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Rise of the Hybrid Engineer

MVP

Last week, we had a great conversation on finger-pointing, and some of you shared real-world advice on how to avoid it. Most of the comments described a work environment that was still tied to the stove-piped organizational structure from ten years ago, when network, server, and storage were discrete disciplines with effectively zero relation to one another. This approach, however, is no longer valid.


Virtualization, specifically the abstraction of physical resources, makes isolated engineering teams dysfunctional. It’s not enough to pursue skills that exist exclusively in the confines of network, server, and storage. For example, it’s not surprising to hear that someone has a few VMware certifications, and a CCNA. That makes sense, since you can’t do a whole lot with vSphere unless it’s connected to your network. But for those of us who have been doing IT work for a long time, you certainly remember a time when having a Microsoft cert AND a Cisco cert was unheard of.


So, a few questions for you:


  1. Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple teams)?
  2. Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career?
  3. Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline?
  4. Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set?


And here's a hint: the answer to number 4 is no. Discuss.

59 Comments
Level 10

1) Our team is focused on all things networking from servers to VMware to network. Some of us (like me) are skilled in specific areas but we are all expected to help out on any issue. Everyone on our team has their area of focus.

2) I have 3 CCNPs and am working on my CCIE. I also have a Windows XP MCP . My intention is to jump into VMWare after my CCIE. I love the DC and want to expand further into Visualization.

3) Coding can help always. Even if it is just basic coding you can still cut time on redundant task. WIth how things are moving its going to be a must.

4) I think there is. VARs and consultants or very large and complex networks need areas of focus. But it makes you a stronger (and more marketable) engineer to have a solid insight into whats around you.

We are in a phase of consolidation, Everything is mirgrating into a single box so it only makes sense for teams to blend and start becoming cross-functional.

Level 9
  1. Yes/No. I work for an IT service provider, and whilst many of our guys are what I'd call traditional Wintel server engineers, we are increasingly required to have virtualization, storage and networking skills.
  2. I have, or have held, certification from Microsoft, VMware, Cisco, Citrix and CheckPoint (oh, and SolarWinds too)! I also have some service management credentials (ITIL) and I would also be interested in adding some security and/or project management credentials to that list. I certainly think my multi-discipline, multi-vendor approach has helped my career.
  3. Yes. Many of us will use scripting languages on a regular basis, but in addition to that, I've found HTML/CSS/Javascript knowledge to be useful and have even written various utilities of my own in Visual Basic.
  4. Not sure, I would imagine that you'll always have a need for specialists, but I would certainly agree that the best of those will be those with the broadest skillsets.
MVP
MVP

The consolidation you mentioned is, in my opinion, what's driving the need for hybrid engineers. Otherwise, you still end up with finger pointing and people who refuse to accept responsibility for the solution.

Have you looked at the CCIE Data Center cert? What do you think about that track?

MVP
MVP

Your coding skills are interesting. You're right that lots of us use various scripting languages to automate recurring tasks, but it's good to hear that you've benefitted from from traditional programming languages as well. I worked with a sysadmin years ago who was amazing with VB. And he always found a way to use it during the course of his work, and made the rest of us look primitive for doing things manually.

Level 9

I wouldn't claim to be an expert programmer or anything, but I find the Visual Studio Express editions quite intuitive to use and it doesn't take a huge amount of VB knowledge to create some useful little utilties. It can be a nice tool to have in the toolbox.

MVP
MVP

Any PowerShell? I'll be honest: the first time I launched the ISE, it was like stepping into a whole new world. I'm still a novice there, but the power of that language is evident.

1. Our small team covers network, servers, storage, virtualization, perimeter security, carrier/ISP communication, backup strategy, asset management, and of course network monitoring. So I guess you could call that an extremely short, broad silo. That covers everything.

2. Vmware/Solarwinds/Commvault/etc. It does help somewhat, I think. I'd like to focus on project management from a PD/cert basis moving forward because I find it challenging, fascinating, complex, and rewarding.

