Sat, 27 Sep 2003

Who says IT does not matter anymore?

Zatni Arbi, Contributor, Jakarta

During the recent OracleWorld event in San Francisco, one person in the audience asked Larry Ellison, Oracle Chairman and CEO, this question: "Now that so many of the application development tasks have been automated, are we database and application developers supposed to get worried about our jobs?"

It was a legitimate question, of course, especially as changes in the IT world are so fast and so far-reaching that even IT professionals sometimes find it hard to keep up.

Responding to the question, Larry aptly reminded the concerned database developer that upgrading skills and finding new specialization was the only way to survive.

"It is inevitable that a lot of our jobs get automated over time, and we just have to move on and acquire new skills and knowledge." What does this mean? It means that the IT revolution has obviously not reached the end of its life-cycle. In fact, it still has a long way to go.

And, if acquiring new knowledge and skills are the order of the day, what do software developers and other IT professionals have to learn today to ensure that they will always be able to earn a living? Obviously, skills in computer security will provide a vast job market for a long time into the future. It is not difficult to understand why, as we all know that one of the major trends today is the digital threats that just escalate every day: Viruses, worms, ID theft, Denial of Services attacks, you name it.

The IT world will continue to have to deal with these real threats, and certainly the world will require specific skills and knowledge to protect mission-critical IT systems as well as personal computers from them. It is no difference from a war against disease (can you say SARS?). So, if you are looking for a skills set that will guarantee a long term employment, just learn what the people in the computer security companies such as McAfee, Network Associates, Symantec, Trend Micro, Aladdin Knowledge Systems Check Point Software Technologies, TrueSecure, Internet Security Services (ISS), Computer Associates and so many others do.

And what are the other trends in IT today? Obviously, wireless technologies-3G, Wi-Fi and others are some of them. In my recent trip to San Francisco, I asked for a room with Internet access, and I was lucky to get one on my second day at my hotel. The good news was that the Grand Hyatt San Francisco charged me only US$5.95 (around Rp 48,000) per day.

By the way, before I left I had specifically made sure I had a new notebook computer with both 802.11b and Ethernet connections built-in. When in the room, I hooked up to the Internet using the Ethernet connection. Inside the Moscone Center, I just used the wireless access provided by Oracle. During the entire trip, I was able to remain fairly productive although I was away from my home PC. I could still access all the materials I needed to finish the jobs I had not managed to finish before I left. Besides, I saved a lot of money, too, as I was able to communicate with the folks back home via e-mail instead of making an international phone call. You know how exorbitant hotel surcharges can be if you make that kind of telephone call from your room.

Staying connected regardless of where we are has already become a must, especially with the help of the growing number of wireless hot spots. As the $5.95 daily Internet access charge demonstrated, the cost of staying connected is getting more and more affordable, and the wireless technologies are still beginning to make it happen.

What about the device that we use to stay connected? New feature-rich PDA models are emerging as fast as the news of violence on our TV broadcasts today. However, the PDA and the cellphones are not the only means to stay connected. Thanks to their falling prices, notebook PCs are fast replacing desktops. Some years ago I wrote that I did not expect this to happen. I would think then that a notebook would only serve as a secondary machine for every professional. It turned out that the notebooks now have the same capabilities as their desktop brothers.

Acer, for example, announced that a substantial increase in its sales of notebook PCs in the last quarter. Other vendors also report an encouraging growth in the notebook PC sales.

The addition of 802.11x capability in the latest generation of notebooks has obviously played an important role in driving the sales figures up. Although none of us would predict that the notebooks would one day completely replace the desktops, in many companies, the notebooks are the only computers that the firm provides for its employees.

The cellphones and the digital camera battle is also heating up. While most of the cellphone handsets sold in Japan are already equipped with a CMOS digital cameras, reports have it that more capable digital cameras are now embedded in high-end cellphones. One example is the MovaSO505 from Sony-Ericsson. This phone, which looks more like a digital camera than a cellphone, is offered by NTT DoCoMo and has been popular among the Japanese.

By 2005, it is expected that we will see cellphones with digital cameras capable of capturing five megapixel pictures. It makes sense, because otherwise we would have to wear pants with oversized pockets to carry all our gadgets around.

Still in the area of cellphone handsets, the latest trend is to use fuel cell batteries. Fuel cells are even used in notebook computers. NEC announced on Sept. 17 that it already built a prototype of a notebook powered by a fuel cell. Currently, the notebook can run for five hours per charge. Commercial products are expected to hit the market next year. In two years, says the company, we can have a notebook that can run for 40 hours on the fuel cell batteries. All we have to do to recharge it is to inject more methanol fuel.

These are just a very small scoop of what is going on in the IT industry. Now, with so much R&D activity going on in this industry, it is difficult to understand why one would ever conclude that IT does not matter anymore.