The 9 most endangered species in IT

The IT job landscape is evolving quickly. Here's how to avoid IT extinction

Ben Barbante

The 9 most endangered IT career paths

Darwinism is no stranger to IT. Given the pace of innovation, today's plum post is almost always one shift away from becoming tomorrow's pink slip. But the trends currently taking hold of IT organizations may have a broader impact on IT employment than we've seen in years. Job titles that were once considered secure are suddenly on the verge of extinction. Call it the new IT ice age. And tech pros who don't evolve with the times risk joining the T-Rex and the triceratops in the tar pits.

We spoke with IT pros about the jobs they see going away in the years ahead. Here are nine of the most endangered species in IT, along with advice on how you can avoid becoming one of them.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 1: The Brown-Nosed Naysayer (Negativitus infinitus)

For decades, the Naysayer held sway over all tech decisions, wielding the word "no" like a razor-sharp claw to slash all requests, citing security or budget concerns. But the BYOD revolution and the universe of public cloud services available to users have rendered the Naysayer as harmless as a newborn kitten.

How to avoid extinction: Practice forming the word "yes" with your lips, and embrace the new tech revolution. Then develop a mobile device management strategy that allows for granular control of devices and policy enforcement for social media.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 2: The Data Center Dinosaur (Tyrannoserver rex)

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.

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.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 3: The Red-Bellied Repair Tech (Breakfixus familiarus)

Repair techs were once a common sight in offices, swapping out hard drives and keeping expensive desktops up and running. But the plummeting cost of hardware and popularity of cheap mobile devices have made them largely an anachronism.

"With workstation prices falling and more and more applications running from virtualized platforms, waiting for a tech to replace a failed power supply or video card is becoming more expensive than replacing the box entirely," says Dennis Madderra, COO for Simpletech Solutions.

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."

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 4: The Lesser-Spotted System Administrator (Networkus rebooti)

Sys admins 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.

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.

How to avoid extinction: Become a security wonk or data analytics expert, two fields that are flourishing and will for some time to come, says Purdue's McCartney.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 5: The Pink-Crested Credentialist (Certificatus maximus)

Trailing a long list of technical certifications behind it like a vestigial tail, the Credentialist can still be found in its natural habitat: 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.

How to avoid extinction: Become an engineer/programmer by mastering a scripting language like Python, Ruby, or PHP, says Dante Malagrino, CEO and co-founder of Embrane. 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."

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 6: The Common Web Designer (Templator fillerupus)

Once numbered in the millions, now only a handful are left. Automated site-creation tools and increasingly sophisticated marketing have deprived millions of HTML and Flash designers of the natural Web lands they once called home.

"Dropping boring prose into a template isn't going to cut it in today's marketing maelstrom," says Simpletech's Madderra. "Companies need to build content based upon solid SEO principles utilizing media, writing, and design elements organized around a marketing plan."

How to avoid becoming extinct: "With all these site-creation tools and the move to less dynamic websites that are more friendly to mobile devices, Web designers need to become SEO experts very quickly or they will be out of a job," says Lenny Fuchs, owner of My IT Department.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 7: The Woolly Unix Mammoth (Mainframus obsolete)

Once one of the dominant creatures in the enterprise biosphere, Unix servers -- and, by extension, the people paid to tend them -- are heading for the tar pits. Not because they can't still do the work, but because they're being replaced by nimbler and less expensive Linux boxes, says Anthony R. Howard, author of "The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox" and a technology consultant for Fortune 50 companies and the U.S. military.

How to avoid extinction: Build up your Linux chops, and become an expert on which applications can migrate to Linux and which ones need to stay on Sun, says Howard. "When your org does decide to migrate, you can lead the effort instead of getting left behind."

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 8: The Purple-Tufted Programmer (Codus cobolus)

Developers who cut their teeth on Cobol or Fortran are a dying breed, but they're not the only ones. IT pros who only hack code may quickly wind up on the wrong side of the evolutionary divide.

"If you aspire to plan to write code for a living, you'd better be prepared to do it at the level of software engineer," says Peirce College's Finnegan.

How to avoid extinction: Coders who want to survive need to expand their expertise and align their skills with the needs of the business, says StorageIO Group senior adviser Greg Schulz.

"Coders and script junkies need to also be integrators of business logic, cloud tools, and more, or they'll join the ranks of mainframers who are becoming extinct," he says.

Ben Barbante

Endangered IT species No. 9: The Ridge-Backed Technocrat (Bureacratus extremis)

For years they ensured job security by building technology silos and defending their turf via arcane policies. Now their natural habitat is overrun by business managers who no longer need to seek approval for technology purchases.

"This species is being forcibly driven into extinction because of the convoluted and archaic policies they force on unsuspecting users and line managers," notes Rob Enderle, principal consultant with the Enderle Group.

How to avoid extinction: Stop defending your turf and start building alliances with other teams, says Crossbeam director of product marketing Peter Doggart.

"Technocrats can survive by making things more efficient and saving money for the application guys. They need to embrace a next-generation model and adopt consolidation technologies that can eliminate pain within the organization."

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.