3. Yes, of course. Are these all rhetorical questions?

4. How do you know what the correct answer is? Define 'single skill-set'. If my single skill-set was 'complex problem-solving', then I'd be fine with that.

MVP
MVP

Single skill-set refers to the traditional silos in IT: storage, server, and network. Maybe a better way to ask the question would be, "If you were to focus exclusively on network, server, or storage, would you have the skills needed to be employable?" I'm looking for your opinion on the hybrid engineer idea. Think I'm wrong? It's possible. Tell me why.

Level 9

Certainly. Perhaps not my primary weapon of choice yet, but I agree that it's powerful and it's increasingly important for scripting on Microsoft platforms and other products that expose themselves to it.

Level 9

1. I lead our "Automation" team we are based entirely on being multi skilled. However,the company has silo'ed teams who we rely on for specialist knowledge though we have some knowledge across nearly all I.T. disciplines including Virtualisation. Though our interest is nearly always around vendor API software development & leveraging back end databases.

2. Most of our team have a weird mix. I'm MCSE, MCDBA & have a few .Net programming certifications as well. Others in the team have Cisco, VMWare & AWS certifications.

3. Yes & No - scripting skills are very handy & can produce amazing time savings. However Its too easy to produce amazing but unsupportable, insecure & undocumented code which someone else ends up supporting when amateur programmer moves on. Once you get 10 or 20 of these things floating about you can lose an entire employee to supporting this stuff.

4. No - but I don't know a single person in IT who only has a single skill set. However, I think there will always be room for specialists, not everyone has a developer mindset for example. Multi-skilled engineers will become more & more valuable as time moves on but they can always use specialists to lean on.

Got it re trad silos....no, you're right on there. To your rephrased question - I'm not sure, but I think the probabilities are definitely getting slimmer. From a network perspective, however, someone who historically was siloed into net infrastructure/transport - and is inquisitive enough to learn the methodologies of SDN as it becomes real - will take what looks like a single skill set and wield it with impunity into the DCs of the coming decade. Automation and simplification are amazing - but I find it valuable to remember that even the most automated code is still *written* (at least until the writing piece is automated as well).

Level 10

1. No, we have a group where we share our skill sets and teach each other. We all have roles that are our "Primary function" and those roles are our strengths but at the end of the day it doesn't matter what system is down it falls to our group to fix it.
2. For the most part we each have one certification for the thing we primarily got started doing. I think you're right though due to the nature of virtualization we're having to learn more about more than just one role and as the technology has changed so have we in our ability to support it. We do have one guy though that seems determined to collect all the certifications.
3. Do I want to manually do something that I can write a script to do instead? Of course not! Yes I definitely think that learning some sort of programming language is indispensable when it comes to your support role. Using task scheduler to kick off a batch script to execute backups at night. Using exchange management shell to run queries on mailboxes rather than sorting through them by hand. Creating a powershell script to email you when your alerting engine has failed because your boss wont buy the failover engine .

4.Being the "insert tech label" guy/girl at your company ensures that you will keep your job. It also ensures that you will never ever have a day off. The really negative thing is it means that you are likely to not ever leave that job or grow personally. Especially if it's really niche position like some of the application support tends to be. Branching out makes you more valuable as an employee and it also opens up doors to you that would other wise be closed. I think that the recent financial crisis taught many people a very hard lesson on this.

Level 9

1. Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple teams)?

          Yes, a very siloed team.  Virtualization is supported only through the traditional methods.  The infrastructure team builds VMs and provides all services to them.  When networking through the vSphere becomes involved, there is a big tussle trying to get it resolved.  The trend, however, is that the VM specialists on the infrastructure team are learning the basics of network, insofar as their blade center is concerned.


2. Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career?

          I have no vendor certifications and there are very few in the organization, at least advertised.  Those who seem to have experience in more than one discipline are often seen as more influential.  Others in the organization seem to respect those with varied experiences moreso than those with specialized experience.


3. Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline?

          HELL YES!!  Considering the growing pervasiveness of scripting languages and the idea of users building their own functionality, coding skills are now minimum requirements. Right there next to 'typing'.  Coding is an application of problem solving, and everyone in IT needs to understand the ideas of procedural implementations, loops, and parallel processing.  Thinking like a computer is a major requirement for solving problems with computers.  They are not magic.


4. Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set?  

          I'm that guy to break the mold.  The answer is YES and NO.  First the NO.  Computers have become so complex that a single person can no longer know everything.  While possible 15-20 years ago, there isn't a chance now for that to happen.  Technologies are being introduced so fast that any you just learn are already outdated.  But, having a basic knowledge of many aspects is more useful to the general IT environment.  Most of the new technologies are small divergences from previous technologies.  (Thoroughly new technologies have a hard time taking root.)    

          Now for the YES.  While the general IT environment needs to have multiple skill-sets.  The engineers working on the new technologies need to be as focused as possible.   As mentioned before, technologies are changing significantly fast enough that any extraneous effort spent outside of your focus will prevent you from staying at the forefront.  Their skills too will need to change over time or risk complete fall-out of their position.

          The divide between the super-focused engineers and the very-general engineers is widening.  The very-general engineers will work great in the majority of businesses out there, especially if computers is not the focus of the company.  The super-focused engineers will work great in the businesses that are developing new technologies.  Unfortunately, moving from a very-general engineer to a super-focused is probably not possible.  Additionally, it's far too easy to slide from a super-focused engineer into the world of very-general engineers.  There is an additional drawback to this slide, the super-focused engineer in the world of general IT doesn't yet fit in.  They are not homogeneous and are lacking certain skills that others will have.  But do not discount them.  Most can learn far faster than others and can focus on problems and tasks much better, though it may take them longer to ramp up (and ramp down).

          There are two worlds here, each with a need for engineers will different distributions of skills sets.  When an engineer moves from one world to the other, expect some resistance and turbulence.  But others can learn or utilize new skills from the new arrival.  No matter which world an engineer is in, she is part of a team.  And it's the combined skill set of the team that the business really needs.

MVP
MVP

That's a great point on script sprawl. I always hated inheriting a new environment with scripts and scheduled jobs hidden on many servers, and trying to figure out how to untangle the mess.

MVP
MVP

belthasarx wrote:

4.Being the "insert tech label" guy/girl at your company ensures that you will keep your job. It also ensures that you will never ever have a day off.

Great point! What some people call job security is what others call death through over-specialization. Master one tech, sure. But don't bet your entire career on it.

Level 9
  1. Somewhat, mostly broad silo's such as "Systems" and "Networking". Virtualization is supported by the Systems group but any networking needed outside of VMware requires the Networking group.
  2. I am the only one that has any certifications: Solarwinds Certified Professional, Network+, and MCSA.
  3. Certainly! It can make anyone's day faster knowing some basic coding - even if to make troubleshooting that much faster.
  4. I'd say mostly no, but some yes. No one  can be an expert in everything - occasionally you need the one person who really, REALLY knows a product inside and out. That's very tough to do when you're balancing multiple technologies. Both types of engineers have a place - I see the more single-focused engineer as someone who does design/architecture/initial deployment, such as a consultant. For most companies, having an engineer who can wear multiple hats is much more valuable when the hand off comes from a single-focus engineer, this is where the two worlds meld together.
Level 10

1. I am actually a "Team Lead" of our Infrastructure Operations Services Dept. My team, and I deal with everything from backups, monitoring, proactive maintenance, to automation for the rest of the company. (and more of course.)  

2. I have roughly 10 certifications(I have lost count) and am working on more. MCP/VCP/KCA to name a few. I am training for MCSA/MCSE- Messaging, and ITIL foundation. I have SAN, monitoring, MS server, Linux, VMware, etc experience to back all of my certifications as well.

