I'm often asked for help by new network engineers, network  administrators, system administrators, VMware admins, and general IT  managers who are looking to enhance their skills, knowledge, and  marketability for the technologies that they're responsible for. It's a  common concern among folks in IT because the technologies change so  quickly and because so many new people are getting into the field.  Today's job market also drives us to find new ways to ensure that if we  do find ourselves looking for employment, we can distinguish ourselves from the  many other people with similar skillsets who might be applying for the  same job.

Over the last 20 odd years I've have well over 1,000 IT professionals working for me at one time or another and so I have a lot of experience in recruiting, hiring, and retaining folks in this field. When it comes to enhancing your skills and marketability as an IT professional, there are five key areas that you should keep in mind.

Certifications and Technical Training
Certifications are  becoming more important than ever and more and more companies are  willing to pay for their employees to become certified, especially if the certification exam can be bundled with technical training. There are two types of  certifications that are important. First, get a certification within  your area of specialty. If you're a network engineer go for the CCNA and  then CCNP. If you're a systems administrator the MCSE track is a great  one. For virtual infrastructure specialists, pursue VMware's certification program. Second, get a certification within a specialty area to sort of separate yourself from the pack. If you're into network operations or network management, check the SCP we offer here at SolarWinds. If you're into project or program management the PMP certification is well recognized and so on. These specialties, when added to your core certifications, are great ways to improve your marketability.

Breadth of skills
I was speaking at a user group meeting recently to an audience of about 150 engineers and I polled the audience as to what they do. First asked for a show of hands for how many of them were network engineers or network administrators - almost none. Then I asked how many were systems administrators or server admins - again, very few. I repeated the question for virtualization or VMware admins, SAN and storage admins, helpdesk, etc until I was out of ideas. Finally, I just asked a table near the front what they did - "We're infrastructure guys" one of them said and they all nodded. So, I re-polled the audience and just about everyone's hands went up. In today's data centers, you really have to know it all. Infrastructure, in the old days, meant core network gear. Today, infrastructure means critical network, server, virtualization, and storage gear along with just about everything else that has a broad impact on your organization. So, don't just study one discipline. Find a way to expand your base of knowledge and your opportunities will expand as well.

Soft skills
The most highly paid IT professionals I've ever known had two things in common - they were good writers and they were skilled negotiators. If you're weak in either of these areas, the next time you're offered the chance to attend some technical training ask if you can do something in these areas instead. Otherwise, there are some books and online resources available to help.  It's probably the best investment of time you will ever make

Join a community
No, I don't mean Facebook I mean something like the SolarWinds community at thwack.com or Spiceworks. These communities are a great place meet other folks in the industry, learn about the technologies that they're working with, and in many cases you can find out about job opportunities there. Additionally, when you're stumped with a problem you can't seem to solve reaching out to your community is a smart next step.

Be an expert in something
Yes, earlier I said that it's good to have a broad base of knowledge and that's true. However, it's also important to have a deep understanding in at least one core area. If you're new to the field being an expert probably isn't a good goal to set your sights on for now but be sure that there's an area that you know more about than the others. Two questions you're sure to be asked in an interview and that you should be able to answer: "What area are you strongest in?" and "What is your biggest weakness?". The area that you say you're strongest in will likely determine who does your second level interview, should you make it that far, so be sure it's something that you can discuss in detail.

Have a suggestion or comment? I'd love to hear it.


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Josh
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