Traditional IT roles vs. modern jobs: What are the differences?

April 30, 20198 minute read

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It’s hardly a secret that IT roles are changing as a result of ongoing digital transformations. Even if you’ve held the same IT manager job for 10 years, your list of daily tasks is probably completely different from what it once was.

Way back when, the IT department’s job was to “keep the lights on,” but things have changed. Increasingly, IT strategy is being integrated into overall business strategy. At the same time, information security risks represent a greater threat to businesses than ever before.

Below are four key IT roles that have evolved substantially within the new millennium. According to CompTIA research, “strategic IT works alongside business units to help drive objectives, with operational IT still acting as a foundation.” Accordingly, the changes to these positions reveal how tech jobs are shifting toward strategic work and away from more generalized operational tasks.

1. IT System Administrator

Twenty years ago, a Systems Administrator’s job meant a lot of IT specialist support work. One job posting from 1999 emphasized duties like “computer desktop support,” which involves maintaining hardware and telecommunications equipment.

In 2019, System Administrators monitor multiple physical and virtual environments with sleek cloud apps, perform system maintenance and patching activities across many endpoints, and juggle policies for users, access, and devices. Within smaller organizations, a SysAdmin may also deal with security policy issues, such as firewalls and intrusion detection.

2. IT Manager

The IT manager’s job has always been a combination of strategy and resource management. In 1999, office technology was entering the web era. MIT researchers have noted how IT leaders at that time were focused on developing an “applications portfolio” of “internet, extranet, and intranet apps.” Gartner’s research into IT resolutions for 2019 reveals that today’s leaders have a lot of priorities on their plate, including:

  • Exploring emerging technologies
  • Creating a value-driven IT budget
  • Creating a competitive advantage through innovation
  • Identifying non-traditional methods to fill the skills gaps

3. IT Security Expert

Did your company even have an “IT Security team” 20 years ago? The Black Hat 1999 agenda shows that most information security pros were mostly focused on the basics 20 years ago, like building a security response process and adopting intrusion detection technology.

Today, CSO Online reports that over half of organizations surveyed were starved for security talent. The “IT Security Expert” job is quickly splintering into a field of specialties. If you tell another tech pro you “do security,” be prepared to explain whether you’re a SOC Analyst, a Penetration Tester, or a Cybersecurity Engineer.


The Information Security Chief is another job that was rare to see in the late 1990s. “We used to joke the CISO role was invented so CIOs didn’t get fired as much,” says HP Head of Security Michael Howard.

Today’s CISOs are overwhelmed and overworked, but they’re winning a seat at the executive table. A recent Ponemon survey revealed that 60 percent of today’s InfoSec Chiefs have a direct line of communication with the CEO. At 40 percent of organizations, the entire board collaborates around security strategy. Contemporary CISOs lead by educating, managing, and communicating constantly in the languages of both business and technology.

The future of IT jobs

The future of IT jobs is definitely one worth betting on—even now, there are serious skills shortages with respect to office IT and security pros. However, position descriptions are subject to change. The four key IT roles we’ve just addressed could look much different in 2029. Here are some ways that IT positions might evolve in the near future:

  • There may be fewer IT System Administrators who are specialized partners with cloud and office IT vendors
  • IT Managers may be replaced by skilled specialists in automation and innovation
  • Demand for security will continue to skyrocket, and the “IT Security” generalist may be replaced by specialists
  • The CISO will likely take the lead on business security strategy and may manage Chief Risk, Data, and Cloud Executives

The new role of IT is to create value within an organization and support transformations. If you’re constantly busy putting out fires, it’s likely time to reassess some priorities. Here are some questions you should be asking moving forward:

  • Can you adopt new business solutions that deliver multiple types of value, such as cost reduction, security, and analytics?
  • Could you automate or outsource manual processes with secure IoT or AI?
  • Can you replace aging, high-maintenance office IT with smarter solutions like self-healing printers?

Trying to cling to the current way of doing things could spell a loss of advantage; creating more efficient operations with strategic partnerships and innovative solutions can help you make the shift to strategic IT.

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