What's it Take to Be an IT Manager Today?

The evolution of the IT manager job.

“I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations.” If you’ve seen the original Star Wars films, you’re familiar with this quote, and if you work as an IT manager, you might feel like it accurately describes your job.

No, nobody in this scenario is a droid, but IT managers do serve as a vital bridge between the professionals and hardware that keep a company’s technology in working order and the employees that rely on that technology to conduct business.

As new workplace technology continues to develop, the IT manager’s role has evolved to keep up with the changing needs of both sides. Let’s take a look at where the role of the information technology manager started and where it’s heading in the future.

IT managers then: roots in data processing

The title of IT manager (sometimes synonymous with CIO, depending on the company), has its roots in the late 1980s and 1990s. The job evolved from the electronic data processing manager and data processing manager roles in the early days of computing, beginning with the mainframe era in the 1960s. End users and the impact of computer downtime on a business’s bottom line weren’t even blips on the radar. 

In the 1970s and early 1980s, IT departments were separate entities within companies and were responsible for controlling massive mainframe computers that served the entire business. The isolated nature of the IT department meant that information technology professionals rarely had contact with other employees within the company. By the late 1980s, distributed computing environments began to appear, leading to smaller IT departments organized by business division or geography.

In the early 1990s, some of the first IT managers, then more likely called MIS managers, were tasked with ensuring that key management members had the necessary information systems at their disposal. When mainframe computing began to disappear in the mid-1990s and gave way to enterprise resource planning (ERP), the role of the IT manager expanded to provide solutions to entire departments and organizations, rather than a single manager.

IT managers now: better integration

Today, the IT manager’s core duties include overseeing in-house networks, managing technology upgrades, choosing appropriate hardware/software and maintaining a company’s servers and computers. IT managers may also be responsible for structuring and testing an organization’s network, as well as training employees on how to use network components and coaching their own teams.

Many of the functions that were important in the early days are still important today. However, IT managers must now stay up-to-date on the latest developments in technology, which, as virtually everyone knows today, changes at breakneck speed. Planning migrations to the cloud and protecting confidential information from security threats have become common tasks.

Additionally, as computing becomes more and more vital to business, information technology managers are becoming increasingly integrated with the day-to-day operations of other departments within a company. While in the past the IT department was seen as a siloed, foreign entity, the expansion of IT within the modern company and the shift of technology to the cloud have done much to reverse this trend. The IT manager is now an integral player in business strategy, ensuring that technology helps spur business growth. 

IT managers must possess the technical skills to diagnose risks and gains associated with changes in a company’s technology, but they must also learn to effectively communicate these to others in the company, including marketing, business development and executive teams. Doing so bridges the gap between the IT department and other teams within the company and also helps ensure that technology upgrades do not jeopardize business transactions or the customer experience.

According to the Salary Guide from Robert Half Technology, starting salaries for an IT manager in the U.S. are expected to increase in the coming year. Employers expect IT managers to possess the following:

  • Bachelor's degree in an IT-related field
  • Five years of experience with the firm's business systems, hardware and networking services
  • Appropriate technical background
  • Business acumen and staff management skills
  • Interpersonal and communication skills

Today’s IT managers have finally earned a seat at the big table and can impact the profits of entire companies. They’ve come a long way from simply checking on computer hardware and supporting key managers.