Like worker ants or soldier bees, System Administrators have played a small but vital role in the IT ecosphere by keeping the lights on and the bits flowing. Now their numbers are in peril, as admin jobs that haven't been outsourced already may soon find a home in the cloud.
Jerry Kelly, North American CIO for holding company Diversified Agency Services, says email admins, for one, may soon be found only in museums.
"Ask any startup if they want to build and manage their own email server," says Kelly. "They will stare at you like you're crazy. Most IT directors want to get email out of their environments even more. If your company hasn't moved email to either a private or public cloud, there is a good chance they will soon. Either way, the traditional email admin role at a company will end up like the dodo."
Low-level administrator jobs will be tougher to come by, particularly at small and midsize firms, says Brian Finnegan, associate professor and faculty chair of IT at Peirce College in Philadelphia. While they won't disappear entirely, these tasks will migrate to cloud companies where the demands are higher and the competition stiffer.
"Network, storage, and related infrastructure administration jobs -- the kind of work that keeps the bits flowing through the pipes in individual organizations -- are available with the cloud providers, but you need to be ready for the big leagues," he says. "Those that do remain will require engineer- and architect-grade skills. Working in the server room at your small or midsize company is a world apart from working in a server room at Google or Rackspace."
How to avoid extinction: Become a security wonk or a data analytics expert, two tech fields that are flourishing and will for some time to come, says Purdue's McCartney.
Trailing a long list of technical certifications behind it like a vestigial tail, the Credentialist can still be found in its natural habitat -- usually the HR department of a company it wants to work for. But it has been marginalized by IT pros with actual skills and experience, says Mike Meikle, CEO of the Hawkthorne Group, a boutique management and technology consulting firm.
"This species is known for taking so many certification courses you can't figure out how they manage to get actual work done -- besides installing Transcender software," he adds.
The days when you could slap some Cisco or Microsoft certifications onto your résumé and write your own ticket are long over, says Lenny Fuchs, owner of My IT Department, which provides contract tech services to small businesses.
"Without the work experience to back it up, certifications are almost useless," he says. Fuchs adds he gets a kick out of seeing résumés that read "John Doe, MCTS, CCA, CTSGIT, MCITP, CCNA, MCP. Last held position: Assistant manager at Starbucks."
Thanks to increased automation, even high-level Cisco Certified Infrastructure Engineers could be facing the same fate as encyclopedia salesmen, paperboys, and switchboard operators, says Dante Malagrino, CEO and co-founder of Embrane, a platform-as-a-service vendor.
"In the new programmed network model, it will no longer be about humans configuring machines via a CLI or GUI, but rather more about machines and software communicating via programmatic interfaces," he says.
How to avoid extinction: Become an engineer/programmer by mastering a scripting language like Python, Ruby, or PHP, says Malagrino. Or turn your attention to creating your own intellectual property, such as journal articles and presentations at industry conferences, advises Meikle. "That will help you truly stand out from the crazed credentialists."