By Ken Hanley
Well, they’ve done it again.
Those hyper-intelligent folks at the Economist have made the call: the days of the wild entrepreneurial IT company are over, and all the weird technical cats that hung around in ’em — the oddballs we all knew and loved — are rapidly becoming an endangered species.
Worst of all, it means that we IT types are no longer sexy just by virtue of the type of work that we do. Damn.
Consolidation in the IT industry is just serving to nail the lid on the sexiness coffin. PeopleSoft ain’t acquiring J.D. Edwards to get its hands on sexy software and people — they’re looking to bulk up in an industry where size increasingly matters, where words like “cool” and “revolutionary” are taking a back seat to words like “standardization” and “cost control.” Not a titillating word in the bunch.
Our secret’s out. The business folks have figured out that IT types can, and should, be treated like people in any other business. We don’t need to be coddled with ridiculous salaries and foosball tables, and they know that we are subject to market demand.
Most of us are more akin to mechanics than we are to artists: we build stuff and we do stuff, no better, no worse, no sexier than the accountants or the engineers or the lawyers (OK, maybe we’re better than the lawyers and sexier than the accountants and engineers, but then again, who isn’t?).
It didn’t used to be this way. Remember way back in the glory days of 1999 when we believed that the advent of the Internet revolution and the dot-com kingdoms heralded the start of a golden age for IT people, that we were headed for the zenith of our influence, our pay, our coolness, and even our desirability to the opposite sex?
Yes, I said desirability to the opposite sex. I think it’s fair to say that our Fonzie-jumping-the-shark moment came when the marketers started trying to convince the world that being a techno geek was sexy.
We saw (briefly, mercifully) ads wherein the kind of guys we used to shake down for their lunch money were being hailed as the new emperors of the digital age, the new sex symbols of the digital world.
Celebrity programmers? What were we thinking? You don’t see celebrity plumbers or celebrity electricians. Aside from the unreality of living in the Internet boom bubble, what made us think we were so special?
Hubris, that’s what. We began to believe our own press.
It’s sad but true: we’re no longer sexy by virtue of what we do, which in the grand scheme of things is probably good. Being defined as sexy by the work we do is probably only valid if we fight fires, climb mountains or dance salsa for a living.
The world is rapidly getting past its fascination with IT, and we’re seeing the fallout all over.
We used to taking great pleasure in explaining what ERP stood for, especially when you could use cool words like Enterprise with a capital E. But it never was particularly cool work, even if it paid very well for a while.
Now that the rest of the world understands that ERP is really no more than the necessary pieces of corporate plumbing, no one wants to hear about it. And if we want someone to listen to us, we’ll have to buy the drinks.
We better to get used to it. The business we’re in is maturing quickly, and if we’re determined to be sexy, fascinating, wild-and-crazy types, we’ll have to get used to doing it outside of work.
Maybe I’ll have to learn to play Extreme Frisbee.
Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at email@example.com.