Elevating oneself into technology leadership roles has taken on a whole new dimension in the post-Covid, digitally drenched 2020s era. Almost nine in 10 technologists in a recent survey agree the very essence of their roles has changed over the past few years. But the journey has been exhausting, they admit. 

That’s the word from Cisco AppDynamics, which interviewed 1,150 IT professionals from across the globe. Interestingly, 88% state that the last four years have changed what it means to be a technologist, and altered what is required to deliver digital experiences in a world of hybrid work. 

The survey’s authors call this emerging leadership role “agents of transformation.” The first time the authors coined this term, in 2018, only 9% met the standard. This only rose to 10% in the current survey. These tech leaders, they note, “possess the skills, vision, and ambition to deliver positive and sustainable transformation within their organizations and beyond. They operate within businesses that provided a supportive and collaborative environment, with access to the tools and insights they needed to fulfill their potential.”

Tellingly, 66% of respondents feel that it is more difficult to become an agent of transformation than four years ago. The barriers to achieving this may sound familiar to anyone advancing through the IT ranks over the past couple of decades, but may have been amplified by increased pressure and disruption. These barriers include lack of time or too much time spent firefighting; lack of motivation or feelings of exhaustion; outdated skills and difficulty; keeping up with the latest technologies and approaches; rigid company structure and processes; reactive versus long-term thinking; and difficulty linking technology performance to business outcomes.”  

While the mood within IT departments remains largely positive, many technologists are understandably feeling exhausted and drained after the last two years. At least 87% believe that, as technologists, they now need to “constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant. More than half (56%) admit they feel “disillusioned and burnt out,” and more than three quarters say they still feel “under pressure to deliver innovation more quickly.”

A majority, 65%, state that they also are feeling overwhelmed by complexity and data. “This suggests that technologists still don’t have unified visibility of IT availability and performance across an increasingly complex and fragmented IT environment,” the survey’s authors state. “And this is making it difficult for them to cut through data noise to make informed decisions and prioritize their actions in the right places.”  

And at a personal level, technologists are also experiencing a need to balance day-to-day operational responsibilities with more strategic, innovation-focused work. A majority, 59%, still spend most of their time on operational tasks. There is some hope: a majority (53%) also report that their IT department is now in the process of moving from a reactive mode into a more strategic mode, but 23% state that their IT department is still largely firefighting as a result of the pandemic.

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“In the four tumultuous years since the first study was conducted [2018], technologists have faced seismic and unforeseen challenges,” the study’s authors note. “They’ve operated under the most extreme pressure throughout the global pandemic as the pace of innovation accelerated almost overnight and IT teams battled to enable remote and hybrid work, to move critical operations online and to digitize huge swathes of their organization. On average, digital transformation projects were delivered three times faster than ever before.”

Interestingly, 24% are categorized as “task-driven technologists,” who are “focused on operational running of IT systems, working in organizations with a strong culture of innovation.” The percentage of task-driven technologists has risen from 15% in the 2018 survey. Over the last four years, these individuals “faced immense pressure as a result of increased security threats and acceleration of cloud initiatives; feel that experiences have accelerated technology career; and are more empowered and confident.” They are now focused on “cutting through complexity and data noise to have bigger strategic impact” and “finding mentors and developing skills to overcome fear of failure.”

The top six priorities for all technologists this year include the following:

  1. Application and digital service availability and performance (84%)
  2. Application security
  3. Observability across cloud-native applications and infrastructure
  4. Building a resilient, agile infrastructure
  5. Linking IT performance to business decision-making
  6. Taking a digital-first approach for all services

The past two years with COVID proved to be a trial by fire for the approaches and architectures technologists have been promoting for the past two decades — access to applications and data that enables work from anywhere, support for multiple platforms and operating systems, employing and managing functions and features from remote cloud servers, real-time movement of information across networks of companies, suppliers, and customers. 

It all came together in a spectacular way — most companies were able to sustain operations through lockdowns and closures. As a result, 90% of technologists report a sense of pride in what they’ve achieved over the last four years and optimism about their future as technologists. And 74% believe that their experiences over the last four years have accelerated their careers.