Click to learn more about author James Kobielus.
IT tends to go in and out of fashion as a career path, in terms of the money, glamour, and potential for career advancement. But it has always seemed to be a safe bet, in terms of giving the reasonably competent access to a wide range of opportunities.
However, the advance of AI-driven automation in IT—also known as “AIOps’—has shaken up this profession. This trend has caused many tech professionals to wonder whether their specific job category will survive. At the very least, the ones who are paying attention to the shape of things to come must be worrying whether their current job will continue to deliver a living wage in the coming decade.
So you have to wonder if IT operations is safe as a profession from the onslaught of the bots. No matter what, it will grow increasingly difficult for mere mortals to monitor, manage, optimize, and troubleshoot complex distributed networks as fast or well as an AI-automated program. But, when you stop to think about it, the same trend will steal the oxygen from programmers, data scientists, and other development positions as well.
Are there any safe long-term career paths in IT anymore, or is AIOps going to systematically displace highly skilled professionals from their livelihoods? When this recent article discussed IDC’s assessment of the supposed “13 best IT jobs of the future,” were the authors misguided? Whose, if anybody’s, job is safe in the era of ubiquitous AI?
To examine this issue, let’s group the hot IT specialties that were listed in that article into categories of my choosing:
- Strategy Jobs: AI’s evangelists might feel that their jobs are safe. I’d put what the study’s authors call “transformation consultants” into this occupational bucket. In this context, we should regard “transformation” as practically synonymous with “digitalization,” “modernization,” “enterprise architecture,” and “business process reengineering.” In practical terms, this job essentially focuses on helping enterprises to leverage AI–as well as cloud, streaming, mobility, edge, and Big Data analytics—for strategic advantage. Consequently, one might regard the “transformation consultant” as an agent of AIOps’ manifest destiny. In other words, they succeed primarily by helping companies to automate jobs out of existence, while de-skilling and reducing the compensation of those jobs that remain. However, they themselves might be at risk of losing their jobs if knowledge of AI-driven “transformation” techniques becomes so widely distributed among the surviving business-level positions that the demand for a specialist to drive these projects begins to dry up.
- Development Jobs: AI’s developers might feel that they’re guaranteed long-term job security. Considering the wide range of skills needed to stand up AI apps, this is where I would categorize such roles as “software developer or engineer,” “Web developer,” “mobile applications developer,” “IoT designer, developer, or engineer”; “business intelligence analyst, architect, or developer”; and “machine learning designer, developer, or engineer.” All of these jobs are being automated through AI, as has been discussed under such paradigms as “augmented programming,” “automated machine learning,” and “robotic process automation.” AI-driven automation is also radically remaking the jobs of BI developers. Next-generation BI tools leverage AI to automate calculation of actionable insights, generation of natural language narratives accompanying each rendered visualization, and generate suggestions tailored to each user’s role and search history. Going forward, we will almost certainly see most program code—and most analytics visualizations, dashboards, reports, and models—developed, trained, deployed, and refined in largely automated fashion, thanks to behind-the-scenes AI.
- Platforms Jobs: I would group “data engineer” and “network engineer or architect” in this occupational bucket. It’s no secret that their jobs are being automated to the hilt through AIOps. Autonomous AI-driven operations is beginning to permeate every platform, from database management systems to multiclouds to industrial Internet of Things endpoints. Through embedded digital assistants and “ChatOps,” AI is also automating much of the pain and latency out of the IT service desk. This is also where I would put such positions as “change management,” “cybersecurity engineer or analyst” and “security management specialist.” All of these functions now have AI-driven tools to automate governance at every level, including configurations, state, behavior, and so on. If you click through any of the links that I embedded two sentences previous, you’ll see how ubiquitous AI-driven automation is becoming in all of these areas. The technology is utterly essential for detecting anomalies, outliers, and other unusual behaviors of platforms, applications, networks, and other IT assets.
The bottom line is that no job that doesn’t involve some core business-level subject matter expertise is safe in the era of AI-driven automation. As we enter the ‘20s, the jobs that survive will be in financial, marketing, customer service, R&D, and other domains in which the AI-driven tools will accelerate and augment human judgment, creativity, and engagement.
If you’re in an IT specialty now, it would behoove you to become more closely aligned functionally with specific business domains, and to gather more subject matter expertise that will help you stay employable in the new era.
Purely IT-focused jobs will vanish at pretty much the same rate as the world’s glaciers here in the 21st century.