The term Information Technology (IT) is woefully out of date. It no longer represents the function or capabilities technology serves in modern organizations. Before I offer a term I believe is a better fit and a lot more relevant, let’s rewind and look at the origins of the IT label.
Background to the label
The term information technology first appeared in a 1958 article where authors Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler said that “the new technology does not yet have a single established name. We shall call it information technology (IT).” They went on to further define IT as consisting of three categories: techniques for processing, the application of statistical and mathematical methods to decision-making, and the simulation of higher-order thinking through computer programs. These last two categories sound very much like the precursors to what today we call data science, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence.
Since then IT has evolved to include hardware installation; personalizing desktop configurations; handling user complaints; building, maintaining and deploying software systems on a continual basis; and even defining policies for mobile devices in the workplace. In other words, the focus is no longer on information, but instead, it’s all about the technology. Alternatively, think of it like this, the mechanisms and software for deploying a shopping cart function have more to do with technology, and less do with the information in the cart – likely to be handled by data science.
Why job titles matter
If you search for the number of IT professionals globally, the results invariably consist of data that concerns developers rather than IT professionals. Also, in a good share of industry reports, analysts categorize those working within the profession as either software developers or tech professionals. One thing that holds true is that the estimated 21 million tech professionals/developers/IT people are getting lumped into one imperfect classification.
Does this matter? Yes. Here’s why.
In the next few years, we anticipate a global shortage of developers of upwards of 1,000,000 people. However, this figure includes only those who possess a specific knowledge or skill set and does not include those working in the industry who function as support staff or those who serve other peripheral roles. We are talking instead about the people who build technologies and deploy, test and deliver software and systems to an organization and its customers. But today it’s more than that. It’s the people with the skills to assist an organization transform from large monolithic software systems to federated, distributed, microservices architecture. In other words, it’s professionals who understand and embrace a modern view of IT where technology and developers are at the center of change.
Why is this so important? For one simple but hugely significant reason, the modern view emphasizes technology professionals from both the ops-side (traditional IT) and the dev-side (traditional product-focused development) to develop and deploy systems on a continuous delivery platform where testing and integrating the complete system all the time is commonplace. For organizations, this means no longer having your IT people build your technology stack that your product-oriented developers need to figure out how to make work, debug, schedule releases, and so forth. It is fluid and continuous because they are working as one.
Dropping the I from IT is not just about DevOps-style development either. There are plenty of new technologies and developer roles. The role of the full-stack developer has morphed over the years. Historically, when designing a website, someone was tasked with developing web pages that were customer facing. However, once these pages became more sophisticated and required access to internal resources like inventory and customer records or external resources like credit information and location, they were no longer front-end or back-end. The integration between the internal and external spawned the notion of a full-stack approach to development. Again, not a function covered under Leavitt and Whisler’s original definition unless we consider it as the higher-order thinking part.
To some degree, IT is more akin to data science where the focus is on data, and making it more useful, including deriving actionable, predictable, and valuable information from it. I prefer to use the term data technology rather than just data because this encompasses everything from stacks, infrastructures, methods, techniques, platforms, applications and a whole host of things that comprise data technology. To refer to this technology ecosystem as just data is reductive and insufficient.
Original image source: Information Technology Jobs Changing Due to Cloud Computing
So what term do I suggest for replacing IT?
I consider Technology and Developer (Tech & Dev / T&D) a more accurate description of both the profession and what it embodies. Given the tremendous impact technology has on the way we live, and how it radically transformed the workplace since the 1950s, a name change is long overdue. Technology speaks for itself, and I chose the word developer because at the heart of any technology is development. Someone had to imagine, design and build the entity that produces a device, product, framework, language, or solution that ignites and inspires others to begin developing with it too.
However, I am not advocating that we drop the term IT, but instead, we re-examine what exactly IT is and does. In the meantime, we should start referring to and talking about the more appropriate Tech & Dev. On a side note, switching to the label Tech & Dev means we get to drop the letter I and we all know there’s no I in team. Today, highly functioning groups work collaboratively in an agile way to build the best software and systems. They complete sprints that compels them to work together for long periods of time as they design and create more socially than ever before. They are working as teams where Together Everyone Achieves More. There are very few solo coders delivering large software systems today.
At Skillsoft we are reorganizing our IT, Certification and Developer collection to focus on a comprehensive and all-inclusive Technology and Developer portfolio going forward. We believe this reflects what our users are currently consuming on our learning platforms, and will require in the future. Try a 14-day free trial of Percipio, Skillsoft’s award-winning intelligent learning experience platform, and discover what Tech & Dev means for you.
Mike Hendrickson is the VP, Technology & Developer Products at Skillsoft.