Would you advise your kid to go into IT today?

A group of colleagues and I were talking during a conference call the other day about the IT job market. Many of us have kids who are starting to think about colleges and professions. Someone asked the group, "Would you advise your kid to go into IT today?" The majority of people on the call said no. This is just anecdotal evidence of what is blatantly obvious to most of us: The job market for IT professionals isn't what it used to be.

Let me be clear. The tenor of that recent call with my colleagues was not totally negative toward IT careers. Many of the people on the call said they wouldn't discourage their kids' interest in IT. These parents would strongly caution their children about their course of study, however. They would advise their kids to be very clear about what they wanted to do in IT rather than just assume that their computer science degrees would open all doors.

To be sure, there are fewer IT positions available today than there were just five years ago if we consider traditional IT roles, such as infrastructure management, support and programming. What's more, the jobs that are available in IT increasingly require skills that aren't taught as part of the computer science curriculum. This is in stark contrast to when I graduated from college. All the computer science majors I knew had secured high-paying jobs at Fortune 100 firms prior to graduation.

But the changes in the IT job market affect all IT professionals, not just those new to the field. So, what are the chief differences today? Here's how I see it:

  • The days of studying computer science, getting an entry-level job as a programmer and moving up the IT ladder are gone. First of all, there are fewer programming jobs available now, because of offshore outsourcing.

  • Second, we can no longer assume that a general computer science degree is going to prepare graduates for the IT job market. Certainly, some firms are still hiring new talent through the programming ranks, but this process is not nearly as common as it used to be.

    As a result of automation and the spread of consumer IT, we don't need as many people as we once did to manage IT systems. Technology is more standardized, and end users are more familiar with technology.

  • The increasing pace of business, industry consolidation and globalization means that most of us will move from company to company during our careers. All professionals -- not just those in IT -- will gather the skills they need from multiple employers.

    The IT job market is not all bad news, though. There are opportunities in certain areas, and even growth. Here are some of them:

Business process design and management: Business process design -- something IT has always been expert at -- is starting to surface as a new competency for IT professionals. Their prowess at process design comes from getting to see entire business processes as they build IT systems. Enterprising IT professionals are capitalizing on this by driving process improvement in their own organizations and making process design and management a key part of their jobs.

Information management: Companies are generating more and more data about their customers, partners and competitors. Organizations are going to need individuals who can help turn this data into usable information. This includes experts in customer relationship management, business intelligence and search technologies.

Relationship and vendor management: As the multisourced IT environment has gained ground, it has become clear that IT organizations need people who can negotiate and manage contracts and who can help select and manage IT service provider partners.

Finally, traditional IT jobs (such as programming and infrastructure management) are not going away. Though there may be fewer of them, we'll still need people in these positions for the foreseeable future.

The IT job market is changing, and it can appear bleak. But I'm actually pretty optimistic about the prospects for IT-savvy professionals. However, future IT job seekers will need to do more than study computer science at a reputable college to succeed.

Barbara Gomolski, a former Computerworld reporter, is a vice president at Gartner Inc., where she focuses on IT financial management. Contact her at barbgomolski@yahoo.com.

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