The Future of IT Careers – Customer Panel

The Future of IT Careers – Customer Panel

“I’ve been doing hands-on stuff for 18, almost 20 years now and I’m getting kind of tired… I don’t have to be the one flipping the knobs and flipping the switches.” Justin Voytal, Borg Warner.

The “Redefine.Next” theme of EMC World 2015 does not apply only to technology, but also to the IT career path. EMC TV hosted four IT professionals to talk about the evolution of the industry and their careers. During that conversation, we covered their various career paths, how to respond to change, and finding opportunities to learn and grow.

The members of the panel discussed their varied career paths: management, architecture, and solutions lead. Brian Gregory of Express Scripts chose the management path; he leads a team of nearly 100 people. That transition means that he focuses less on doing everything himself and more on building a team that he can trust to make the right decisions and turn them into reality. Meanwhile, Justin chose the architectural path, where the job is to develop the blueprints for the future and trust that the execution team can make it happen. Marc Lamanna from Cancer Treatment Center of America discussed the solutions path, in which he has to translate the business needs into the technical requirements that the team has to build. Regardless of the career path, however, Dustin Lindsey of Express Scripts hit on the one constant– trust. As you become more senior, you have to be able to trust the team around you. It is not always easy to let go of the controls, but you cannot expand your scope and influence without trusting your team.

The group observed that new career opportunities come from riding the wave of change in our industry. The transformation of how businesses utilize, purchase, and deploy information infrastructure means that IT needs to change how it functions. You can lead that change or be overrun by it. The group had different suggestions from how to embrace change. Justin and Brian both observed that IT needs to transition from back room technologists to business partners. They spend time learning about what the business does and connecting with leaders across the organization. Only once they understand the business value do they explore technology solutions. Justin then emphasized that IT leaders need to learn to speak in finance terms. Ultimately, the business speaks in the language of finance, and if IT does not speak that language, they’re unable to effectively communicate. As IT’s role changes, there is an opportunity to become more strategic, but people have to learn and grow to take on those new responsibilities.

The panel concluded with their advice for developing new skills. The first challenge is finding ways to learn new things. In addition to time constraints, how can somebody get exposed to new areas? Dustin had been assigned to lead a team in an area that was totally unfamiliar to him (backup and data protection). His advice was to go the basics: listen and learn from the team. Meanwhile, Justin advocated seeking out opportunities, like large meetings in areas outside IT, to observe and absorb. Regardless of the method, Marc pointed out that if you make it clear you’re trying to learn, people will generally support you. Brian and Justin then emphasized that constant movement toward a specific goal is the only way to make progress. With that approach, Brian finds that he can make a quantum leap in six months. The final tip was to find core strengths to build upon. Most people learn and adapt to change more easily with a constant they can lean on. Thus, whether you anchor on your leadership (Brian), work ethic (Dustin), historical skill set (Marc), or talent (Justin), you will know that you’re bringing value to the team and that you’ll master this role as you have all the others in your career.

The unprecedented level of change in our industry is creating exceptional new career opportunities for IT professionals. As the panel demonstrated, there is a variety of career paths available; you do not have to become a manager! Regardless of the path you choose, though, now is the time to set a direction, embrace change, and push yourself to learn new skills. This is the time to redefine your career. The best times are just beginning. Don’t take my word for it – watch the whole video for yourself!

Stephen Manley @makitadremel

Long Live the Storage Admin

Long Live the Storage Admin

The Storage Admin is dead, long live The Storage Admin!

Now before you send flowers and a note of condolence to your IT department, please be assured this is not a literal declaration. The above snowclone is based on a traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch immediately after the passing of the old. It’s a fitting proclamation since many of the storage admins we meet with talk about how changes in the IT landscape are impacting their roles, and discuss the new skills they are developing in order to keep pace.

The role of a storage administrator was first introduced over 25 years ago. It started when IT organizations began to separate their storage acquisitions from their compute and network infrastructure. The many benefits of separating these decision included the ability to choose best of breed storage with more performance and better TCO. They could also consolidate and share storage across heterogeneous server environments, leading to improved utilization and simplified management. And since many of the apps were mission critical, they were able to implement a common data protection and business continuity strategy by taking advantage of advanced replication and recovery services.

As storage infrastructures became more strategic to the business, IT organizations invested in resources with specialized skills and deep technical expertise, aka the storage admin. As a wise storage admin once told me, the reason why this role in the org was so important was because “you can reboot the server, and you can resend the packet, but you can’t lose the data”. And while new technologies such as virtualization, converged infrastructure, and management orchestration and automation have impacted how IT infrastructure is deployed and managed, the need to effectively store, secure, protect and manage the data still remains.

What’s great about these new technologies and user consumption models is they allow storage admins to spend less time dealing with manual administration, and more time working with the business and app owners. As a result, many storage admins see their value in the organization moving away from “technology assemblers” to “services brokers”.  The new role also creates a key opportunity for the storage admin to lead an IT organization’s transformation into an internal service provider.

As service brokers, the role includes helping the business define their requirements, and align them to the right technology and infrastructure. For example, if you ask an app owner what type of storage they need, they will often ask for “good”. But “good” can mean very different things to different people. It could mean ultra-high performance and availability to one user, and simple and inexpensive to another. Helping define the infrastructure services required to deliver “good” for a particular app is where more and more storage admins are spending their time and efforts.

We recently spoke to a group of storage administrators and infrastructure managers at EMC World to get their first hand experiences and how they are responding to this change in their roles. The panel included many progressive thought leaders involved in their organization’s IT transformation. Their skill sets ranged from the classic storage, backup, and server admins, to IT managers responsible for large organizations with 100’s of team members. It was a great discussion with articulate, passionate IT pro’s who were able to speak from personal experiences on how their roles within IT are changing.

The replay of the panel discussion can be found here.

In this discussion, we learned that their role as an infrastructure administrator is evolving as technologies such as virtualization, converged infrastructure, and hybrid cloud adoption has increased. We also heard that new roles and skills sets are required going forward to enable IT to support the needs of the business and its users. And given how important these new roles to be in the future, we also got practical advice on how IT managers can prepare themselves to be successful, and why it’s important to be open and embrace these changes. A key takeaway from the discussion is that it’s the ability to evolve and change that provides the most opportunity, for not just the storage admin, but for any role within IT. And according to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. IT leaders are recognizing the opportunities provided by the evolution of their roles. And more and more are embracing the change and placing themselves in the middle of their organizations to not only lead their IT organizations today, but for the next 25 years.

Long Live the Storage Admin!

Scott Delandy @scottdelandy