by January 12, 1998 0 comments

One question that I am asked frequently by PCQ readers as well as my friends and
colleagues in India and the US is–what after the Year 2000? I tend to answer back
objectively–well, there will be the year 2001 of course! Usually, people think I am
trying to be funny.

The reference, of course,
is to IT jobs, specially so in the US. Will IT continue to remain a lucrative career
option in the months and years to come? Let me admit, it’s a difficult question to
face since it involves looking into the future; treacherous ground to be treading on even
when you are well equipped with facts, and in my case I am not. However, it is a
legitimate question because it concerns a lot of young talent in the country.

sequel.jpg (18346 bytes)When people have such doubts or questions they yearn for straight Yes or No
answers. After all, it is an opinion that they are seeking. I have been brash before, so
here is my answer–Yes! IT will continue to remain a lucrative career option even
after the turn of the century, and indeed well into the next century. My opinion is based
on empirical evidence from the past growth in IT, the increasing dependence of society on
IT, specially here in the US, and because my experience and gut feel tell me that there is
still a long road ahead before we are at the top of the IT plateau.

The growth in the IT
industry started in the early eighties and picked up momentum right into the early
nineties–times when there was no Y2k problem. The growth was, and continues to be,
fuelled by a tremendous potential for IT applications to help us better manage our
resources. It had nothing to do with Y2k till recently, and will have nothing to do with
it after the year 2000. Perhaps, a macro look will help us get a better perspective.

Till the early seventies
industrial growth and scientific breakthroughs fuelled economic growth. That was an era
when the world learnt, through technological advances, to harness its existing resources.
Breakthroughs in nuclear, agricultural, space, and semiconductor sciences allowed us to
get more food and energy and improved communications. Since then, as scientific
breakthroughs have slowed down, there has been a paradigm shift to better management of
our existing resources. IT gives us tools that enable us to do just this. (Like any other
tool, IT is abused as much as used, but I will dwell on that in a later episode.)

While there is no denying
the opportunity presented by the Y2k problem to Indian industry and developers, I am
inclined to believe that Y2k was a hiccup in the logical growth of IT, a sort of show
stopper that took both the focus off the real challenges ahead as well as huge chunks from
corporate IT budgets. Once out of the way in the year 2001, the growth in IT could well
accelerate.

There is another way of
looking at the Y2k opportunity that I feel puts it in better perspective. Operational
applications require maintenance to keep them in tune with the changes in the business
environment. The Y2k opportunity arose from a change that many applications required at
the same time, and the need for which arose more from bungling then changes in business
environment. Once Y2k problem is through, business will focus on more productive
maintenance to enhancing and adapting their applications. Like I said, Y2k is a temporary
diversion of focus and IT budgets.

The US leads the world in
its dependence on IT. It is a country that is rich in resources and has the highest per
capita consumption of just about everything that is good in life. It desperately leans on
IT to continually increase productivity and meet the needs of its populace. Its dependence
on IT in everyday life varies from smart (e-commerce, record keeping, and electronic form
filing) through dubious (customer relations and sales), to pathetic (Internet porn, dating
and chat) applications. What is relevant to us is that this dependence is increasing by
the day. There can be any looking back. Remember the US just leads the world, the rest of
the world eventually will follow as and when it has the same resources. (Doesn’t
sound too good from the Indian perspective, I know.

Given the fact that IT has
a definite role to play in helping us optimally use our resources, and that society is
increasingly depending on IT to increase productivity, it would be logical to assume that
growth in IT jobs will diminish only when optimization plateaus. Quite clearly that is a
distant goal that we don’t even see yet. Hardware technology, in terms of MIPS and
clock cycles, as well as software technology, in terms of layered intelligence, will have
to peak before growth in IT begins to even slow down. Both seem a long time from
happening. What that means is that we are still building systems with imperfect
technology. That is analogous to building cities with mud instead of reinforced concrete.
It is just a matter of time before we have to pull them down.

There is one aspect of the IT growth ahead
that I would like to caution readers about. Y2k was easy money. We got paid handsomely for
the low grade IT labor. The road ahead will be more challenging. The opportunity will be
there but will not come our way easily. I would say, if you have a passion for IT, get
into it and I don’t think you will ever need to look back. On the other hand, if your
only interest in IT is to get a ticket to the US, be warned it is not going to be easy.
The US welcomes talent and even labor, only when it needs it. In the years ahead it is
going to need IT talent for sure, but IT labor, maybe not.

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