In the not so distant past, if you wanted to impress people at dinner parties you could tell them that you worked in computers. In the years between Harold Wilson's "white heat of technology"speech and Big Bang, smart young people got into IT with the promise of career paths paved with gold, while their less fortunate friends were left to wonder at the stupidity of their decisions to become solicitors, merchant bankers or doctors.
These days things are very different. If you want people to move to another compartment on the train or cut you dead at school reunions all you have to do is mention that you support users or run networks for a living.
As jobs go, the IT profession is roughly on a par with spending all day asking for 20p for a cup of tea.
The reasons for this sea-change in attitudes are fairly complex but what they boil down to is a) everyone is heartily sick of computers, b) they now know what computers can do and that the list of things they can't do is infinitely longer and c) that people who work in computers no longer earn a lot more than they do.
With the mystique and the money stripped away, the knowledge worker has been reduced to an unenviable figure with a fist full of twisted-pair cabling and permanent sweat stains on the underarms of his shirt. He drives a Toyota Corolla and he lives in Swindon. His wife has either left him or is planning to. His kids want to be estate agents.
In short, the IT professional's stock value has plunged and he is more to be pitied than respected. Don't take Mole's word for it, consider the evidence. Exhibit one: the advert that appeared for a computer post on the Guardian's Web site. "Recruitment would be at the loser end of the scale", it read. Some readers may have assumed this was a typographical error. What makes you so sure?
At the other extreme, some employers are now demanding impossible qualifications in the hope that no candidates will come forward and that they will be able to close down their IT departments for good. A job advert in the recruitment pages of Computing on 30 January asked for programmers with "3-15 years of Visual Basic or Access experience".
The loss of pride and self-respect in IT appears to be an industry wide phenomenon. In the past week Mole has received three horror stories about shoddy products and shabby treatment by manufacturers with household names.
It is a sign of the times that such stories are now so commonplace that they are not even worth repeating. At one company, regard for customers has fallen so low that staff are coming within a keystroke of outright abuse. When Mr James Reid of Oxted, Surrey, applied for the Office 97 upgrade, he received an application form from Microsoft with the following covering letter.
"Dear Mr Reid, As per our conversation I enclose your foc upgd off 97 application.
The Microsoft Connection"
Mr Reid is an Australian, so he is used to this sort of language, but as he points out in his note to Mole, this approach does nothing to inspire confidence in the realtime spelling and grammar checking capabilities of the software Microsoft is so anxious for all of us to buy.
Finally, a story from America illustrates just how unhappy the lot of IT consumers has become. When AT&T confused the toll-free number of a company called America In-Line with that of a well-known provider of on-line services, America In-Line, which builds roller-hockey rinks, was inundated with calls from frustrated America Online subscribers. "Some of them are having technical problems," receptionist Donna Salzano told CNN. "They want to know why they can't get on. They've been trying to get on for hours. Some of them want to cancel their subscriptions. Some of them want information about their billing. It's just constant." So delighted were callers to AOL to have someone to talk to, they didn't seem to notice that they were through to the wrong firm. America In-Line's president Peter Riccardo told reporters: "We would answer the phone 'America In-Line'. They missed that. And they'd say 'Thank God we got a person on the phone.' And then I'd explain to them that unfortunately they'd reached America In-Line, and that we build hockey facilities. And then there was this desperation again ..."
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