Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 Tech Skills That Are Heading the Way of the Dinosaur

10 Tech Skills That Are Heading the Way of the Dinosaur

Randy Muller, MCT, MCSE, MCSA, MCDST

Feb 2011
One interesting facet of the IT industry is the need to learn new skills on a continual basis. New technologies are released all the time, and new operating systems seem to roll off the factory floor every 18 months or so. What this means for us IT professionals is that we must continuously update our skills or end up becoming redundant. What are out-dated skills? Some skills have been in continuous use for over 50 years (COBOL programmers) and will still be in demand for the short term, but their days are numbered. Other skills are hard to think of as just a pure IT skill (typing) - but does have a dramatic impact overall (texting or IM)

1. Software Installation and Support

"How can this be?" you say? Simple! The Cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) are rapidly growing in use. It makes sense for many firms to adopt these services - reduced cost and technical support. No longer must a small company spend the money on high-end servers and consultants - they can "rent" the same service from a provider. From a technical perspective, this means that many level-1 support staff will need to expand their skill set. The companies providing SaaS are happy as they have a guaranteed revenue stream as consumers and businesses no longer purchase their software once - rather we "rent" the usage of the software packages.

2. Email

"What?" you say. Email being an outdated skill set - perish the thought! While not becoming passé immediately, the number of people using email is declining according to TechCrunch. The number of people using email in several age groups has declined. What does this mean for the business environment? Other communication modalities are on the rise such as texting/IM and web conferencing. The average business person might not see an impact as of yet, but the adoption and use of email by younger workers is slowing (use of IM and social media outlets are on the rise, especially the social media outlets).

3. Telephony

PBX systems are becoming somewhat akin to mainframes - people have been predicting their demise for sometime, but they still persist. The underlying principles of telephony haven't changed (good old Erlang will be around for some time), it is how they are implemented that has changed. Many businesses are interested in a comprehensive communications package - one that does more than just provide a phone on a desktop. Microsoft's Lync Server is changing how we look at presence, voice, IM, and conferencing. The days of having a physical phone and the techs to support that physical phone are numbered. The PSTN (public switched telephone network or, as some refer to it POTS - plain old telephone service) networks will gradually be replaced. A growing number of individuals and households are getting rid of land lines and are instead using their cell phones.

4. IPv4 Subnetting

On 3 February, 2011, the last top-level block of public Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses was assigned. Now it is onwards to IPv6. Well, not quite that fast, but soon. This also means that the art of subnetting IPv4 addresses will soon be a skill of the past as we move to IPv6. For all of us who have spent hours understanding the significance of /22 (how many subnets and hosts per subnet and what the subnet mask derived for this notation), I am sorry to say this will be a skill set that will go away in the not so distant future (of course they said that about Morse code, but we still use that as well).

5. Typing (or the rise of IM speech)

This may seem like a strange IT skill that is on the decline but think of the rise of "text or IM Speech". First it was the decline of the hand-written letter due to the rise of email, now it is the decline of proper typing in-lieu of texting/IM. A new generation of IT users are coming into the workforce who do not use email as much as the previous generation and who are also using texting as their means of communication vs. typical emails.

6. Non-TCP/IP Networks

When one thinks of the internet and communication protocols, you most likely think of TCP/IP as the default protocol. This is true now, and was true when the "Internet" was still under the control of DARPA and was mainly used between government installations and institutions of higher education. But, there was a time in the mid-1980s to the mid 1990s that another protocol was used heavily: IPX/SPX. Novell's NetWare was mainly responsible for the rise and acceptance of IPX/SPX during this period. IPX/SPX was originally derived from Xerox Network Systems' IDP and SPP protocol. With the release of NetWare 5.x, IPX/SPX fell from use as TCP/IP became the favored protocol used.

7. Hardware

There was a time, not so long ago, where we performed our own component-level repair. That is repairing or replacing components on the computer components (think ROM chips). When is the last time you used that chip replacement tool that used to come with all computer tool kits? Now we simply get a new card, or in the case of tablets and other such systems, we send it in. Along these same lines, how about printer maintenance? In many cases, it is cheaper to buy a low-end ink-jet type printer and sell it once the cartridge is empty than it is to buy a replacement ink-jet cartridge. Impact printers anyone? They are used in some areas extensively (think airline passenger lists), but have pretty much disappeared in most office and home scenarios.

8. HTML - Web Developer

Why the differentiation? The HTML developer is writing the code that will run the website. As opposed to a web designer who typically uses a graphics program to create the website layout and then uses a second program to make the design for viewing on the web. So which one is on the decline? That would be the Web Developer. This is due primarily to the rise of web design programs. The skills of the web developer will be in less demand, but does not mean their imminent demise in 2011.

9. Older Server Operating Systems and Server-based applications

Here is another older skill set that must be clearly defined. If you have been in the IT field for more than 5 years or so, you have probably migrated to a new server technology. This is applicable for server technology such as operating system (Windows 200 or even NT4) or to the applications that are running on the servers such as email systems, database programs, or even networking technologies. We have all run across somebody who refuses to learn a new server operating system (given my druthers, I would gladly take Windows Server 2008 R2 over NT4 or Windows 2000). You cannot continue to market yourself as an NT4.0 guru and expect to remain employed for much longer. There just aren't that many systems remaining in use.


COBOL was been around for over 50 years; in fact, it is one of the oldest programming languages. The demise of COBOL has been proclaimed for 20 years and yet it still remains. There was a resurgence of use and interest in COBOL just prior to Y2K, but has been dwindling since then. There are few places to learn COBOL but there is still a need to support the business applications that were written and need to be supported by COBOL programmers - for now. As new applications are written in other languages, the programs that were written in COBOL and the people who support these older apps will find themselves needing a new skill set.


Anonymous said...

#8 I totally disagree with! Spoken like a non developer. Web developers do a whole lot more than HTML!

David M. said...

So, Cliff, do you find it ironic that you are "proclaimining" the end of COBOL in an article that laments the fact that, "The demise of COBOL has been proclaimed for 20 years and yet it still remains"?