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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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RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2013 | 10:05:19 AM
Digital Titles
Chief digital officer? Oh, wait: That's a new one that probably won't be around in two years. 
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2013 | 10:42:13 AM
Re: Digital Titles
I met a college student studying IT earlier this year who told me her major was MIS. To hear that term come out of the mouth of someone under 30 was shocking to me. Is that college in a time warp, or does this term live in academia?

I remember all the titles of the early 90's -- and the way our parents translated them at family gatherings: "He's in computers."

 

 
Paul_Travis
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Paul_Travis,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2013 | 11:36:25 AM
DataComm?
I remember interviewing folks in the 1980s who had the cool new title of data communications specialist. That was so we wouldn't confuse them with the folks who ran the company phone system.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 12:02:04 PM
Re: Digital Titles
Even though the titles and technology has changed, I don't think that IT's role has shifted too dramatically. Install, manage and configure. Rinse and repeat. But it is fun to look at the past sometimes isn't it? Technology has progressed at a fantastic rate, and seemingly everything has changed except for Microsoft's dominance. 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 1:28:42 PM
Re: Digital Titles
It hasn't gotten much better with titles, maybe worse. I'm now officially an Application Lead. Does that even give you a clue I work in computers, much less make my living as a developer and ERP specialist?

I still just tell people I work in "computers", it easy and they get picture.

 

Sad seeing RPG on list. It certainly isn't the same language it used to be. It has native language functions now that do XML translations. The free format version (Yes, for you kids it used to be a fixed format language, meaning things had to be in certain columns of your text editor to work) looks more like C#, VB or Java than the old RPG. It is still alive and well in shops that run the IBM i5 (formally AS400), which is still the finest business computer in the world.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 2:28:26 PM
FORTRAN
FORTRAN is like the AS/400 - used for many years but still used today. FORTRAN is very prevalent in high performance scientific analysis (think FEA, DEM, etc). Like the AS/400, it's not a field I would suggest anyone go into, but is a blast from the past that is still used today.
ANON1249547663249
IW Pick
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ANON1249547663249,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/25/2013 | 2:43:34 PM
dBase programmer...
Loved the article. Got a really good laugh when I saw the dBase programmer title as that's how I cut my teeth in the field.  (The irony of the whole thing is even as I write, I've volunteered to convert one of those dBase programs that was handed over to another department - by me - over 15 years ago!)  And they're STILL using it to this day!  Wow....
TMagrini850
IW Pick
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TMagrini850,
User Rank: Strategist
11/25/2013 | 3:03:43 PM
One more...
Add Blackberry system admin to the list.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/25/2013 | 5:24:04 PM
Re: Digital Titles
I missed any mention of the ephemeral dot-com era titles like chief experience officer. And oddly chief yahoo hasn't caught on outside of Yahoo.

There's also a case to be made for rebranding chief privacy officer as chief data usage officer, per Facebook's decision to offer a data use policy rather than a privacy policy (lest anyone think privacy is offered).
gfabian200
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gfabian200,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/25/2013 | 6:49:24 PM
DEC VAX
I was a VAX Basic Programmer and System Manager back in the day. What a sweet machine.
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