With deep knowledge of a particular type of hardware, coding language, or development methodology, these once-mighty creatures wore their expertise like a protective shell. Now they're being replaced in the evolutionary chain by flexible generalists with a broader skill set.
"In the past these clever creatures were coveted for their deep experience in one specific skill or tool," says Ed Nathanson, director of talent acquisition at Rapid7, a vulnerability management provider. "But thanks to Darwinism, IT pros with a narrow field of focus are largely confined to the 'short-term contractor' habitat."
At Purdue University, IT people like this are called "server huggers," says CIO Gerry McCartney. "They've defined their job by the piece of equipment they maintain," he says. "That's a risky posture to have from a professional standpoint. I think there will be very little need to have local hardware-oriented technical knowledge."
How to avoid extinction: Broaden and diversify your knowledge base now, while there's still time, says Greg Schulz, senior adviser for the StorageIO Group, an IT infrastructure consultancy.
"If you are the hardware guy, you better start learning and embracing software," he says. "If you are the software geek, time to appreciate the hardware. If you are infrastructure-focused, it's time to learn about the business and its applications. You don't want to be overgeneralized, but make sure to balance broader knowledge with depth in different areas."
Repair Techs were once a common sight in offices, called upon to swap out dead hard drives, replace fried motherboards, and keep expensive desktops up and running. But the plummeting cost of hardware and popularity of cheap mobile devices have made them largely an anachronism.
"The species was highly territorial, thriving on the native fauna of the small-business and home computer market," notes John Caughell, marketing coordinator for Argentstratus, a provider of cloud-based applications. "Sadly this once proud beast is fast on its way to extinction as the world moves to devices that seldom see a flat surface, except to recover and recharge."
Hardware has gotten so inexpensive that it's cheaper to replace something that's broken than to waste time and money fixing it, adds Dennis Madderra, chief operations officer for Simpletech Solutions, a managed IT services firm.
"With workstation prices falling, and more and more applications running from virtualized platforms or Web-based interfaces, waiting for a tech to replace a failed power supply or video card is quickly becoming more expensive than just replacing the box entirely," he says. "Why not replace the box with a freshly imaged computer and be off and running in minutes rather than hours?"
How to avoid extinction: Consider taking a horizontal leap to server maintenance, says Madderra. "Anyone who can quickly diagnose hardware issues and errors on a server will have work for years to come."