Is IT getting too easy?

I was listening to the latest episode of the excellent Exponent podcast, where the topic of PC gaming up. The hosts were discussing the rise of the Steam platform, and ascribed it primarily to convenience.

PC gamers used to build custom rigs, worrying about thermal profiles and harried by IRQ conflicts. They would then get their games - on physical media! in boxes! - and install them, then immediately patch the game, their video drivers, and possibly several other things. Because of all this, gaming was a demanding and niche pastime.


With solutions like Steam and the decline of the custom-built PC in favour of self-contained laptops, the level of convenience rose enormously. Something like Steam could never have risen to be a $1.5B business twenty years ago. However, I do wonder if we are losing some necessary skills to convenience.

When Steam appeared on the scene, everyone knew what it was doing and enjoyed the convenience of not having to do it themselves. Very quickly though, new gamers came on the scene who had not experience the old ways. All they knew was downloading games from Steam and having everything taken care of for them, even including updates and patches as they became available. Even mods, which had always been tricky to install and always came with the exciting potential to blow away your install, became easy with Steam.

Of course the skills required to be a gamer are of limited macroeconomic utility. It could be argued that keeping gamers busy chasing down IRQ conflicts would prevent them from embarrassing themselves in public (ahem Gamergate ahem), but there is a wider point. The same choice of convenience over detail plays out in enterprise IT as well, where sysadmin skills are getting harder to find.

Gamers used to need to know the precise version of the driver of their graphics card. Now, many gamers barely know whether they have one. In the same way, sysadmins used to have deep knowledge of what was behind the door of their server room, while now all they know is the login to the corporate AWS account. Meanwhile, key bits of infrastructure are still running on obsolete operating systems that nobody knows how to operate any more.

So as the consumerisation of IT rolls inexorably on, will IT users at all levels turn into Eloi relying on a handful of BOfH Morlocks to keep everything running?

Or is this like vintage car people claiming carburettors added character to engines that was lost when electronic fuel injection made the whole thing too easy?

Image by MootCreative via morgueFile