3. Programming is actually a very awesome skill to have in my department. It has tremendously helped out from an automation standpoint. Understanding a programming language makes it easier(in my opinion) to understand how to automate, and understand things such as PowerShell, and PowerCLI. Having the knowledge to take those tools, and fully utilize them to the best of your ability is an amazing thing when you see how much time it truly saves you.

4. I think there is still a future for engineers who take an absolute deep dive into certain areas, but those positions will be very limited to that vendor. Outside of working for a particular vendor though, those jobs are going to start diminishing. Just where I work alone, I know it is standard that you are not silo'ed in one area. We have several great people here that have in-depth knowledge of SQL, VMware, Exchange for example.


MVP
MVP

aaron.damyen wrote:

"When networking through the vSphere becomes involved, there is a big tussle trying to get it resolved.  The trend, however, is that the VM specialists on the infrastructure team are learning the basics of network, insofar as their blade center is concerned."

This is what I hear from most people. The interface between the VM and network teams is still poorly documented. I see lots of virtualization engineers learning about networking, while old school networking people cross their arms and say, "you don't know what you're doing." Just wait and see what NSX brings to this equation!

MVP
MVP

So virtualization crosses those organizational lines for you, too. Based on the responses so far, that's how everyone handles virt. Do you run into issues when there's an outage, and it's not clear which team should own the resolution?

MVP
MVP

cbussard@idealintegrations.net wrote:


"We have several great people here that have in-depth knowledge of SQL, VMware, Exchange for example."

Now this is interesting. Let's talk Exchange, for a moment. You can have an Exchange guru and a VMware guru, and you can still end up with a suboptimal virtualized Exchange environment. Because Exchange on VM requires specific technical design considerations, and unless you've got an "Exchange on vSphere" guru you're in for trouble. So many technologies and applications are interdependent, it's extremely difficult to specialize in just one and be successful.

Level 10
  1. Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple teams)? No. At my place of work, any siloed  IT personnel eventually have to learn every other things the company is into. Although, everyone have his/her own area of specialization. Virtualization and cloud are the in things this days which i think will in the nearest future take job away from a lot of folks and therefore rendering them jobless
  2. Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career? Yes. Most of us have certification from multiple vendor and that gave us an edge over peers. Although, it sometimes makes the job more difficult and tedious because your employer expect more and the best from you at all times.
  3. Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline? Having some coding skills will help engineers extremely in any discipline. In fact coding skill is a must have as scripting is really being built into most products and new technologies.
  4. Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set? Obviously, the answer is NO because employers are now looking for employee who can multi-task.


Level 12

1.  Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple      teams)?   No, I work with team mates and we share our skills. Some members deal mainly on Hyper-V, while Some of us who work with some      other products that require integrating with different Virtualization brands (Microsoft, Vmware, Oracle) have to work with these technologies.      This also enables us do proper comparison on the different virtualization products.

2.  Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career?      Yes,  Almost everyone has different vendor certifications. They have helped me immensely. Sometimes, some vendors have a way their      products work but i have understood the technologies from another vendors mode of deployment.


3.  Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline? When you say primitive coding skill, I have a little skill.           Scripting is used in many technologies today.


4.  Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set? Some engineers say, they focus on a single skill to get better at what they do.

     Yes i believe there is a future for them with little profit. But those of us with multiple skill-set will definitely reap much more in the future.

MVP
MVP

So if you're not siloed (which is awesome, by the way!), how do you handle project work? Are you matrixed? Or are you less formal and just put teams together based on availability when new projects appear?

MVP
MVP

Regarding your answer to 2: do you ever get stuck between multiple vendors and conflicting best practices? Just curious.

Level 10

Dont forget if you cant be replaced you cant be promoted.

