Would you recommend your kid go into IT?

The era of the tech hero died with the dot-com bust, but an IT career can still be rewarding, especially if you learn your way around the business side

Yesterday was Father's Day, so I found myself wondering what I'd say to my son if he asked me whether he should go into IT.

Now, obviously, I'm going to be supportive about almost any legal activity he really wants to pursue. But say he was in college, on the fence, and asking my advice (not necessarily a realistic assumption). What would I reply?

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Before I narrowed things down -- like, what part of IT are you talking about? -- I'd have to ask him if he really loved tech. Because if you don't, you'll never have the stamina to pull long hours to wrestle problems to the ground. You need that bulldog grip for just about every area of IT.

If he wanted to be a developer, I'd encourage him. At its best it's highly creative work, and with widespread adoption of agile development, you interact a lot with the business side, which can be good for job security. Developers will be the big winners in the cloud era: When dev and test infrastructure can be provisioned in a flash, there will be more and better apps, which will in turn increase demand.

Funny, isn't it? A few years ago pundits warned that programming was headed offshore, never to return. That happened in some areas, but not creative app dev that requires up-close-and-personal understanding of business requirements.

And if he wanted to be, say, a security professional? Well, the need will certainly never go away, and battling relentless bad guys is a challenge he would probably enjoy. You just have to prepare yourself for a career imagining everything that can go wrong, laying down rules that people forget to follow, and staying one step ahead of cyber criminals' cleverest ideas. You have to be patient and tough-minded, and must avoid letting your professional paranoia color the rest of your life.

What if he simply asked me point-blank what area to focus on? Then I'd have to say big data. It's the one truly new area -- at least, the ability to dump terabytes into a Hadoop hopper and look for patterns is new. And it applies to an almost unlimited range of areas, from network optimization to health care to financial services to just about every scientific discipline that involves gobs of data. If you have endless curiosity, it's a good place to be.

Currently, big data job listings tend to name two titles: the data scientist, who knows the software and infrastructure; and the data analyst, who knows the domain. But I wouldn't be surprised if by the 2020s, when my son gets his first post-college job, those two positions will have merged into one.

That example leads me to my final point: The IT pro isolated from the rest of the business is a dying breed. Recently I attended a panel of 20-something IT professionals and they all had one thing in common: They didn't see themselves as IT professionals. They saw themselves as part of their businesses unit, and by virtue of their understanding of technology, they had the responsibility of putting their business unit's plans into action.

That cross-discipline perspective is going to inform the future of IT. While I would tell my son that IT was a fine career choice, I'd also tell him that the way to get ahead is to learn as much as possible about the business that his IT department will serve. (Or to get training in a vertical area that interested him from the start.) Who knows? By then, IT might not be a separate department at all.

That would be my hypothetical answer. What about yours? Leave your response in the comments section -- and be sure to explain how you got there.

This article, "Would you recommend your kid go into IT?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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