Ask IT managers to nominate the Golden Age of IT and the year 2006 rates highly, well above the pre-dotcom crash days when overnight tech sensations were driving Ferraris. The more sentimental IT professionals polled in a Computerworld survey last week, preferred the mid-1980s when the office fax ruled, DOS-driven PCs were everywhere and important data was coded in Cobol and locked away on mainframes in hallowed glass rooms.
For Jo Scheiffers, IT administrator at the South Australian Teacher's Credit Union Satisfac, the 1980s was the best of times for developers.
Scheiffers first began working in IT in 1976, and nominated the 1980s as a time when developers could focus on their own systems and work on a more individual basis.
"Today we have reached a high level of complexity where we are expected to do a lot more; the job is very different now," he said.
Despite the complexity, Scheiffers said Web services, the Internet and the latest software makes it exciting because there is always new technology to learn about.
Geoscience Australia CIO Paul Trezise believes the golden age is here and now, because ICT is delivering on business priorities.
Trezise said the tight marrying of IT with business has elevated the job out of back rooms.
"ICT isn't just seen as a black box in the corner anymore; also the Internet has made all the difference and you can't ignore that," he said.
People in Computers consultant Joe Marshall believes all the mysticism that once surrounded IT disappeared in the late 1990s and boardrooms became much more computer-literate. This has created a real shift in the industry.
"The golden age was the late 1990s when everyone who could spell IT got a job, but it is no longer like that today," he said, adding that IT and business alignment to deliver real value has created a great environment for IT today.
For network engineer James Brown of advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding, it's only getting better.
Networking in the year 2006 is better than ever, he said, and salaries are improving.
According to the Australian Computer Society (ACS), network engineers today can earn upwards of $65,000 to $100,000 a year, which compares to $62,000 a year in 2001.
ACS chief executive Dennis Furini believes the best is yet to come as research shows most of the jobs that will be in high demand between now and 2014 are ICT related.
"The golden age was before the dotcom crash when everyone thought that if they could get into ICT, they could drive a Ferrari; it is now based in reality," he said.
"We have evolved from being very technical with hard coding to having more soft skills; mundane services have moved offshore, but there is still demand for programmers in Australia."
Business intimacy replaces mainframe or Univac skills
Corporate services executive manager at John Sands, Keith Baillie, believes the future is about the ability to combine IT skills with finance.
Baillie is a CPA and completed an MBA which has given him responsibility for both IT and finance.
He believes combining skills earns IT a higher profile within the organization.
Zack Lemelle, CIO of the Ethicon division at Johnson & Johnson, believes increased visibility has led to a complete revamp of IT's role.
Business intimacy, as he calls it, is at the very core of the job today. An IT worker is expected to understand the employer's industry and how technology serves and enhances it.
But 20 years ago, such knowledge was irrelevant; technology competency alone determined pay and status.
"Did you know the IBM mainframe or Univac? Now it's industry knowledge and the implications of technology in those industries," Lemelle said.
"The business technologist role will evolve to be ever more critical in the years ahead."
We are in a golden age, but relative to 20 or 30 years ago, we may be at the beginning of a new golden age.
(With Julie Bort.)