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The future enterprise technology career path will meander in and out of the IT department, according to research presented a Forrester teleconference on Aug. 22.

"Enterprise IT is going through a metamorphosis. The career path is not as straightforward as it once might have been. You used to start as a programmer or operator and move up the ladder, and this is no longer the case," said Laurie Orlov, vice president Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Mass.

The previous enterprise IT path followed one of four routes. In the sourcing path, an IT professional moved from vendor administration and relations to sourcing contracts and ecosystem management. In the management path, the worker moved from project management to portfolio or IT line-of-business management. The innovation path took an IT pro from a business analyst position through process management and ownership to internal consulting. In the final, and often considered the most exciting path, the IT worker moved from entry-level tech up the ladder through integration to architect.

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While all four paths will still lead to the CIO or chief technology officer desk, the new IT professional will weave in and out of different paths on the way up the ladder. In the future, Forrester said, IT will be considered not so much a finish line but a gateway to other roles in the company.

"We believe that there is a future in enterprise IT, but it may not be in IT. They might go from working on outsourced relationships to [becoming] a business analyst, for example. The new IT career path is not so much ‘up-up-up’ as veering off to one side or another to broaden [the] experience base," said Samuel Bright, a Forrester researcher.

Forrester found that one of the most significant changes to the IT job path is in focus. Whereas previously, IT pros were expected to focus internally, they are expected now to feel comfortable pinpointing the external.

Researchers also found that while the old IT job involved writing applications, managing systems and localized peers, the new one involves integrating applications and managing business and vendor relationships, and has globally dispersed virtual teams. Most pertinently, the new IT professional works in a business, not IT, context.

Soft skills such as written, analytical and process skills, as well as business skills, were once again highlighted as becoming increasingly mandatory for IT pros.

"Many execs feel that you can train on the technical skills, but they have to have these soft skills coming in the door. They can’t be taught," Bright said.

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Bright put the onus of revitalizing the enterprise IT career path on CIOs. Executives were lambasted for what was called the "Put your money where your mouth is gap," in which execs endorse IT careers for young people but don’t, for the most part, hire them. Seventy-seven percent of IT executives interviewed for the report said that they felt IT is an energized and viable field for young people, while 41 percent said they hired entry-level workers.

"A lot of companies have IT internship programs but then don’t have entry-level jobs to hire these workers into. They’re just supplying their competitors with well-trained candidates," Bright said.

Forrester encouraged CIOs to reach out to potential recruits by integrating skill development into IT strategic planning, fostering strategic relationships with local colleges and universities, and marketing the IT career path at every opportunity.

"Spread the word. Help break the stereotypes about IT. Tell students they’re not going to be stuck in a back room programming," Bright said.

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