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IT's winning (and losing) job titles

In the intense new battle for IT jobs, those with multiple skills and broad knowledge of technologies will prevail.

By Julia King
December 19, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Sure, there are still some Cobol systems on their last legs in the deep recesses of just about every large IT organization. But they are most assuredly on their way out -- as are the programmers who coded them.

Also due to disappear, CIOs say, are virtually all other single-purpose IT job titles. Unix administrators? Forget them. Today's trend toward services-based software, mobile apps, cloud and consumer technologies means it is the breadth, not the depth, of knowledge and experience that wins -- or keeps -- the IT job.

And the job itself most likely won't be based in an IT department, but embedded in another business function such as sales, marketing, manufacturing, or supply chain, with the employee working alongside tech-savvy business colleagues.

"It's very unusual for us to have folks who only have one skill," says Norm Fjeldheim, CIO at Qualcomm in San Diego. "There are folks who I was forced to let go because they only wanted to retain one skill set. It's very career-limiting for people to be so specialized that they can't work in multiple environments and multiple technologies."

Unlike the traditional IT environment, which consisted of a portfolio or inventory of discrete applications and technologies tended by in-house technical specialists, the emerging environment is a tightly-woven fabric of on-premises and off-premises services offered to an increasingly mobile workforce and customer base on an ever-widening range of consumer devices, like smartphones and iPads.

These services are designed, assembled and continually enhanced by professionals with a broad knowledge of what the technologies can do and how they fit together, plus a deeper, more specialized knowledge of how they can be applied to a particular set of steps or tasks in an overall business process, such as order to cash or procure to pay. The ultimate goal is to build and assemble a combination of technical capabilities and business services that enables a company to distinguish itself from its competitors in terms of price, customer service, operational efficiency and other key business metrics.

Enterprise Architects

At General Mills, a regular on Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list, CIO Mike Martiny says he has organized these various capabilities into centers of excellence where the mission is to "stitch a number of technologies together to create a solution or capability that didn't exist before."

New job titles to emerge in the centers of excellence range from solutions developer to enterprise architect.

"Expertise in a technical area is an entry in the door," Martiny says. After that, General Mills will focus on building skills in four key domains: security, mobility, integrated digital marketing, and enterprise data and governance. "These are four areas that have a broad reach," he notes.

Winner

Jeff Stachowski

Information architect, user experience lead (consultant)

Current assignment: American Airlines, Dallas

As an information architect, Jeff Stachowski describes himself as both a translator and an ambassador.

"It's up to the information architect to work with the business or project manager and understand all of their requirements, then communicate to developers how to build what they want," he says.

In his current assignment as a user experience lead on a Web development project at American Airlines, Stachowski says, "Communication is my No. 1 strongest point."

Stachowski built his first Web page on a lark back in 1996. He and a graphic designer friend bought a modem, started checking out early Web pages built in straight HTML and were hooked. "It was the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life," he says.

Over the past 15 years, Stachowski, who is largely self-taught, has worked as a Web developer, information architect and user experience expert, on both a permanent and contract basis. He keeps his knowledge current by attending seminars, reading blogs and gaining on-the-job experience.

In the course of a day, Stachowski says, he works with programmers, business managers, art directors, designers and clients. "The information architect is like a real-life architect who figures out where to put the restrooms in a building or how much parking is needed and where it will go," he says. "You have to understand everything that is going on and organize the information in a logical manner," he explains. That includes figuring out where to place various buttons, tabs and the logical progression of links to other information.

"In my job, I don't need to know every trick in Photoshop, but I need to be able to communicate visually an idea. You also need an understanding of a browser's capabilities and how to store information in a database. I don't know how to do all of those things, but I must know if it's possible and what the requirements are," he says.

Because technology is changing constantly, Stachowski says anyone considering a job like his "has to be fluid and willing and able to change."

"With HTML3, everything is in tables, then HTML4 has Cascading Style Sheets, and now there is HTML5. It's not like it was with mainframe programmers who had a specialty. We don't have that luxury anymore. Systems change every four to five years and you either learn or you're always going to have that college kid coming out of school who knows all the new stuff," he says.

The payoff is steady work, even in a stumbling economy.

"There is absolutely a demand for my skills," he says, noting that he typically receives three to four calls and three to four emails a day from recruiters with jobs paying between $80,000 and $90,000 per year.

"I turned off my resume on Dice and Monster," he says, referring to the popular job sites. But he also cautions that demand for his skills is cyclical.

"When the Internet bubble burst, guys like me were the first to go," he says, again adding, "You have to be fluid and willing and able to change."

— Julia King



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