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11/25/2013
09:36 AM
Kevin Casey
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 He's still a system administrator today, but of course, those older technologies have been replaced by the likes of Hyper-V, Windows Server, SQL Server, and Linux.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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TerryB
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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.  :-)
Charlie Babcock
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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. 
Haggerty Chris
IW Pick
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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.
msims20701
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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.
PaulS681
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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.
PaulS681
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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. 
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.
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).
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.
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....
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