Technical skills may never die, but areas of expertise wane in importance as technology advances, forcing companies to evolve and IT staff to forsake yesterday's crafts in favour of tomorrow's must-have talents.
"There is less need for system-side knowledge. In the past, IT folks had to understand a lot about memory, drivers and address locations, and what used which interrupt, but nowadays that stuff is plug-and-chug even on many Unix systems," says Brian Jones, manager of network engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Tech Communications Network Services unit. "I feel like all the skills I have picked up along the way are valuable and help shape my thinking and troubleshooting abilities. I don't know how to value or devalue these skills; it's like they have taken on new value now."
Industry watchers would be hard pressed to name specific IT skills as entirely dead or completely useless, but some skills are well on their way to being considered a thing of the past -- as reflected by the declining pay associated with them. As hot skills like virtualisation rise to the top of company must-have lists, high-tech talents in certain operating systems and specific vendor products fall to the bottom. Here are five high-tech skills that don't demand the pay they once did.
Plain old HTML
As companies embrace Web 2.0 technologies such AJAX, demand for skills in HTML programming are taking a back seat. According to Foote Partners, pay for skills in technologies such as Ajax and XML increased by 12.5 percent in the last six months of 2007, while IT managers say they don't see a demand for technology predecessors such as HTML. "I'm not seeing requirements for general Web 1.0 skills -- HTML programming skills," says Debbie Joy, a lead solution architect for CSC.
Legacy programming languages
Skills in programming languages such as Cobol, Fortran, PowerBuilder and more don't rate like they once did.
"Certainly the Cobol people that had a resurgence with the Y2K bug aren't in demand," says John Estes, vice president of strategic alliances of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing consultancy. "Certain other applications such as Delphi and PowerBuilder, [which were] very big in the '90s, are no longer in demand."
IT work-force and compensation research conducted by Foote Partners revealed that Cobol, PowerBuilder and Jini noncertified skills were among the lowest-paying skills in the second half of 2007. David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners, says the research shows not that such skills aren't in use today but that companies aren't willing to pay for them. "There is still a lot of C and Cobol around, though these skills are worth very little paywise," Foote says.
Operating system know-how continues to be in top demand among hiring managers, but expertise in Novell's network operating system NetWare isn't keeping up with other technologies in the same area. "Networking software such as NetWare isn't near what it was in the '90s," Estes says. And Foote adds, "Windows Server and Linux skills have replaced, or are replacing, NetWare skills" in terms of demand.
IP and Internet skills usurped non-IP network expertise and know-how in technologies such as IBM's System Network Architecture (SNA) continue to rank among the lowest-paying skills. "For networking, IP skills have replaced SNA skills," Foote says. According to Foote Partners' research, SNA skills accounted for just 2 percent of base pay in the fourth quarter of 2007, while security skills made up 17 percent of base pay.
"Mainframe computing skills, including network components such as SNA, are no longer required in a server-based IP networking environment," says Martin Webb, manager of data network operations at the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services in British Columbia.
PC tech support
The US Computer Technology Trade Association (CompTIA) reports that hardware skills and knowledge, including expertise with printers and PCs, are on the decline in terms of demand. CompTIA surveyed 3,578 IT hiring managers to learn which skills would grow in importance over time and the industry organisation found: "The skill area expected to decline the most in importance is hardware."
Foote Partners research separately showed an 11.1 percent decline in pay over the last six months of 2007 for ITIL skills, which are often put in place to streamline IT service management and help desk efforts.
"The 'move, add and changes' PC tech function isn't quite what is used to be," Robert Half Technology's Estes says.
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