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11/25/2013
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Kevin Casey
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10 IT Job Titles We Miss

IT veterans pick their favorite -- largely obsolete -- job titles of yesteryear. Join us on a 20-year-stroll down memory lane.
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Revel in IT nostalgia

(Source: Crabchick)
(Source: Crabchick)

Back in the heady days of 1995, InformationWeek ran a story with the headline "Surfing The Net For Email."

The piece begins: "Want to check your electronic mail from the road? Just get to the nearest PC and surf the Internet. Lotus Development has come up with a way for users of its cc:Mail system to access their corporate network-based mail via the World Wide Web."

(Let's pause for a moment to let younger readers stop laughing.)

Later in the story, a Motorola manager says of Lotus's foray into web-based email: "This provides us with an excellent way to get access to e-mail while on the road. We won't have to carry a portable and we can essentially walk up to anybody's machine and access mail back at the home office."

Such were the beginnings of the 24/7 email access that the corporate world now takes for granted (and sometimes curses). It also marked an ending. cc:Mail Administrators soon became an endangered IT species. You won't find any help wanted ads for cc:Mail Administrators today, though you're liable to bump into a few technology vets who once held that job.

"I used to have that title," says IT pro Bob Beatty. "Wow -- bringing up some old memories."

The tech world loves its buzzwords, the trendy terminology of today and tomorrow. We thought it would be more fun, however, to tune up the time machine and remind ourselves of the IT job titles and technologies that were popular 20 years ago -- but that have since fallen out of favor or disappeared altogether. It's an inexact timeline that approximately spans the late 80s through the late 90s. A big hat tip to the Spiceworks Community for its help in fueling this jaunt down memory lane: I posted a call asking for suggestions, which generated more than 100 replies and counting.

So what were IT pros doing two decades ago? "20 years ago I was a system administrator using AS/400, Windows 3.1/NT/Novell with programming experience in RPG/Pascal/C/COBOL," says Ricardo Arias. He's still a system administrator today, but of course, those older technologies have been replaced by the likes of Hyper-V, Windows Server, SQL Server, and Linux.

Not all fits of technology nostalgia are the result of total obsolescence. Vendors and trends come and go. Some platforms simply lose ground to newer hardware, programming languages, and business drivers. You probably won't hear many technologists list COBOL as a cutting-edge code, yet some are quick to point out it's still in use today. IT pro Chris Mears notes that COBOL skills are still in demand among some banks and credit card companies because their systems still depend on the programming language, one of the oldest in computing history. (It was first developed in 1959.)

Also, not everyone agrees on what's outmoded: IBM's AS/400, for instance, made some IT pros' list, Arias's included -- Big Blue first launched the line in 1988. But it has plenty of defenders, too, who note it's still in use today, albeit renamed under the IBM i product family.

Sometimes semantics rule: As times change, so do the words we use to describe things. That's why you're not nearly as likely to see the title "MIS Manager" or its variants in 2013; "IT" has largely replaced the former acronym, which stands in for Management of Information Systems or Management of Information Services. (The "of" is optional in some contexts.)

Chuck Berg, owner of Riverside Computers in Minneapolis, Minn., said:

The MIS Manager broadly referred to the person in charge of computer-based systems that provided tools for organizing, evaluating, and efficiently running a company. As technology has evolved, it has grown to include all manners of communication, automation, and predictive tools. The department managing these tools is now seen less as a cost center and much more as a support and sometimes profit center in many organizations. Information Technology as it is more commonly referred to [as it] seems more descriptive today.

Let's get this time machine going. We've got 10 stops on our retrospective tour. Then it's your turn: What was your job title 20 years ago? Keep the memories -- even the cringe-worthy ones -- coming in the comments.

 

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jfsiv
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jfsiv,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/4/2013 | 11:30:44 AM
VAX and VMS went hand in hand
I remember working on VAX servers running VMS in the late '90s.  As a new guy they had to send us half way across the country to a place that could train us.  On my desk I had a VAX Terminal, and an old 386 computer running Windows 3.11 that I usually played solitare on.

I was hired as a Computer Programmer, and worked with Computer Operators who - until shortly before I got there - were also called "Tape Monkeys" because they would swap the big reel to reel tapes on and off the machines as needed.
mzurkammer381
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mzurkammer381,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/3/2013 | 10:30:13 AM
FORTRAN & COBOL - Remember it correctly
Before we prematurely bury these languages, let us remember "Fortran" is an acronym for Formula Translation and was correctly presented as FORTRAN not Fortran.  "Cobol" is an acronym for Common Business Oriented Language and presented as COBOL not Cobol.  Also note that both languages, while their prime has passed, are still in production quietly serving the needs of the Business.

Today's "hip" languages may never enjoy the life span FORTRAN and COBOL provided as the workhorse languages of so many IT Shops.  This longevity contributed to applications stability, as developers were not always pressing to standardize on what seems to be the "development tool of the quarter" mentality.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
12/3/2013 | 1:11:11 AM
Re: What IT job titles will be missed in the future?
Kevin, 

There is always time to start a career change. :)

Especially with so many new careers in the horizon many with soon-to-be obselete IT careers may consider this as a great opportunity for a change.

