Dr. Dobb's is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Channels ▼


Other Voices: The Changing Role of the IT Hero

Jake Sorofman works for rPath, a provider of automated application deployment tools. You can contact Jake at [email protected]

Every IT organization relies on a handful of talented technical artisans to take on the trickiest tasks in the data center. These folks are the script wranglers, the IT cowboys (and girls) who -- through a brilliant infusion of intellect, competitive spirit and occasional subversion -- make the data center work. They're the heroes who make disproportionate contributions to the trade, and we love them for it.

But times are changing, and the role of the IT Hero is being reconsidered.

That is not to say that the IT Hero is any less loved or valued; in fact, the need for the IT Hero will persist ad infinitum. It's just that circumstances are forcing IT leadership to look beyond the preternaturally gifted few to run the data center. As system scale and complexity compounds, change accelerates, and business lines demand more -- faster -- IT needs to clear this bottleneck.

Traditionally, the IT Hero wrote the scripts that made IT processes scale. But as software and deployment environments become ever more diverse and dynamic, these scripts grow like kudzu. What began as a way to economize IT has become a large cost center in its own right: Today, maintaining scripts is often as costly as maintaining IT systems themselves.

And guess who manages these scripts?

That's the IT Hero: Brilliant, but overly entwined with the fitness and survival of the data center. What happens if he or she leaves the building? What happens when scale and change explode? Ever try recruiting heroes? They're few and far between. Of course, this ignores the more obvious point that IT has little appetite for any significant hiring in this age of "doing more with less."

Beyond the sheer opacity and inscrutability of scripts, there are a variety of technical reasons this approach to automation fails in a time of scale and change. I won't cover that ground here -- it could consume many pages of commentary, and it's expertly discussed by Erik Troan in his two-part series on the topic.

But the key point is that IT needs to shift from script-based to model-driven approaches to automation. While scripts provide detailed programmatic instructions that automate detailed procedures for how to perform a rote task, a model-driven approach allows IT to get out of the weeds and focus on the definition of the desired end-state rather than the exact steps to get there. Once the end-state is defined, the procedural execution is automated.

This model-driven approach to managing IT systems has several key advantages:

  • IT Heroes can delegate. Traditionally, the thorniest IT issues have quickly escalated from front to backline support -- the domain of the IT Hero. Model-driven automation abstracts complexity, putting control in the hands of a broader set of IT personnel and allowing heroes to deflect many of the inbounds.
  • IT Heroes can focus on higher-value tasks. Expending effort to write and maintain low-level scripts for undifferentiated processes -- in other words, processes that cannot yield a sustainable competitive advantage -- is a wasted use of talent. This evolution allows IT Heroes to focus on higher value, more strategic contributions.
  • IT leadership can sleep at night. With comfort that the knowledge of how processes are automated is explicit and documented, rather than implicit and trapped between the ears of the smartest few. If the IT Hero departs to Google, the lights stay on and data center processes continue to function.

What's this mean for the best and brightest in IT? More interesting challenges to tackle, more business value to deliver. The truest IT Heroes are hardly threatened by their changing role. They're up for the challenge, inspired to lead the way forward, and to prove that their value and contributions cannot be commoditized. The IT Hero lives on.

Related Reading

More Insights

Currently we allow the following HTML tags in comments:

Single tags

These tags can be used alone and don't need an ending tag.

<br> Defines a single line break

<hr> Defines a horizontal line

Matching tags

These require an ending tag - e.g. <i>italic text</i>

<a> Defines an anchor

<b> Defines bold text

<big> Defines big text

<blockquote> Defines a long quotation

<caption> Defines a table caption

<cite> Defines a citation

<code> Defines computer code text

<em> Defines emphasized text

<fieldset> Defines a border around elements in a form

<h1> This is heading 1

<h2> This is heading 2

<h3> This is heading 3

<h4> This is heading 4

<h5> This is heading 5

<h6> This is heading 6

<i> Defines italic text

<p> Defines a paragraph

<pre> Defines preformatted text

<q> Defines a short quotation

<samp> Defines sample computer code text

<small> Defines small text

<span> Defines a section in a document

<s> Defines strikethrough text

<strike> Defines strikethrough text

<strong> Defines strong text

<sub> Defines subscripted text

<sup> Defines superscripted text

<u> Defines underlined text

Dr. Dobb's encourages readers to engage in spirited, healthy debate, including taking us to task. However, Dr. Dobb's moderates all comments posted to our site, and reserves the right to modify or remove any content that it determines to be derogatory, offensive, inflammatory, vulgar, irrelevant/off-topic, racist or obvious marketing or spam. Dr. Dobb's further reserves the right to disable the profile of any commenter participating in said activities.

Disqus Tips To upload an avatar photo, first complete your Disqus profile. | View the list of supported HTML tags you can use to style comments. | Please read our commenting policy.