How to Future-Proof a Career in IT

By CIOReview | Tuesday, September 25, 2018
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It's 2018. Do you know where your career is?

This industry changes constantly. For IT pros with a certain mindset, the changes can seem threatening. Those that have spent their lifetime in IT are faced with either moving on or even finding a different career altogether.

Here are some recommendations that can extend the life of the IT pro indefinitely.

Join the  Right Community

One of the biggest and best recommendations EVER is to locate and start participating in an applicable online community. There is absolutely so much to learn from seasoned IT pros through online forums and email lists, but also so much that can be learned just by listening and sharing experiences about the daily technology grind of the IT pro.

But, there's also a Catch-22 here.

There are communities out there that are essentially on life support. They continue supporting technologies that are two to three years behind or, in some cases, are vendor unsupported already. This is not the way to develop IT skills for the future. I spoke with someone recently who is near retirement age and they flat-out told me that "the cloud" would never touch the company's environment until after retirement.

Communities like this tend to congregate together online and at specific conferences. And, the majority of their "learning" now is figuring out ways to band- aid the environment long enough to hit the exit and leave the fractured technology behind.

Locate a community that isn't afraid of taking chances with new technology and has a real zeal for implementing new things. The industry changes so quickly. An IT pro that has knowledge of the next six months to a year is a valuable asset.

Even though there's a lot of complainers, Reddit is a good resource to locate communities by specific technology and it's easy to identify those you don't want to learn from. There's communities like myITforum.com that cover old and new technologies and provide both forums and email discussion lists (Full disclosure: I am the founder of myITforum.com, which is published by Informa, which also publishes ITProToday.com.)

Attend the  Right Conference

As noted in the previous recommendation, there are conferences that don't necessarily attract the right attendees. These are easy to spot.

However, what's not easy to spot is when conferences (usually vendor-owned) profess to deliver deep technical knowledge, but really are just towing the company and product line and regurgitating information from the product documentation and company blogs. Granted, there's still things to learn at these conferences, but spending upwards of $4000 to learn something that can be read online seems a bit excessive.

Locate a conference that delivers technical know-how to solve today's problems but also provides insight about technology trends that will affect your job in the next six months to a year. Additionally, ensure that the conference isn't solely focused on one platform. There's nothing more career limiting than only knowing how a single product functions (see the next recommendation). And, make sure the conference is developed to allow opportunities to network and build community relationships.

One of the best conferences for this is IT/Dev Connections . In fact, the conference strategy for content and community is built around this exact idea.

IT/Dev Connections 2018 runs October 15-18 in Dallas. (Another full disclosure: I am the content director for IT/Dev Connections, an event that is produced by Informa, which also publishes ITProToday.com.)

Know How More Platforms Operate

Don't be a one-trick pony.

Some IT pros during their career have had the opportunity to specialize on a specific product or specific service. At the time, it seemed like a great idea and there appeared to be job security in doing so. However, we've seen that ability diminish greatly in the last several years. The cloud is one of the key factors for this change.

"Microsoft shops" that have run servers and applications on-premises are now being tasked to move operations to the cloud for continuity, cost, user experience, and simplification. In doing so, a lot of these companies are realizing there's big benefit in using multiple cloud platforms. A lot are choosing AWS and some (mostly educational institutions) are choosing Google. Microsoft is making headway in this area with Azure, but AWS still leads the pack.

IT pros today need to be able to work within any environment. For example, if you are a database engineer now, know how SQL Server works in both an Azure and an AWS environment.

And, this recommendation also plays into choosing the right community and the right conference. If IT pros allow themselves to be boxed in by specific products and specific platforms, the future is questionable. The opportunities to specialize are getting rarer by the day.

Go DevOps

Good IT pros work hard to automate a lot of their work. This has historically been done through PowerShell scripts and other automation tools. This allows each IT pro to do more, manage more with less, and provide the best operations and support experience to the business.

IT pros rarely realize the connections between automation and development, but it’s an extremely strong thread. So, an obvious next step for many IT pros is learning to transfer their scripting knowledge to actual coding that can develop modern solutions for the business. Combining great operations skills with development acuity makes for a highly valuable employee.

And, this last recommendation also plays deeply into the others. By joining the right community, attending the right conference, and extending knowledge across platforms, making the jump to DevOps is a minor task.