20:20 Vision

Whether you're an IT newbie or a seasoned professional, take action now to prepare for the year 2020.

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The Midcareers

These are the Gen X'ers and boomers who are setting the tone now and will be hitting the midpoint of their careers or winding down in 2020.

IT professionals at or near the midpoint of their careers face the biggest challenge in the next decade, observers say. Those closest to retirement age in 10 years may have the easiest time, since the transition to the new IT won't happen overnight, Druby says.

But people who are currently in their late 30s and 40s, he says, will need to retool quickly. "Of all the age ranges, this is the most vulnerable," he says. "Whatever you've been doing in your professional life, the new technologies are going to be vastly different." A willingness to embrace change will be essential, and employers will need to see enough value to invest in retooling these workers.

Sims agrees that the younger segment of this group -- the Gen X'ers -- will be particularly challenged, but for a different reason. Compared with Gen Y, he says, they are less adept at working in groups, more entitlement- than achievement-oriented, and less willing to accept advice or mentoring. While both populations chafe under traditional work styles and reject formal rules, Gen X seems more inclined to complain about perceived constraints versus suggesting or inventing new ways of doing things, he says.

Sims says he anticipates that there might be some leapfrogging, with Gen Y workers managing Gen X'ers. "If you can't work well in a group, how are you going to lead groups and foster team behavior?" Sims asks.

Buzzell, who has been in IT for 20 years, says responding to the change mandate is essential, especially in an industry famous for its youth bias.

The key, he says, is to keep investing in yourself, through reading and training, in both IT and business areas. One rule of thumb suggests spending 3% of your salary and time in self-training, he says. Buzzell attends industry conferences and has been doing research in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and business processes. "It's my future -- if I want to stay relevant, I'm responsible for that," he says.

Silver emphasizes the importance of diversifying your skill set, possibly through job rotation programs. "If you've been writing code for a while, maybe there's a project management rotation you can take, or you can work in different business units," he suggests. There will be a growing need for people with business intelligence skills, as well as leadership and communication capabilities, he adds.

Midcareer workers should also value their business experience -- something younger professionals simply don't have. "They know how to navigate the organization, and the ones just coming through don't. They want to be given a task and be left alone," Kohl says.

Chesnais agrees. "Younger people don't know what's impossible," he says. "Sure, they're more familiar with the newer tools, but I don't think that outweighs the experience of knowing how to get from one stage of a project to the next, for instance." Any deficits in your comfort level with new devices can be filled through a conscious effort to educate yourself.

Keeping up with change can be as simple as experimenting with the latest consumer devices. Druby carries an iPad, and Sims uses three different smartphones and recently ordered an Android-based tablet. Chesnais says that at a recent meeting, half the people in the room had iPads. "Any professional in this field should be putting [the iPad] through its paces to see what this changes in our workspace," he says.

"If you're not willing to build a new tool set, you'll be pushed to the side of the road," Kohl says. "But for people with the ability to change, the future is very promising."

Next: How IT will change when Gen Y runs the show

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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