More Praise for IT Generalists

Ann All

While the IT field has long focused on specialists, with its emphasis on certifications and specialized training, there's a growing sense the advent of cloud computing will create a need for folks to administer all aspects of IT infrastructure rather than tending to just one part of it.


Yesterday I cited a article in which EMC's CIO said IT pros of the future will need "a wider skill set to transcend the traditional IT silos." Instead of employing three folks who oversee storage, networking and virtualization environments, companies might hire one person whose skills span all three competencies, the CIO said. As IT Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard wrote last week, at least one IT certification already reflects this need to train staff to deal with a converged IT infrastructure.


Software development is another area in which IT may come to value generalists. I've sung the praises of pros versed in multiple technologies several times over the past few months, most recently writing about developers at Netflix who build entire solutions on their own rather than focusing on one area of the BI stack.


Jeff Papows, an IBM veteran who is now the CEO of Weblayers, a provider of automated IT governance solutions, thinks companies should strive to employ developers versed in multiple programming languages, including aging ones like COBOL, perhaps by offering more attractive salaries for cross-trained developers. That's one of the recommendations in "Glitch: The Hidden Impact of Faulty Software," a book in which he contends companies must begin paying closer attention to software quality or risk catastrophic results. (You can read an excerpt from "Glitch" in IT Business Edge's Knowledge Network.)


According to a story about the book, Papows describes a sort of perfect storm he says can lead to bug-ridden software. Companies focused on new product development are not paying enough attention to the foundational aspects of software and are taking shortcuts that compromise software quality. There's a shortage of developers who know COBOL, even though mainframes are still common in IT infrastructures. And developers change jobs more frequently, making knowledge transfer a challenge. Mergers and acquisitions put pressure on companies to quickly combine their back-office systems.


In addition to recruiting and hiring developers with broader skill sets, Papows suggests automating as many routine and non-strategic functions as possible. This is not surprising given his company's focus on automation, but Papows is hardly alone in calling for more IT automation.


He also wants IT and business professionals, government agencies and consumer advocacy groups to form a coalition to lobby for new legislation requiring more stringent reporting of software glitches that could put lives at risk and the leveling of fines on people and organizations responsible for coverups that pose health or safety risks. While his call for more government oversight of software development likely won't be popular, Papows says it's logical for products that directly affect consumers' health and safety.

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