Geek Speak

2 Posts authored by: kpe

Extending IT Experience

Posted by kpe Jan 31, 2018

Working in IT? Feeling lost given everything that’s going on in the industry? Are you confused about what to focus on and how to best apply your knowledge?


If you can relate to any of the above, this blog post is for you!


These days, the lines between job functions are growing increasingly blurrier. New topics and technologies are constantly evolving, so how do you stay ahead, or at least on top of your game?


First, understand that staying ahead in the industry is a never-ending journey, which means you will never be “done.” You will reach some career milestones, but there is no end to reach.


Second, pick one area of interest in which you would like to improve. For me, that’s network automation, or learning to develop software to assist with daily tasks. Don’t start with a huge topic; keep it manageable. For example, I would not start out with “data center” and try and understand everything under that huge umbrella. Instead, you could start out with: “Data center to WAN connectivity,” which narrows it down quite effectively. The former would take several months and a reading list of 5-10 books, whereas the latter boils it down to maybe three to four weeks and a reading list of one or two books.


After you have picked an area, be very single-minded in your focus. Don’t jump back and forth between different tracks that you would like to improve on. This will only make you feel discouraged because you’ll likely feel you aren’t making any progress. This discipline has helped me to focus and improve certain skills much faster than if I would have done a bit of this and a bit of that randomly.


This approach also has the side effect of helping to sort out your mind, so to speak. You will feel more in control, which will help reduce the nagging sensation you get when you are feeling lost.


Through my experience in IT, there are two truly effective ways of choosing a topic to study. First, pick a topic that is related to something that you already do on a regular basis. The advantage of this is that you will actually get to use your improved skill for something practical. At some point, it might even free up some time to start on my next suggestion.


Once you feel you’ve improved enough in one area of interest, pick a topic that you would like to extend yourself into. This will keep your skill set sharp so that you will be prepared for the next big thing coming on the horizon. It also has the added benefit of being something you are really passionate about, which will make it easier to fully focus on it.


Now that you have picked out something to improve on, how do you actually go about it? Well, as mentioned earlier, single-tasking can be quite helpful in IT. But before you get to that, I would suggest you map out some time slots during the day that is specifically dedicated to study. If you don’t have time during your normal work day, try and do it before you leave for work in the morning.


If you have issues with procrastination, try and start really small. Try reading for just 5-10 minutes. It might not be much, but it’s better for your career than spending that time sleeping.


Keep a journal or a list of your progress. I note what I have studied and for how long in my calendar. This has the benefit of providing me with more motivation when I look back and see how I’ve performed during the week.


Also, try and mix things up if you get stuck doing only one thing (reading, for example). Shake it up by watching some videos on the topic instead.


Finally, to gain IT experience, I would advise you to read popular blogs, news sites, Twitter®, etc. Just dive into the ones you find relevant to your chosen topic. This will help create a mental picture of what’s going on in the industry so that you’ll have them fresh in your mind. You have to be very careful not to take in too much information that is irrelevant to your current topic. By all means, be curious about topics that relate, but be mindful of your mental bandwidth.


I hope this information will give you a sense of purpose and rejuvenation in your professional life. I know it’s a system that has worked for me, so I trust others will be able to use it as well.


If you have any questions, feel free to reach out and I will do my best to help!


Thanks for reading!


The Legacy IT Pro

Posted by kpe Jan 4, 2018

In the fast-paced world of IT, can you afford to be a legacy IT pro? This is a concern for many, which makes it worth examining.


IT functions have been clearly separated since the early days of mainframes. You had your storage team, your server team, your networking team, and so on, but is that really the way we should continue, moving forward? Do we as IT pros gain anything by keeping up with this status quo? If you and your organization stay on this path, how long do you think you can you keep it up?


The best way to define a legacy pro is to share a few examples. Let’s say you were hired to be on the server team in a given enterprise environment around 2008. If you have not developed your skill set beyond Microsoft® Windows Server® 2008 or any related area since then, that’s legacy. A lot has happened in nine years, especially in cloud and security sectors. That means that if you haven’t kept up with the latest technologies, you’ll likely end up being one of those legacy guys.


In networking, my specialty, the same definition applies. If you are a data center networking engineer and you are still doing three-tier design with spanning tree and all that good stuff, you are clearly missing out on the most recent trends.


So, the key take away here is, don’t be afraid to rejuvenate yourself AND the tools of your trade. Going back to our first example, ask yourself if you are really living up to your job title. Gone are the days of updating to a new software release every second year, or whatever your company policy used to be. You really need to tell your vendor of choice to go with update cycles that match the trends of the market.


Now that you have progressed from a legacy IT pro to the next level, how do you take this even further? My suggestion is that you evolve from being a great IT pro to being an individual who has knowledge beyond your own area of expertise. It’s probably time you started envisioning yourself as a solution engineer.


A recurring theme these days is for clients to want a complete solution. In other words, organizations really do not want to deal with a collection of IT silos; they’d prefer to treat IT as a whole. This means that your success as an engineer on the networking/server/storage team is not only dependent on your own performance, but also that of your fellow engineers.


To deliver on this promise of a solution, you really need to start getting comfortable dealing with engineers and support staff from different parts of your organization. It doesn’t matter if you work in a consultancy role or in enterprise IT, this is something you need to start gradually incorporating into your workflow.


I suggest you start by establishing communication lines across your organization. Be open about your own job domains and tasks. Buy that co-worker from servers a cup of coffee and be genuinely interested in his/her area of expertise. Ask questions and show appreciation for his or her work.


Don’t be afraid to bring this level of cooperation to the attention of management to gain some traction across multiple business units. More often than not, you will get this level of support if you offer solutions that provide value.


Start sharing software tools and features across silos to spark further interest and energy into this new way of thinking. Perfstack now allows you to customize panes of glass according to individual teams and groups. Why not utilize this to create a specific view for the storage team that gives them visibility into your Netflow data?


I am not advocating a complete abandonment of your current role. I am suggesting instead that you transform your specialization into a new multi-level sphere of expertise. If you are on the networking team, go full speed ahead with that, but also pay attention to what is happening in the world of compute and maybe storage. Read about the topic, or even get some training on it. That way you are not completely oblivious to what’s going on around you, which makes communicating across the organization even easier. Doing these things will make you a better engineer and confirm that you are a true asset to your company. In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?


To summarize, I do think it’s very important to evolve in this industry. If we are to meet future demands, we need to start thinking and acting differently. By gaining new skill sets and breaking down the silos we have built up over the years, we are on a clear path of evolution. Instead of being afraid of this evolution, look at it with a positive attitude and see all the possible opportunities that arise because of it.


With that in mind, I wish you the very best. Take care and go forth into this new era of IT!



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