Apparently, No-One Ever Gets Sacked

So there's a myth that pervades the IT profession. Allegedly, no-one ever loses their job as the result of new and more efficient technology being introduced. Instead, those staff members are always transferred into newer and more exciting roles where they can be creative and exciting and deliver "value to the business". Yeah, right.

Picture: Mark Levin

I was at an enterprise IT launch the other day and this tired old trope came up yet again. Someone asked, not unreasonably, what would happen to all the staff busily managing the network if all the tasks they currently have to perform were now automated and could be completed in a fraction of the usual time.

The executive offered the usual spin: that with those resources freed up, the existing IT staff would be able to work on "higher value" projects. Who thought up and approved these projects was not specified.

The notion that cutting down on labour costs — consistently the largest chunk of IT budgets — might enter the equation was apparently too distasteful to mention. IT automates all kinds of functions, but you're not allowed to admit that it quite often automates its own deployment teams out of a job.

I'm not going to name and shame here because absolutely everyone spins this line, at launches and conferences and even in one-on-one discussions. In large part, it's because no-one wants to be quoted in a story along the lines of "buying product X means you can sack all your staff". But it's insulting to pretend the thought doesn't occur to managers.

No, we're not seeing a Qantas-style headcount slash in many IT departments at the moment. But we're also not consistently seeing creative, exciting new uses for technology. More often than not, we're seeing IT work the way it usually does: making some tasks much easier, but often running into roadblocks when the time comes to roll out new ideas.

All jobs have static, and the idea that something can be automated to the point where you never have to tweak a configuration file is ridiculous. But the idea that more efficient or cheaper technology might lead to a loss of jobs isn't just idle theory either. It's what happens sometimes, and vendors selling that technology should stop impersonating ostriches when confronted with that fact.


Comments

    In my experience, the manager who gets up at a staff meeting and states "I am not doing this to screw you over" is the one who will most likely go on to do just that.

    Interestingly a managers own job is diminished if he has less people and budget so there's self-interest in keeping a significant work force. You assume that management and shareholders are aligned in thought

    As a consultant (or contractor) you're perpetually faced with the ethical dilemma of telling stakeholders what they want to hear, rather what is best in order to keep your job or not rock the boat.

    There are those in IT who a notoriously resistance to anything that would disrupt their job security: the ones who like that cushy job nurturing the unreliable, business critical systems, but no motivation to progress and evolve.

    I've had numerous experiences where innovation and impact that a new system/architecture/MacGuffin would have on job-security or staffing and management is the elephant in the room and sub-par solutions are selected.

      There are those in IT who a notoriously resistance to anything that would disrupt their job security: the ones who like that cushy job nurturing the unreliable, business critical systems, but no motivation to progress and evolve.

      I hope to have a job like that some day. Perhaps in my mid-50's though, mainly when I stop giving a shit about everything.

    I don't get the point of this article. All back office jobs will hopefully one day get automated, that is the goal of business. Why? So they can get rid of that operating cost on jobs that are often menial and task orientated. In large corporations in Australia we pay so much to people who work in I.T admin and network administration. Half of these people are pretty uneducated, like someone in a call centre they just follow a script and if they get in trouble they call a real I.T expert. It is unbelievable, these guys earn 80k-120k if they last longer than 3 years and to be honest a clued in 16 year old I.T enthusiast could do the work of two of these "I.T Specialists".

    "The executive offered the usual spin: that with those resources freed up, the existing IT staff would be able to work on “higher value” projects. Who thought up and approved these projects was not specified."

    If there are no higher value projects for these people to be assigned to, it means that the IT function in the business isn't core to making money and those employees will either have "skills and education" to do a different job or they are out of of a job.

      Lol - I would *love* to know where these $120k support jobs for people with minimal IT skills are.

    as an IT worker, a senior at a previous company I worked for regularly told me "If you're really good at your job, you will end up working yourself out of a job. So back when I was younger I used to deliberately introduce bugs that won't pop up until some time down the track. That way I'll get called back to fix it"

      So back when I was younger I used to deliberately introduce bugs that won't pop up until some time down the track.

      I was working as a Service Delivery Manager in a small IT social media start up about 2 years ago. A key developer I suspect was doing this. After having supposedly *fixed* a few bugs in a release for a major clients website, it introduced more bugs. We started to suspect that these new bugs were being introduced on purpose so he could keep his job. He got the boot.

      Moral of the story: Your managers aren't dumb. They'll figure it out and you will get the boot. Even worse, you'll find it hard to get a reference from that employer if you've spent years there and need someone senior to speak in your favour for your next role.

    Obviously this observation depends on your industry and your particular business. For instance, I am the GM for a software development company. The less work my teams have to do on tasks related to ops and support, then the more product we can produce, and product makes us $$. So in a very real way, efficiency doesn't cost anyone a job at my place, it actually makes it more secure as revenue increases relative to the more business we can snag due to improving our products. But our business is developing software...

    Previously I worked at a very large financial institution as the head of their applications support and development group. I'd say that in this job, even though automation directly reduced our need to have man power for tasks (for instance, I introduced fully automated testing for our online banking system and shrank integration and regression testing from 200+ man hours to 5) there was certainly enough work to go around to keep everyone busy. In fact, the business here had an insatiable desire for IT projects, so if anything automation gains were offsetting our need (barely) to hire new staff. We still hired new staff, but maybe not as much as we would have without automating tasks.

    So while I guess you can claim it's a "myth" that no one ever loses their jobs due to technology improvements in IT, I'd say that while you may be technical correct (the best kind of correct, right?) more times than not, IT is already understaffed for demand and actually could be put on higher value projects (like in my current case - actually generating us revenue with new products). The way this article comes off, as well as the way it treats that statement with scorn is pretty cynical and absolutely doesn't mesh with my professional experience here.

    The usual claim I've seen is that improvements in IT efficiency will lead to project work to allow introduction of new services.

    Every time I've seen any such improvement, the result was staff reductions rather than project work. As in, there wasn't even any pretense of introducing projects.

    If you have any pride as a system administrator, you'll create the efficiencies anyway, but it can be annoying. I wish the senior managers involved would just be honest about it.

    I suspect this all comes down to whether IT is regarded as a cost centre or a revenue opportunity. The places I've worked have typically not sold software, they have sold other services, so code development has either not happened or happened in a separately resourced team to support/admin staff.

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