evolutionIn a previous post, I discussed the possibility – some would say the inevitability – that in the not-so-distant future, IT pros may be subject to government licensing like physicians, lawyers and engineers. Whether or not that happens, the profession is changing and those who can’t or won’t adapt to the new paradigm are likely to find themselves on the sidelines. Let’s take a brief look at what you can do to prepare for a more cloud-centric world and the technologies that are just around the corner.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, I was teaching MCSE certification classes at one of our county community colleges. IT jobs were plentiful, and I had students who came in with no prior education in computer science and little or no exposure to server-client computing, graduated and passed the Microsoft® exams and were hired at $60,000+ salaries. That’s not the world we live in today.

Although the IT job market has held up well compared to many other occupations during the long economic downturn and slow recovery, you can no longer expect a few months of training and a piece of paper to open the doors they once did. In the 90s, employers caught on to the phenomenon of the “paper MCSE” – those who got their certs by memorizing “brain dumps” (actual test questions and the answers) posted on the Internet by prior test-takers.

Although Microsoft and other vendors who run certification programs tried to get ahead of the gamers by making the question formats more complex, the allure of job candidates sporting a slew of letters after their names had worn off. In some circles, having “too many” certifications even became a negative, a sign that you spent all your time focusing on taking tests rather than working with networks in the real world.

Certifications can still be valuable, especially the “high end” certs such as the CISSP for security pros, CCIE® or Cisco® network engineers, PMP for project managers, and (soon to be retired) MCA for Microsoft network architects. However, the prestigious certifications have something in common: they require work experience (and in some cases, hands-on demonstration of skills) in addition to the ability to provide correct answers on an exam.  With or without certs, today’s employers are looking for IT pros who have the requisite experience to hit the ground running.

However, many IT professionals who do have long years of experience are facing a dilemma. The skills they’ve been fine-tuning over all that time are not necessarily applicable to emerging technologies. Contrary to the cries of some alarmists, the cloud isn’t (and likely won’t) mean the end of on-premises IT. However, it could – and already has, to an extent – change the nature of those corporate IT jobs. In some ways, it can make the job easier; cloud services can take some of the load off of traditionally understaffed and overworked IT departments. But as with any big change, there will be growing pains and a learning curve.

We’ve been through sea changes before, of course. The transition from mainframe computing to PC networking was one (although many/most of today’s IT pros aren’t old enough to remember it). Virtualization changed the physical structure of the network, created exciting new possibilities – and required learning a whole new set of skills.

Now the virtualized datacenter is morphing into the private cloud, and it’s more than just a name change. A private cloud incorporates the same technologies used by public cloud providers – automation, charge-back metering, and identity-based security – but stays inside the local corporate network. That means learning how to implement those technologies, and becoming familiar with entire new computing platforms, such as Windows Azure™.

The trend is toward hybrid IT or the “hybrid cloud,” in which some IT services stay in-house and others move to the public cloud. That means IT professionals are increasingly going to need to know how to integrate the two within their organizations. Private cloud solutions are offered by Microsoft, IBM®, EMC® and many other vendors. Selecting the right one for your purposes, and then learning to work with it, will be the challenge faced by many IT pros in the near future.

Even if your company somehow resists the tug of the cloud and sticks with the more traditional datacenter model, things are changing there, too. Many IT pros were drawn to Windows®, rather than UNIX®, because of its graphical interface. However, with the rise of Server Core installation and PowerShell, Windows Server® seems to be moving inexorably back in the direction of the command line. This has many advantages – a server running a more minimalist operating system can be made more secure, and performing admin tasks at the command line is often faster than clicking through dialog boxes (if you know the commands). But for those who have spent their IT lives being dependent on a mouse, it’s going to take some getting used to.

Of course, it’s not just on the server side where new skills and attitudes are needed to survive in IT today.  The proliferation of mobile devices means you’ll be supporting fewer desktop machines and more laptops, tablets, phones and “phablets.” BYOD means you’ll no longer have as much control over those devices since they’re bought and paid for by the users. And as automation, the cloud, and better software and hardware make some of the more mundane tasks IT pros once performed less necessary, people skills and management abilities are likely to become more important.

Evolution is usually thought of as a very slow and gradual process, but in the IT world, everything moves at the speed of light. IT pros who thrive on change will adapt and not only survive, but embrace the new ways of doing things and turn the changes to their advantage. Be one of them!

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