there is one demand that remains constant: the need for one or two people in the organization to understand the entire technical landscape from a variety of levels, and be able to connect all of those silos into a cohesive, functional unit. You may have the best network, storage, security, and server admins on the planet, but if they're all working in a vacuum, it's all for naught.

Perhaps the IT generalist isn't quite dead yet. They're just leveling up.

This story, "The IT generalist's death is greatly exaggerated," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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