The looming IT job exodus
Even as IT employees and managers like Williams and his crew begin to polish skills that grew rusty during the recession, a much more dire scenario awaits them.
An increasing number of forward-thinking CIOs, employment experts and analysts are convinced that the current skills gap isn't just a temporary hiccup. In the long run, they assert, there will simply be fewer pure technology jobs in corporate America.
As companies of all sizes opt to tap service providers for their IT needs, corporate IT departments are shrinking. As the number of on-premises hardware and software systems decreases, fewer IT employees will be needed for their care and feeding.
At Freescale Semiconductor, that change has taken place. Software as a service is being used "in every business function, including IT," says CIO Tarek ElHadidi. "The infrastructure is outsourced." IT's role now is to "decide how we want it done," he adds. "We are dictating policies and rules to service providers."
To do that effectively, ElHadidi says he needs people with a deep understanding of Freescale's business processes, not technical protocols. For example, the value of IT professionals who know EDI is not so much in their technical knowledge and experience with EDI, but in their deep knowledge of how transactions move through the company and where the sticking points might be.
The same holds true for other disciplines, including emerging technologies such as cloud computing. "I'm not interested in [hiring] a cloud architect, but a pricing architect or a procurement architect," ElHadidi says.
At Carlsbad, Calif.-based United Orthopedic Group, which manufactures orthopedic braces and operates clinics, many of the deeply technical aspects of IT have been automated through virtualization and other new technologies.
"United runs on a fully virtualized infrastructure that is entirely managed from a single console," says CIO James Clent, who presides over a 21-person IT organization. That means there's less need for multiple support technicians.
When Clent needs a specialized technical assist, he turns to service providers. "I don't have staff for all of those things that don't require business knowledge," he says. "When I really need somebody [with enough IT expertise] to go under the hood, I'll contract for them."
That state of affairs is actually good news for IT pros like James Penman and Vince Montalbano, who both once had jobs in corporate IT and now work as contractors.
Penman is a senior consultant at Smart Consulting Firm in Naples, Fla., which caters to the financial services industry. He previously served as a CIO or CTO at several startups, and he also worked at Bank of America and Wachovia Securities.
In other words, he's seen it all. And now, he says, consulting is the place to be -- for a certain type of IT professional, at least.
"There's been a natural evolution to the use of service providers and external clouds, and the talent has moved with that," Penman says. "I like to build and design and create big systems" -- as he did when he worked at the big banks -- "but any given company does not put in a new portfolio management system every year. If you're a real hotshot technology guy, you don't want to be sitting around doing maintenance for four years waiting for the next big-nut project."
Montalbano is a senior infrastructure consultant at Microsoft consultancy Catapult Systems in Houston. After surviving three rounds of layoffs at his first corporate IT job, he resigned and took a series of contract jobs, and that experience convinced him that there were more stable, and more interesting, opportunities for him outside the organization.