How Automation is Changing Entry-Level Career Paths in IT

How Automation is Changing Entry-Level Career Paths in IT

There is no doubt that AI and automation will transform the delivery of IT work. Today, organizations typically tackle complex problems by deploying human capital — IT workers. But soon IT work will largely be delivered through a combination of people, AI, and automation.

The changes will impact the traditional entry-level career path of many IT workers, who were likely to spend their first few years performing grunt work. IT automation is spurring CIOs to rethink the traditional IT career path, beginning with the entry-level IT jobs — some of which will be replaced by automation.

Historically, the concept of an entry-level job was around a menial, repetitive task, and the philosophy was that entry-level folks would take that work off the experienced person’s plate, and they would learn the company by doing that.

“With Millennials and Gen-Z, the expectations around an entry-level job are very different,” says Vijay Kurkal, CEO at Resolve Systems. “One of the top indicators to attract talent is around meaning, purpose, and how it impacts the bigger picture.”

He says it’s hard to structure work that is fundamentally menial and throw it at these generations. That puts a burden on CIOs who now must approach their hiring strategies in a more thoughtful manner.

“The onus is on the companies to create meaningful work, and this is where automation comes in,” Kurkal says. “As automation is introduced into systems and processes, the entry-level jobs aren’t centered around menial tasks, but around tasks that need to be automated, which become more challenging and interesting.”

Given there are now so many remote workforces, a lot of service desk requests are password resets, or performance degradations — a lot of those diagnoses and fixes are very manual and repetitive, and the more often IT workers do this, the quicker they enter burn-out phase.

“However, if you frame that into a role where the person can learn how to design and automate a process for these tickets, this is where automation can really enrich everyone’s satisfaction in their job,” Kurkal says.

Because nobody can do a process re-design without understanding the business, this leads those workers to realizing the impact and the value of their positions.

Kurkal points out one big drawback of automation is that CIOs don’t know where to get started with fitting automation into their workforce pipeline.

“They need to see the possibilities and think through what to automate, and how that affects the company’s headcount strategy,” he says. “That’s the type of dialogue a CIO needs to initiate from the top down.”

Automation as an Aid to Upskilling

Antonio Vazquez, CIO at Bizagi, a specialist in intelligent process automation, says the democratization of automation capabilities through low-code platforms is a great example of how businesses can move IT workers farther along.

“Any IT worker should have enough technical background to facilitate access to these types of platforms,” he says. “Upskilling goes together with hands-on automation, starting from simpler isolated processes and moving along to more complex integrated processes.”

Use of low-code platforms will require new architecting and developer capabilities, starting from entry-level IT professionals. Add to that artificial intelligence (AI) technology, already present in many areas of IT.

Vazquez notes that areas with a large volume of data, like log and event management, have been deploying AI capabilities for a while.

“This means that we don’t need to hire an army of junior operators to monitor those large amounts of data but to bring in capabilities to understand the process and the logic behind the algorithms in order to optimize the decision process,” he says. “This translates into a strong shift in skills.”

Kurkal also points out the more IT resources you have in build (versus management), the more applications you can build in the business.

“However, a lot of existing IT hiring strategies are all around management — throw some bodies where they react to a bunch of requests, and from that those entry level IT workers will learn what we do,” he says.

In the wake of digitalization spurred by the pandemic, businesses keep building more and more applications, resulting in a wave of bugs, errors, outages, incidents.

“This puts a lot of pressure on management, and they throw bodies at it instead of automating,” Kurkal says. “But everyone wants to work in the build part of the business, and there’s already a huge shortage of IT talent globally. And you’re competing with the Google’s and Facebooks of the world. How do you create that level of excitement for an entry-level person to come in and join?”

The CIO needs to have a blueprint for where the talent comes in, what work they do, and how to make that work more meaningful and competitive with the other offers these people could receive.

Automation as Augmentation, Not Replacement

“It is important to realize that AI and automation won’t be replacing IT workers,” says venture advisor and investor Frank Fanzilli. “These technologies simply enable an IT worker to effectively manage ever more complex and rapidly changing systems.”

Fanzilli says with automation on the way to becoming an entirely new discipline within IT — one that will radically change how IT work is delivered — it makes it a great opportunity for entry-level IT workers to exploit the skill gap and become the next generation of IT leaders.

He says entry-level engineers should make sure they understand transformative automation technologies such as robotic process automation and digital platform conductors and then build a career path that leverages these technologies to drive ever greater business value.

“You’re already seeing this happen with the rapid adoption of platforms such as UIPath and ReadyWorks and the effect these human/automation interfaces are having in driving down costs and improving overall quality,” Fanzilli notes.

This means CIOs should expect to see their staff leverage these types of systems to deliver far more value than an entry-level worker from just a few years ago, as these systems become increasingly essential in completing complex IT projects.

“CIOs should embrace new technologies such as digital platform conductors and then incentivize their entry-level IT workers to become pioneers in these new and very promising spaces,” Fanzilli says.

As Vazquez also mentioned, technologies like AI are a boon for enterprise IT teams as they struggle to deliver projects at high quality, given the ever-increasing complexity of environments and the need to reduce costs and improve delivery over time.

“AI will help to unlock more doors and inspire greater levels of innovation,” Fanzilli says. “CIOs should be encouraging employees, and especially talented entry-level employees, to acquire a modern set of skills which are grounded in a firm understanding of the practical application of both AI and automation.”

Vazquez says it is important for CIOs to understand that career growth within entry-level IT positions must be aligned with company-wide automation programs to allow the building of strong architecture, coding, orchestration.

From Kurkal’s perspective, CIOs need to realize they’re not going to be able to hire enough people to replace the generation that’s retiring. That means they need to be hiring people in the automation teams to deal with that reality.

“This is where the CIO needs to say, this is going to pay out in the long run — they need to mandate putting automation in place,” he says. “We’re saying, ‘How do you make adoption of automation really easy, where even an entry level person can do it with two weeks of training?’ It’s about re-shaping what entry level jobs are about.”

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