Level 10

michael stump I would absolutely agree. The side of business I work in, there is no way to be siloed. Honestly the array of different technologies that land on my plate range from Exchange, VMware, SolarWinds, Kaseya, SANs, to creating processes, Automating tasks,  broken printers, update approvals, broken backups, etc. The business that I am in is dependent on having a vast array of experience not in just one area.

Virtualized Exchange, yes, it requires extra special care when it is virtualized, but in my opinion, it does have all of the issues that I have seen with SQL going virtual. Virtual SQL points out old DBA's bad queries that were fixed by throwing more resources at it. That does not always work in a virtualized environment (especially in a public cloud provider environment).

Thanks!

So if you're dealing with a problem that involves SQL or Exchange in the VMware environment (that could have a root cause in either piece), how does your team approach resolution in the absence of silos? Do you have point/triage people for specific types of issues based on the party that reports the issue, or some other method?

MVP
MVP

My team focuses primarily on monitoring and alerting.  While we exist to support other teams and the business, we also have a relationship (need) based relationship with the server support teams and the network team.

  1. Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple teams)?
    We are siloed in that we exist outside of all the other teams.  We actively engage other teams regarding needs and requirements in addition to expected growth due to projects.
    Many of the servers are virtualized, but it really doesn't matter to us as we work off of new server requests to set up base level monitoring.

  2. Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career?
    Being our line of work is multifaceted, having additional skills and certifications does help.  We sit in the middle of everything and therefor need to have a working knowledge of most technologies (network, database, storage, unix, windows, F5, riverbed, VOIP, etc.)

  3. Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline?
    Without a doubt.  I feel it should be mandatory for at least 1 scripting language if you are in IT.

  4. Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set?

         I think it is getting to be harder to exist on a single skill set with many shops these days having people wearing multiple hats to be more cost effective.


Level 10

rharland2012

Well, it does depend on the issues, as we do have some people who are good at triage of say VMware/SQL, or VMware/Exchange. Everyone here has knowledge of VMware. That is our main product line.

To be more specific we have a tiering system. It goes by a different internal names but the world knows it as such. So Tier 1's can do X,Y,Z. Tier 2 can do X,Y,Z, and then some, and faster. We have split up our teams as well. So for example we have a general service desk, and a operations team. Then we have our project engineers. Inside of each team we have a variety of skill sets.

Everyone is expected to know VMware, and for the most part they do, because they deal with it literraly everyday. Now we do have 3 people for example that can do general troubleshooting, but have a higher knowledge in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure compared to everyone else. That is temporary though since it is brand new to us. So what happens is we process everything, create documentation that everyone follows. They do this enough, and they know have that knowledge. We have a really good internal training program, as well as push for Vendor training/certification as well.

Does that answer your question?

Thanks for the reply!

Absolutely - thanks for the rundown. Sounds like a good shop in which to work!

MVP
MVP

seriously! hey cbussard@idealintegrations.net: are you guys hiring?

1.  In my section of the industry, we are all siloed.  There are contracts for specified work.

2. I have different vendors certs, but many of my coworkers over the years do not.  Most people stick to Cisco and Security Plus.  Certs for my section of the industry are an interesting topic and how "important" they really are.

3. I believe some sort of coding experience is helpful for all engineers.  The more help in building code scriplets we can get the better we will be in the future.

4.  If you want to progress in this industry in various sections an engineer will have to be a jack of many trades.  Flexibility is the key to employment.

Level 13


  • Are you part of a siloed team at work? If so, how do you support virtualization (or other technologies that consume resources from multiple teams)?

I work in a manufacturing business. IT still isn't really a focus here, and as such, everyone in IT does EVERYTHING. I tend to rely on places like Thwack and communities and the internet and reference manuals and APIs for support whereas the rest of them are always ready to call up the manufacturer. Maybe that comes from my programming background in school where you were often handed a problem and told "Now make something that does this" and when you said "But I dont know how to do X" they linked you to the API and said go for it.


