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My thinking is that a company who's primary business is making widgets groups developers with networking, support, etc because none of it is the business, it's support of the business.

If your primary business IS selling software, then I would call the development group "Research and Development" or something similar. Maybe if you had some developers who worked strictly on internal apps then they would be in with IT/Support/Comms, etc.

What is the norm for companies like Microsoft, Google, etc? Is there some dictionary for this type of thing in CIO magazine or something? What does your company do?

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Internal apps - we get lumped into IT. Good observation of why it makes sense. – P.Brian.Mackey Apr 5 '11 at 21:06
Or you could call a group of Engineers. Engineering. Engineering and IT are definitely distinct groups with different goals. – Loki Astari Apr 5 '11 at 21:32
@Martin: that's a really good point. I don't know why we don't use the Engineer term more. – Brook Apr 5 '11 at 21:45
A couple of jobs ago, we had the System Engineering Department who produced the sellable product, and the Technical Support Group who provided general IT support to the company and also engineering support to the SED guys. I'd say developers in a development company are most definitely not IT. – HorusKol Apr 5 '11 at 23:14
Lots of good answers here but I'm going to mark the top rated one as accepted. – Brook Apr 7 '11 at 1:27
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Microsoft has product groups that develop the software they sell, a consulting team to help customers develop bespoke software, a support organisation to help customer use it's products, an internal IT group to manage resources such as internal websites and email, other teams that manage external web sites such as MSDN, a group that looks afte Bing and many other departments like any other big business.

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+1: I can confirm this. MSIT even has a call center for employees to call. And they're pretty quick/effective. – Steve Evers Apr 5 '11 at 22:04

I actually find this quite irritating....

It's the same mindset that makes people assume that anyone who "works with computers" can automatically fix any computer problem. eg. "You're good with computers right? Can you fix uncle Gus's friend's of a friend's printer?" Urgh.

I guess the reason why "IT" is talked about as one big monolithic field is that it's still relatively young. As little as 20 years ago, computers were still a fairly esoteric thing. Being "in IT" was a fairly niche field. As it expanded and became more specialized, the outsiders' view of it didn't keep up - so now, most people outside the field assume that "being in IT" is all one and the same no matter what you do in it. When in reality, "being in IT" is about as vague as saying "being in health care" - anything from an orderly, to medical receptionists, to doctors, nurses and dentists.

All the companies I've worked with were quite tech-savvy, and the product was either software or high-end technological hardware. So when we say "IT", it just means the internal support crew and network administrators. The whole idea of conflating "IT" to mean the software engineers would be just as culturally absurd as calling hospital support staff "doctors".

I would assume it's the same in most software companies (or other tech savvy companies). "IT" would mean the internal IT support people, and anyone who actually writes the software would never be labelled "IT", but rather correctly referred to as engineer, developer, programmer, or whatever.

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The field wasn't called IT twenty years ago (twenty years ago, one either worked in information systems or data processing if one worked for an in-house shop). The term arose when computers and communications converged. Managers needed an umbrella term under which to classify all of the technical specialists who managed computational and data communication resources. Software development is not IT. IT is a discipline that is focused on managing existing IP. Software development is a discipline that is focused on creating new IP in response to a need. – bit-twiddler Apr 5 '11 at 23:54

What is the norm for companies like Microsoft, Google, etc?

Be careful of how you look at these companies. Microsoft makes a lot of money selling software directly while Google makes most of its money through advertising, IIRC. Thus, Microsoft may be seen more as a product company and Google as a service company in some ways.

Is there some dictionary for this type of thing in CIO magazine or something?

Not that I know, but you could look into ITIL for IT-specific processes and roles.

What does your company do?

I work in the IS department as part of the development group that handles internal applications,e.g. ERP, CRM, and CMS to name a few. There is another department of product developers that handle making the software the company sells or packages in with other services or hardware that are offered to customers. I'm part of IT and I'm fine with that distinction. Granted I may have to educate some people about the difference at times.

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Good point about google vs microsoft. – Brook Apr 6 '11 at 11:47

Software engineers who are engaged in product development for software vendors work in engineering, not IT.

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We're primarily a software company. Developers like myself who work on products all get lumped under "Engineering"; everyone who works on infrastructure gets lumped under IT.

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Is there some dictionary for this type of thing in CIO magazine or something?


What does your company do?

One division makes software. Those developers are separate from our in-house IT.

Not only are the developers separate from IT, but we have no privileges, not even sudo on the server farm.

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We're a medium-sized company with a very strong software focus. We've got not one, but three IT groups. Besides those, we also have DevSup - Developer Support. But the bulk of developers is actually in specific product or technology groups.

The logic is of course that such divisions exist to help structure the business. Putting everyone in IT doesn't help management one iota. If we were a furniture business, there wouldn't be a point in having a colossal furniture department.

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In my company, (only around 200 staff members) IT, as it relates to the company and $$, is a cost center in a support role that keeps the infrastructure running and makes important decisions to create the environment needed for other areas of the organization to either support or produce. IT can find ways to save money and affect the bottom line by altering the environment or creating processes and software that improve business. Consultants, Engineers and Software Developers, on the client billable side, put profit on the board by producing product for the company. The two types of roles feed each other, one supporting the people with the environment to make product, the other taking profits and re-investing in the environment.

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Are you a consultancy? Even in a software shop, unless engineers' and developers' hours are actually billable, they'd be considered a cost center too. – NickC Apr 5 '11 at 22:27
We provide professional services, where the consultants, engineers and developers are billable. Our innovators, whose existence is based on making intellectual property to be sold as a packaged product, are treated as an independent profit center to maintain balance. – user22226 Apr 5 '11 at 23:49

I think it depends on the company size and culture. I think an answer based on what Microsoft or Google is only half the picture. These guys are huge and their internal systems are probably complex and segregated nicely.

But, if you are the "technical" guy at your company (or a group of you are), I wouldn't say it unreasonable to find some "IT" work on your plate. I think the bigger the company, the more flexibility is drawing the line between "developers/engineers" and "technical support".

It depends, I would say. :-)

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