What IT Operations Can (and Should) Learn from the Electronics Industry
The state of New Jersey is home to some of the most significant electronics inventions in our history, including countless inventions by Thomas Edison and what became the modern transistor. Bell Labs ushered in a sustained period of innovation and along with it a robust and growing workforce. My own technology career also had started in the electronics industry, where as a young US Marine I did component level repair (such as troubleshooting and repairing transistors and integrated circuits on electronic circuit boards). While such specializations were important at the time, today they are mostly irrelevant.
In New Jersey I continually run into folks who used to have solid careers as electronics technicians and most of them are no longer doing any work related to technology. The reason – their skill is no longer important, or the number of skilled professionals is far greater than the available jobs. That happened because lower costs and agility requirements (such as faster repairs and high uptime requirements) made their specializations no longer practical. We’re seeing those same requirements drive public, private and hybrid cloud computing initiatives today.
If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with IT operations, consider the role of the typical IT ops professional. He or she often must deploy, optimize, troubleshoot, and remediate a variety of infrastructure-related services. At the same time, agility demands are mandating substantial investments in automation.
As I’ve said before, the key to automating systems economically is to remove as many variables as possible. To the IT ops professional, that will ultimately shrink the demand for high degrees of customization.
We’re moving to a world where IT will be consumed as a series of modular components and integrated systems. IT value will increasingly be determined by cost, agility, and availability; successful IT professionals will worry less about minutia operational details and simply leave that up to vendors and trusted partners. You could go to Radio Shack, buy a bunch of pieces and parts, and build a radio, but why would you? You can go to a department store and buy one for a lower price that will likely last for years. The notion of building a radio from scratch (outside of a learning exercise) is laughable.
Ultimately I foresee the same fate for IT infrastructure systems. Building highly automated infrastructure systems from scratch will be viewed as an academic exercise. Value will shift from building integrated systems to integrating systems with key business processes.
In the end, there will be plenty of work for all of us, but we must evolve as IT professionals or risk being left behind. To do that, we need to lose the cape. Over twenty years ago, I would get a huge rush from being able to find the single transistor on a circuit board that was causing a problem. It made me feel smart and gave me a lot of job satisfaction; however, today solving a circuit board problem simply means replacing it. This will also be true for IT professionals. We have to let go of worrying about every small infrastructure detail. We need to leave those details to brands we trust (just like the electronics you buy) and worry more about enabling business agility and availability by working with the best and most flexible set of modular and tightly integrated infrastructure components we can find. That is our inevitable career path as IT infrastructure professionals.
What do you think? I welcome your thoughts.