One interesting facet of the IT industry is the need to learn new skills on a continual basis. New technologies are released all the time, and new operating systems seem to roll off the factory floor every 18 months or so. What this means for us IT professionals is we must continuously update our skills or become redundant. What are outdated skills? Some skills have been in continuous use for over 50 years (COBOL programmers) and will still be in demand for the short term, but their days are numbered. Others are hard to think of as just a pure IT skill (typing) but do have a dramatic impact overall (texting or IM).
1. Software Installation and Support
“How can this be?” you say? Simple! The Cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) are rapidly growing in use. It makes sense for many firms to adopt these services: reduced cost and technical support. No longer must a small company spend the money on high-end servers and consultants — they can “rent” the same service from a provider. From a technical perspective, this means that many level-1 support staff need to expand their skill set. The companies that provide SaaS are happy since they have a guaranteed revenue stream as consumers and businesses no longer purchase their software once; rather we “rent” the usage of the software packages.
“What?” you say. Email being an outdated skill set — perish the thought! While it’s not passé yet, the number of people who use email in several age groups is declining according to TechCrunch. What does this mean for the business environment? Other communication modalities are on the rise such as texting/IM and web conferencing. The average business person might not see an impact as of yet, but fewer younger workers adopt and use email (use of IM and social media outlets are on the rise, especially the social media outlets).
PBX systems became somewhat akin to mainframes. People predicted PBX systems demises for sometime, but they still persist. The underlying principles of telephony haven’t changed (good old Erlang will be around for some time), but the implementation did. Many businesses are interested in a comprehensive communications package — one that does more than just provide a phone on a desktop. Microsoft’s Lync Server changed how we look at presence, voice, IM, and conferencing. The days of having a physical phone and the techs to support that physical phone are numbered. The PSTN (public switched telephone network or, as some refer to it, POTS — plain old telephone service) networks will gradually be replaced. A growing number of individuals and households are getting rid of land lines and use their cell phones.
4. IPv4 Subnetting
On 3 February, 2011, the last top-level block of public Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses was assigned. Now it’s onward to IPv6. Well, not quite that fast, but soon. This also means the art of subnetting IPv4 addresses will soon be a skill of the past as we move to IPv6. For all of us who spent hours understanding the significance of /22 (how many subnets and hosts per subnet and what the subnet mask derived for this notation), I am sorry to say this is a skill set that will go away in the not so distant future (of course they said that about Morse code, but we still use that as well).
5. Typing (or the rise of IM speech)
This may seem like a strange IT skill to be on the decline, but think of the rise of “text or IM Speech”. First the hand-written letter declined due to the rise of email, now it’s proper typing in lieu of texting/IM. A new generation of IT users came into the workforce who don’t use email as much as the last generation and who use texting as their means of communication vs. typical emails.
6. Non-TCP/IP Networks
When one thinks of the internet and communication protocols, you most likely think of TCP/IP as the default protocol. This is true now and was true when the “Internet” was still under the control of DARPA and mainly used between government installations and higher education institutions. But there was a time from the mid-1980s to the mid 1990s that another protocol was used heavily: IPX/SPX. Novell’s NetWare was mainly responsible for the rise and acceptance of IPX/SPX during this period. IPX/SPX was originally derived from Xerox Network Systems’ IDP and SPP protocol. With the release of NetWare 5.x, IPX/SPX fell from use as TCP/IP became the favored protocol used.
There was a time, not so long ago, where we performed our own component-level repair; that is, repairing or replacing computer components (think ROM chips). When is the last time you used that chip replacement tool that used to come with all computer tool kits? Now we simply get a new card, or in the case of tablets and other such systems, we send it in. Along these same lines, how about printer maintenance? In many cases it is cheaper to buy a low-end ink-jet type printer and sell it once the cartridge is empty than it is to buy a replacement ink-jet cartridge. Impact printers anyone? They are used in some areas extensively (think airline passenger lists), but have pretty much disappeared in most office and home scenarios.
8. HTML – Web Developer
Why the differentiation? The HTML developer writes the code that runs the website as opposed to a web designer who typically uses a graphics program to create the website layout and then uses a second program to make the design for viewing on the web. So which one is on the decline? That would be the Web Developer. This is due primarily to the rise of web design programs. Web developer skills will be in less demand, but does not mean their imminent demise in 2011.
9. Older Server Operating Systems and Server-based applications
Here is another older skill set that must be clearly defined. If you have been in the IT field for more than 5 years or so, you have probably migrated to a new server technology. This is applicable for server technology such as operating system (Windows 200 or even NT4) or applications that run on the servers such as email systems, database programs, or even networking technologies. We have all run across somebody who refuses to learn a new server operating system (given my druthers, I would gladly take Windows Server 2008 R2 over NT4 or Windows 2000). You cannot continue to market yourself as an NT4.0 guru and expect to remain employed for much longer. There just aren’t that many systems remaining in use.
COBOL was been around for over 50 years; in fact, it is one of the oldest programming languages. The demise of COBOL has been proclaimed for 20 years and yet it still remains. There was a resurgence of use and interest in COBOL just prior to Y2K, but it’s dwindled since then. There are few places to learn COBOL but there is still a need to support the business applications written and supported by COBOL programmers – for now. As new applications are written in other languages, the programs that were written in COBOL and the people who support these older apps will find themselves needing a new skill set.
Originally posted in the Global Knowledge Newsletter