Personally, I think that my approach (find it yourself or find someone who had a similar problem) is better in the long run. Though theirs does get those quick fixes done a little faster sometimes.



  • Do any of you have multiple vendor certifications that extend beyond the network | server | storage silos? How have they helped your career?

Yes, several. VMware VCA-DCV, Microsoft MCSA Server 2008, Cisco CCNA, ISC^2 SSCP, Solarwinds SCP, and my coursework at school was CNSS 4011/4013 certified. Unfortunately, they haven't really helped my career yet because I got them all while I was already working at this employer (even the coursework) But they have really helped because if there is a problem I'm experienced enough to track down the problem wherever it is through my experience with basically everything. EDIT: On reading others posts it has prompted me to think about the "others" and only one of my coworkers has a cert: our salesforce guy. Both of my managers were of the variety to start in the company with some regular job and diverge over time into their skills. Neither of them or anyone else in our area ever got any certs. Except the salesforce guy of course



  • Do you think having some primitive coding skills can help engineers in any discipline?

I dont just think it can help engineers, I think it can help EVERYONE. Given a week watching anyone do their job, I can come up with a couple of ways to automate some part of it so that it goes faster/better/easier. Honestly I have done that to my current position and now I have days where I don't have much to do. But more to the point on engineers, I definitely think that every engineer of any type should have some skills in a language. Preferably experience in a scripting language and a "full" language. I also think that asking them what scripting language they're familiar with and where they would look for help with that scripting language (I would be looking for a combination of community sites/ APIs/ maybe a good reference book for their answer) or who.


I personally do VB.Net for internal applications at my employer, Bash and some batch for scripting, a little PHP though i rarely use it, some python (i'm working to replace the bash and batch ) I also do PLCs, have done assembly  (though not much), and I've done some Java. I know that I have a lot more various languages than most people who even fill what I was describing. In my experience being decent at Perl or Python would be plenty for what most people would need to do. Especially in a place where you are an IT guy instead of a computers guy like I am here (I do IT and maintain the software they use on the floor)


  • Is there a future for engineers who focus on a single skill-set?

Yes, there is. But I don't think it's likely to be in the low end. If you focus on a particular skill set, CCIE Security for example, then certainly you can find PLENTY of work doing cisco security because you aren't JUST an engineer with a skill set you have become a specialist in the topic, the one other people look to for reference. Once you reach that level it doesn't matter much.

The other way that you get by with only one skill set is if you have an in of some sort. Maybe your in is that you are in college going for a degree and you have only got a CCNA and you're basically being the company's network intern. They don't expect you to know other stuff because they hired you for this specific purpose and it was a niche they needed filled. I think that once you are in this position then you can maintain, but it would be difficult to move up without another skill that would be supported.

Level 13

Powershell is a huge an powerful environment. My only problem is that It's MS specific. I would be VERY interested in some way to run powershell commands and things from a language like Python. Short of essentially writing the commands to a temporary script file and then running that file with powershell from command line through python.

Level 13

What if you've been secretly creating beautiful documentation so simple a chimpanzee could understand it and you leave them with that? Also, promotion from within organization is starting to fall away in IT. It's getting pretty common to hop from business to business moving up a level (or two!) each time.

I like the documentation plan. If you leave them good documentation then they can't really be too upset with you working your two week notice and going because someone else (or couple someones) could hold over your position until a replacement proper is found.

MVP
MVP

Totally agree with your statement about promotion within organizations falling away. Many businesses are looking for wholesale transformation of the services they provide and the technologies used to automate and manage their operations. It's tough work if you're expecting the same people who built the old system, and who are comfortable with the old system, to suddenly build something new. Hiring from outside is an easy way to bring in a fresh perspective and some new ideas.

Level 13

Totally agree. When it boils down to it you are trying to maintain the systems, install new systems, and solve any problems that come up therein. Coding of some type is a huge portion of that. I also like the "thinking like a computer" part.

I think that even the super focused engineers would need coding experience.

