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Seven Dirty IT Jobs and the Skills Needed to Do Them

Seven Dirty IT Jobs and the Skills Needed to Do Them

From COBOL programmers and cat herders to help desk zombies and hired hacks, we've got a list of the dirtiest jobs in IT and feedback from the poor souls who've held them

Here are seven of the dirtiest jobs in IT, and why your organization needs them

Working in IT isn't always pretty. After all, we can't all work on the cutting-edge technologies all the time. Some of us have to get dirty — in some cases, literally.

Unfortunately, dirty jobs — whether you're being chained to a help desk, hacking 30-year-old code, finding yourself wedged between warring factions in the conference room, or mucking about in human effluvia — are necessary to make nearly every organization tick. (Well, maybe not the human effluvia part.)

The good news? Master at least one of them, and you're pretty much guaranteed a job with somebody. We don't guarantee you'll like it, though.

Here are seven of the dirtiest jobs in IT, and why your organization needs them.

Dirty IT job No. 7: Legacy systems archaeologist

WANTED: INDIVIDUALS FAMILIAR WITH 3270, VAX/VMS, COBOL, AS/400, AND OTHER LEGACY SYSTEMS NO ONE ELSE REMEMBERS. MUST BE ABLE TO TYPE ENTIRELY IN CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EXTENDED PERIODS. APPLICANTS MUST MEET MINIMUM AGE REQUIREMENT OF 55.

Believe it or not, COBOL developers are still in demand, says Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of Yoh, a technology talent and outsourcing firm.

"I'm looking at a job listing right now for a PeopleSoft business analyst," says Lanzalotto. "Buried in the middle of the description, it says, 'writes COBOL as needed.' Here's another one, for a senior program analyst with a background in IBM WebSphere, EDI, Unix, and secure file transfer protocol — 'knowledge of COBOL a plus.' Imagine your average 29-year-old hipster applying for one of these jobs. 'You want me to know what?'"

You'd think these old systems would have died off years ago, but larger companies — especially in financial services, manufacturing, retail, and health care — cling to them like drunken sailors to a lamppost.

"I know of at least one major office supply retailer that powers its site by connecting AS400s to Web front ends," says Andrew Gelina, CEO of Syrinx Consulting. "The cost of rewriting or migrating these apps is huge and the risk is high, so they look for any way possible to reuse and reconnect to modern technologies. It's like marine archaeology. You'll need a spelunker to dive deep into them, figure out how they can be bolted and duct-taped into a more modern integration engine, like a SOAP/XML front end."

The good news? Experienced techs willing to do these dirty jobs may discover reliable income streams as they ease into semi-retirement.

"There's an interesting inversion principle at work here," Gelina says. "The value of people with skills built around those systems had been going steadily down for a long time. Now that companies can't find anyone to work on them, the reverse is true. If you're a consultant who specializes in one of those older technologies, you've got a pretty good niche."

Dirty IT job No. 6: Help desk zombie

Excellent entry-level opportunity for multitasking individual with low self-esteem. Ability to read from scripts a plus. Potential to move up to bug scraper, password reset technician, or tape rotation coordinator.

Here's the job that every IT professional hates. Bruce Kane, senior consultant at M3 Technology Group, defines a dirty job as "anything where you have to visit or talk to end-users. Help desk, desk side support, etc. Icky! Users have cooties!"

Of course, users often feel the same way about support techs, says Kris Domich, principal data centre consultant at Dimension Data.

"When you contact tech support, a lot of people feel like they're either talking to an idiot or being treated like one," Domich says. "There's a fine line between being courteous and being patronizing, and many techs don't know where that line is."

As more organizations move to 24/7 operations, they may also need the services of the more specialized Graveyard Support Vampire, who shuns the daylight and lives by the glow of the network console.

"Why this person actually wants to forge his or her days for the joy of nocturnal employment is a dark, dark mystery that shall forever span the vast expanse of space and time," says Lawrence Imeish, principal consultant for Dimension Data's Converged Communications Group. "But it's often imperative that IT folks manage their equipment off-hours so as to avoid impact on day-to-day business activities on their networks. System reboots, patch applications, and troubleshooting also typically occur after-hours and could be a cause for system failure in and of themselves if not properly addressed during the evening hours."

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