 Many more IT jobs might be linked to telecommuting as well. Who will miss the office space?

-Susan  
KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
12/2/2013 | 8:08:13 PM
Re: What IT job titles will be missed in the future?
Susan,

Good question - if I had the answers I should probably keep them to myself and start an IT career consultancy. :)

A couple of things seem somewhat likely. There will probably be more nomenclature changes (like MIS morphing into IT or the relatively recent popularity of sys admin titles versus things like system operator/engineer/etc) that are effectively describing the same role, just X years later.

On the development/programming side of things, I'm sure new languages/frameworks will emerge that replace current skills or at least diminish current demand for them.

Would be curious to hear predictions from others here, too.

Kevin
Faye__Kane
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Faye__Kane,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/1/2013 | 10:41:41 PM
Days gone by...
This article made me sad.  So many things that were important and exciting have been "dead" for a very long time:  an ST-220 freeing me from floppies, sending nonstandard characters to a Model 33 teletype to make words from the holes in the paper tape, every Borland product, playing with ANSI.sys escape sequences to make color DOS prompts, math coprocessors, assembly language, marvelling at the flashing lights on the CPU forever out of reach on the other side of the card-deck submission station, the awesome 386, making clever batch files to do "impossible" stuff, plastering overstruck-character graphics on strips of 132-wide pin-fed printer output on my dorm-room wall to make a huge black-and white billboard-size photograph, loading drivers into himem, languages that were just straight programming without all this ugly OOP crap...

I remember marveling at the "paint" program in Windows v1.0 when it repeatedly plotted a circle in real time as I dragged the mouse. I thought, "can you IMAGINE how many sine and cosine functions it evaluates to do that?"

I remember people actually laughing when I joked that the line printers might get the tape drives and the card punch to join the "symbiont liberation army." Worker programs unite!

Now there's no more line printers, tape drives, card punches, symbionts, or communism.

When I installed DesqView and swapped entire sessions (including the character-based screens) back and forth from EMS, I thought my PC was like a magic wonderland.  And I remember being SOO excited when I found out I could connect mom's Compaq CGA output, not just to her amber monitor, but to an RF modulator and play Lunar Lander in COLOR!

Now they're all dead. I used to be proud to say I was a "hacker".  Now it means "Russian mafia criminal."

Oh well.

Even though all this new technology is orders of magnitude cooler (I guess), none of it is exciting here in The Future.  Even if you limit it to just keyboards, it's, like, okay, this week's miracle is a keyboard you can roll up and put in a paper-towel tube.  But who wants to?

Last week's miracle was a tiny box that laser-projects an image of a keyboard and you can type with it because it watches your fingers tap the surface of your desk. But why do that when real keyboard keys are so much softer?

I thought it was the coolest thing when Asimov had a character in Second Foundation type by dictating to his typewriter. Now it's just another feature of the O/S.  Next week's keyboard miracle will be...

Who really cares? Getting excited about stuff now is like the Jetsons getting excited about their huge flat-screen color TV or the "hard A.I." in their robot maid.

The last time I felt the way I used to about technology was years ago. I read that 14 percent of 13 year-old girls sent completely-naked pictures of themselves to boys in their class, to let them know they liked them(!)  I was completely floored. My soul melted. That was the sexiest thing I ever heard of in my life, and there wasn't anything I would't do to be a 13 year-old girl again.

But you CAN'T go back to when things were exciting.  Not ever.

Yeah, a lot was gained, but a lot more was lost: the newness and magic and wonderfulness of it all.

—faye kane, homeless brain

 
jjvors
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jjvors,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2013 | 4:42:23 PM
My former titles
I was hired as a Computer Programmer with Control Data in 1978.  I programmed a variant of PL/1 as well as assembly and helped write a relational database program.  Then I used a 4GL (how many remember that?).  Then I worked for Caterpillar designing relational database tables using an ER system (Entity Relationship).   I learned SGML (Standard Graphical Markup Language) to write my documentation.  That proved helpful when I started developing web pages.

Along the way, I also learned UG II (version 6), Windows 1.0 (!!!), Pro/ENGINEER, and a couple PDM systems.

Times change, but programming languages are still based upon if then, declaration statements, and loops.

 

 
kjenkins601
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kjenkins601,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2013 | 11:29:17 AM
Old job titles
I must be older than dirt.  I actually wrote a progam in binary code on a CDC machine. Also,  occasionally wired an IBM card sorter. Then Fortran, Cobol, and RPG.  The technology was much simpler then. It is like comparing a Ford Model A to today's cars.  Both can get you from point A to point B but that is about the only similarity. 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2013 | 4:33:24 AM
What IT job titles will be missed in the future?
Kevin, 

What today's IT jobs do you see being part of a similar list in 20 years' time? 

-Susan
Shepy
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Shepy,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2013 | 7:08:36 AM
Re: One more...
I think that would just come under general comms manager, though IT does like to make up strange titles sometimes, so perhaps!
rhammond222
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rhammond222,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/27/2013 | 3:29:00 PM
Real History -
Let's look at real history -- keypunch operators or flexowriter operator.  Anyone who seen one of these in their career has been in our business a very long time.
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