Level 13

what is this ITIL that a few people have mentioned? What's a KCA. The others i've obviously heard of

Level 9

ITIL is an IT Service Management framework. Started in the UK, but is an increasingly global standard.

Level 21

Our team is expected to have a broad understanding of all disciplines as well as be specialized in a few.  Every specialization is supposed to have a primary and a backup person so we always have coverage.  While we certainly have evidence of the old model in play, we definitely lean more toward the new model where collaboration is key and everybody has the requisite knowledge to participate.

Level 11

1. Yes, I'm part of a siloed team at work.  We are a pretty large organization, so there are defined network and server teams.  Both Network and Server team fall under the Infrastructure department, along with Telecom.  The helpdesk and desktop teams are under a different department (that all fall into the greater IT department reporting to the CIO). 

2. Yes.  I'm part of the "Network Team", but I have certs from Microsoft and SOLARWINDS along with Cisco.  I'm also working on Citrix certs (for Netscaler).  I think being diverse has helped my career, but it also helps my organization.  Having a pretty strong server background has helped me bridge the gap between traditional network and server roles, as well as being very useful when troubleshooting. 

3.  I think it definitely can.  My coding skills are abysmal, and I don't see that changing.  I've tried to learn different scripting / programming languages and have failed miserably.  I guess my brain just isn't wired right.

4.  Perhaps if you're very specialised and want to do consulting work.  I think more and more, having a diverse skillset is required for medium and small business who simply can't afford to hire a bunch of specialists.  Large enterprise will probably always have room for network engineers and sysadmins, but outside of that realm, being diverse is pretty valuable.

Level 17

Great discussion points here! I'd like to add my thoughts as well. Not because I have something new to say, but mostly because I like the sound my fingers make on the keyboard after I've had 4-5 cups of coffee.

Most teams are built independent of other teams. Network team, server team, DBA team, etc. They are silos by design, because each team plays a critical role in the overall success of a company. The issue is not with the teams being independent. The real issue is with managers and directors not understanding the dangers of allow these teams to remain siloed.

I don't believe certifications are the answer, either. The real answer is to have practical work experience combined with certifications. Spending 4-6 weeks rotating through teams would do more to help everyone understand the entire environment in a way that a certification class or exam never could. Imagine if, as a DBA, I had been allowed to spend time racking servers and blades, configuring switches, carving out LUNs on the SAN,etc. I would have learned a lot about how my company's infrastructure was configured, and I could have helped them all understand how database servers can't be treated like a file server.

I wouldn't say coding skills are necessary, but they wouldn't hurt. At the very least you should have some scripting skills. But the real skills you need are (1) basic troubleshooting, (2) ability to communicate your thoughts clearly and concisely, and (3) empathy. You get better at troubleshooting with experience, same with soft skills. And you build empathy over time by working in an embedded fashion like I mentioned above. Soft skills combined with good analytical skills are better than coding skills. I know people that can write code but also can't find their way out of a locked car with the windows rolled down.

The answer to 4 is not "no". Of course there is a future for such things. Just do a job search for COBOL programmers. It's just that if you stick with one skill set your options become more limited over time. Good teams are going to want to have someone that has depth of knowledge in one area. Bad teams would likely be comprised solely of such people.

HTH,

Tom

Level 10

Actually, I put the team together based on availability and some times, i get involved in more than one project at a time.

Level 12

I am going to respond based on my previous position as this does not directly apply to me currently:

1) In my previous positions, I always worked for huge organizations (like 90,000 employees minimum), so, yes, the teams were always extremely silo'd.

2) Most of my certifications revolve around the server side: MCP/MCSE/MCITP/MCSA/MCT/CNA (yes, Novell!), VCP, and, of course, Solarwinds.  However, I am currently working on a CCNA to round it out a little bit.

3) While not mandatory, coding or scripting skills are definitely a plus if for nothing else but to stress logical thinking.

