(Rant Warning: This article is a departure from my normal tone. I’ve dealt with this issue far too many times to word it less strongly. I hope you’ll bear with me.)
You wrote the cover letter. You submitted the resume. They knew who you were, what you could do, and why you were interested in the position before you even walked in the door. Now that you’re sitting down and talking, though, they throw you a curve ball. Can you do X? Um, no… of course you can’t do X. If you could, you would’ve said so by now! Besides, if they wanted someone who could do X, why didn’t they say that in the ad!?
If you’ve ever been on an IT job hunt, you’ve probably run into this problem before. Many potential IT employers have the mistaken notion that you’re just another “computer guy,” and that all computer guys must know X, Y, and Z. It’s just common sense, right?
I like to call this the myth of the computer guy. Far too many employers of IT personnel don’t understand IT themselves. That’s not a problem in and of itself; after all, that’s why they’re hiring. When they take their ignorance of such an expansive array of subjects and lump it under the heading of “computer stuff,” however, they do IT workers a grave disservice.
Let me ask you this. Just because you can translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, does that mean you know how to manage an archaeological dig site? Just because you’re a novelist, does that mean you can write newspaper articles? Of course not. These are related skills, for sure, but they’re nonetheless exclusive to one another. Why, then, when I say I’m a web developer, would you assume that I’m also a server administrator, or a web designer, or a support technician?
I have a confession. I know tons about making websites, but I know next to nothing about computer hardware. I know how to work a computer just fine, but if you ask me to assemble one from scratch, I’m as much in the dark as the next guy. Much like other IT professionals, I’ve developed a specialized skill set to handle a specialized field of information technology.
The reality is there’s too much to know. Decades ago, when information technology was in its infancy, computer guys did exist because much of the knowledge available today hadn’t been developed. They were Renaissance men, polymaths, experts who knew every in and out of a burgeoning field of study.
In the 21st century, though, the all-in-one computer guy is long extinct. Instead of one person who knows everything about computers, you have a dozen who know everything about different aspects of computing. You’ve got database administrators, online marketers, computer engineers, network administrators, graphic designers… The skills necessary to be competent in any one discipline are now so intensive that specialization is a fact of life.
Here, then, is my plea to IT employers. Please, for sanity’s sake, recognize that computer guys don’t exist anymore. They were killed off a long time ago by information overload. In the modern era, there is no longer one person who has every computer skill you need to make your business work. Even if there were, you couldn’t hire them for less than the fortune they would be worth. Instead of expecting every IT professional to live up to this antiquated ideal, take the time to identify the skills you really need and hire as many IT professionals as it takes to get the job done.