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Outsourced and automated network skills: Is it the end of the keyboard cowboy?

Aside from Angelina Jolie, the movie Hackers just didn’t have a whole lot of redeeming factors if you took it too seriously: overwrought dialog, an improbable eco-terrorism plot, and CGI “hacking” visualizations to make the most neophyte CCNA blush. It definitely has its cult appeal, though, because it captured the romance of tinkering with complex systems that normal people just don’t understand, whether that’s Zero Cool taking over a television station programming or the local networking guru keeping the server humming along against all odds.

True networking admins just aren’t like other people: They understand how to coax every bit of juice out of hardware, how to manually configure every last detail through the command line, and how, almost magically, to fix problems they don’t even quite understand. And that kind of knowledge didn’t come overnight, but after years of training and just plain practical experience.

Those skills, long prerequisite to successful IT, might soon be obsolete.

So says Rob Whiteley of Forrester. Command-line mastery is on its way out in the near future. “It’s pretty much being outsourced,” he said. “If you don’t outsource it, you can probably find a tool to automate it for you.” Instead, Rob said, IT shops need professionals who can digest higher-level views of security, network management and network architecture. Unfortunately, Rob said, the colleges and certification programs are still living in a command-line world and are only slowly catching up.

Don’t trust an analyst’s word? I also spoke with Steven Ostrowski, spokesperson for the Computing Technology Industry Association. In our interview, which I’ll write about more next week on SearchNetworking, he said technical skills alone were no longer cutting it.

“There are jobs out there for the people who have a combination of technical skills, business skills and communication skills,” he said. “But the tech guys have to understand what the considerations are.”

That being said, just because things are changing doesn’t mean everyone agrees IT is dead. As 5- and 10-year-old technologies are now being standardized, outsourced, or automated, the creation of new IT demands hasn’t ceased: VoIP, video, and NAC are just the beginning, and the pace of innovation isn’t about to dry up. IT professionals will always have to be there to determine which technology can deliver real enterprise benefit, and how it can best achieve that benefit. As long as there is technological innovation, there will be IT … even if they’re not the roguish keyboard cowboys they used to be.

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Exactly, IT is not dead. It's continously evolving. It's true that on-demand professionals are who can digest higher level views of security, network management and network architecture. Kevin,