The pandemic improved the status of IT workers … forever

Yes, the tech dept was elevated in these trying times – we just need to keep reminding everyone why

Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you're in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

It's up to our writers to convince you to vote for their side.

This week's motion is: The pandemic improved the status of IT workers … forever.

Whether tech workers saved the world during the pandemic or whether we should thank health workers and researchers is one for another day. But tech workers certainly kept business and the public sector going, helping organisations pivot to online and by allowing employees to work remotely. But a year on, has the hero effect worn off? Or can they, should they, expect a permanently elevated status? Four highly qualified observers will give their perspectives through the course of the week. But it’s you that gets to decide.

Our first contributor, arguing FOR the motion, is Dominic Connor, a city headhunter and long-standing tech commentator.

The problem we have created for ourselves as techies is that too much business technology worked too well before lockdown. Management only thinks about things it can see, and before COVID-19, many took IT for granted. Like air conditioning, they only noticed it when it suddenly stopped.

Just supporting home workers in this pandemic has made IT far more obvious and visible. We have standard builds for corporate Windows, but home computers are configured in interesting ways with various different versions of software and that’s before we get to Apple’s iOS and its insolent stubbornness to be managed at corporate scale.

Also, home networks are rarely set up well and there is the grind of getting Virgin Media, BT, and other ISPs to actually deliver the bandwidth they claim to, which has suddenly become a job for in-house IT. Home laptops are being used a lot more than before and someone is going to have to replace and repair them. A long-running challenge is securing home devices. This was already a problem but is now going to continue to be an issue that keeps IT more visible forever, which helps perception even if you are not in front-line support.

Looking forward, although as IT professionals we see AI, IoT and Big Data as technology that has been happening for ages, lots of managers see them as potential new drivers to grow the business with products and services or to get a better grip on what is going on inside the business as well as customers.

We have already left the first phase of these technologies, where we do the same things as before but more efficiently, and started delivering customised, remote services as necessary – it's either that, or be crushed by those who move forward faster. This is the sort of work that sustains the understanding that IT is a critical part of the business.

In the UK, a lot of this has been delayed by lockdown and the nebulous feeling of “uncertainty” around the economy and the effects of Brexit. Now that the fog is clearing, companies are going to be playing catch-up for some years. This has put pressure on the skills market. Although some look to offshore, most of what can be outsourced already has been, and wage rates in emerging markets are increasingly enough to deter much more.

The industry standard lie from companies is that they will train you. But this has the effect that the skills you have are in short supply, and this has several benefits, including that they will miss you when you’re gone and they learn the hard way that skilled technologists aren’t a commodity to be supplied from coding boot camps.

The obvious next step is that pay is going up, which leads to a curious reverse logic that if they are paying more they value what you do more. So the outlook is good for IT professionals. But there is one catch – that you have to proactively keep your productivity visible to decision makers not just wait for them to notice. ®

Cast your vote below. We'll close the poll on Thursday night and publish the final result on Friday. You can track the debate's progress here.

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