Strategic CIO // Digital Business
News
11/25/2013
09:36 AM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
Slideshows
100%
0%

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.
Previous
1 of 11
Next

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 He's still a system administrator today, but of course, those older technologies have been replaced by the likes of Hyper-V, Windows Server, SQL Server, and Linux.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.

 

Previous
1 of 11
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
RobPreston
50%
50%
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
100%
0%
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."

 

 
TerryB
50%
50%
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.
Haggerty Chris
IW Pick
100%
0%
Haggerty Chris,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 3:09:25 PM
Re: Digital Titles
Actually I can see MIS being very relevant today.  I am not the only one; even MIT still has a MIS program.  You need to keep in mind that MIS is a business college program, not college of computer science/engineering program.  Seems to me there has been an awful lot of press in recent years about the need for IT people to have business skills and for IT people to be embedded in the business units.  I picked up my MS in MIS from the University of Arizona in 1991.  The reason I picked this program was I already had a business degree and did not have to take any undergraduate business classes to prepare.  Plus it allowed me to concentrate all my graduate classes in technical (like C/UNIX), theory (like CASE), and hybrid (like structured programing – come on this is 1989-1990) courses.  I wanted IT training for the business environment and that is what I got.  If I went the computer science route, I would have had to spend a lot more time and money taking math and other engineering undergraduate courses to prep for the graduate classes.  I was not looking for a job designing radar systems like my PHd in Electrical Engineering brother.  Did it pay off, yes, big time.  Current title on the statement of work (govt. contract) is Senior Database Management Specialist.  I work with the customers (users), developers, and the engineering level technical staff and share the same privileges as the other database administrators that manage many of this agency's databases.  I still see a need for people who can Manage Information Systems, especially if they can facilitate communication and cooperation between different entities.
danielcawrey
50%
50%
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. 
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
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).
Paul_Travis
50%
50%
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.
GAProgrammer
50%
50%
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
100%
0%
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
100%
0%
TMagrini850,
User Rank: Strategist
11/25/2013 | 3:03:43 PM
One more...
Add Blackberry system admin to the list.
PaulS681
50%
50%
PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 7:42:13 PM
Re: One more...
Was there a BB System admin title? I supported a BES server but at that time it wasn't worthy of a single title.
Shepy
50%
50%
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!
gfabian200
50%
50%
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.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2013 | 1:44:59 PM
Re: DEC VAX
I agree. Never used one after entering real world but was a huge training computer in college at Wright State. I remember wrinting a compiler for FORTRAN in PASCAL for Comparitive Languages class. And on the VAX's predecessor, the PDP-11, we actually wrote the o/s in Assembler for Real Time Design II class. The final consisted of professor loading and running your o/s, starting some work on computer like reading floppy drive or card deck reader, and then abnormally terminating the machine with a dump of system registers in zeros and ones. You had to read the dump and tell the Prof exactly what the machine was doing at time it terminated while he sat and watched. Had a 65% fail rate, remember a guy who already worked for NCR (National Cash Registers) who was taking for 3rd time. Still don't know if he ever passed...

 

I'm suspecting kids today don't get to have fun like that anymore.  :-)
PaulS681
50%
50%
PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2013 | 7:37:20 PM
Novell
Netware was big at one time. I was a CNA as my company was using Netware and groupwise when I first started there.

We have since gone to Windows but the Netware just ran and ran. Very few issues. 
msims20701
50%
50%
msims20701,
User Rank: Strategist
11/26/2013 | 1:23:22 PM
Add computer operator to the list
In the 80's at Prince George's Community College I used to be a computer operator when the college had an IBM 4341 mainframe. Today over 35 years ago with multiple high-speed 802.11n and now comming 802.11ac wireless networks the title has changed to Network Systems Operator or NSO. I monitor multiple networks in a room called the NOC (Network Operations Center.
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2013 | 4:15:34 PM
Fortran, language from another era
Fortran had lots of math. At one time, I could use it but, like I say, it had lots of math and my own fund seemed to diminish with each passing year. No wonder it's on the endangered list, though applications are still running in it. 
rhammond222
50%
50%
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.
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
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
KevinRCasey
50%
50%
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
Susan Fourtané
50%
50%
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  
kjenkins601
50%
50%
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. 
jjvors
50%
50%
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.

 

 
Faye__Kane
100%
0%
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

 
mzurkammer381
50%
50%
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.
jfsiv
50%
50%
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.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Dec. 9, 2014
Apps will make or break the tablet as a work device, but don't shortchange critical factors related to hardware, security, peripherals, and integration.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 7, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program!
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.