4) As others have mentioned, I believe there will always be a need for product specialists, especially in larger organizations and/or government agencies.

Level 13

I like the logical thinking. If they’ve formally taken classes they’ve almost certainly been made to plan out how they’re program will work ahead of time, then pseudo-code it, and then they’ll start to code code. Now I know that once you’re used to it this isn’t what you usually do, but this experience and practice of breaking down the problem into pieces of how to accomplish it is a big benefit too.

Like maybe you’re getting ready for a new deployment and they can kind of circumspectly think about like “well, we’re going to need to image all the new machines/servers, we’re going to need to set them up for AD, we’re going to need to install these various programs, we need to make sure that DNS is set up for them or DHCP…. “ and then you can start tackling tasks one by one or with a set up tool. I also think that programmers are more likely to see the value in “backend” set up like making a really good windows install image with customizations built in or making a really good script that does a lot of the set up tasks so they just plug in and run instead of spending 5-10 minutes just making menial changes.

Level 19

It looks like I'm the guy who always disagrees with the post.   My opinion is that there is equal need for generalists and specialists in IT management. Because IT management is so extensive compared to twenty years ago, I believe it is impossible to be an expert in every field. In medical sciences we have General Practitioners (GPs), and specialists who focus on one particular area. I think IT is very similar to this. If you work in a small company, you are the small town doctor and you have no choice but to be the GP. When I work with large enterprises these days I work mostly with folks who are specialists, mixed with a few generalists.

Level 13

I see your point about the idea of specialists, but why not be versed reasonably well in everything and specialized in on thing. So, maybe you specialize in immunology (security? ) but you’re still somewhat familiar with neurology (active directory? ) and database administration (ummm…I can’t think of a good metaphoric comparison)

I think that everyone is going to have their specialization, even if it’s just their favorite thing to work on. But they benefit from being able to think about the problem from the AD/DB admin/Security professional aspect helps a lot and can increase the cohesiveness of a team because there isn’t as much need for checking behind each other for problems or even for just good practices.

Also, you have to admit it’s better to talk to someone who knows at least the basics of your field because you might end up getting to talk about something interesting OR if you do end up explaining something to them at least you’re not dealing with the most basic level of things pictures windows engineers coming up and not understanding why their subnet mask of .255.0 is so different from .254.0 I would much rather explain CIDR to them instead of explaining that your subnet mask at the wrong point is slicing off half the network that it’s supposed to talk to (and if it’s address is in the top half, you’re probably cutting off its gateway)

Level 12

I'm happy to see this conversation taking place.  I've long believed that the age of specialization is trending downward.  That's not to say that people don't have nor shouldn't have some specialty, but that a person should not define their career by a specialty.  I advise technologists to leverage their specialty but pivot into other areas so they can understand the big picture and provide more value.  If you talk to executives in your company, you will find that they aren't typically in the business of what YOU do for them.  You are typically providing a sub-set of services to them.  That is to say, that you are a cog in the machine.  Therefore, to rise, it is best to understand the big picture. 

Too often, I have encouraged people to get out of their comfort zone and learn a new skill, only to find them shying away from the new and unfamiliar.  That bums me out b/c I see people with potential to be greater if they expand into other areas.  It takes a little humility to do this b/c you have to go from feeling like the super-star, to feeling like the rookie when you change from one area to another.  But if you want to be a true all-star, you've got to do this.

So get out of your silo and invade the neighbor's silo!  You, the neighbors and the neighborhood, will be better for it!

MVP
MVP

Couldn't agree with you more. It's a shame that the term "social engineering" has been co-opted by the security field. I consider myself a social engineer because I don't sit at my desk for 8 hours a day and work in isolation. It's the casual interaction with your peers that can turn into well-informed designs for your systems. Even if management hasn't caught on and still insists on silos, you can still unofficially roam cubeland and form relationships with engineers from other disciplines.

MVP
MVP

I don't think you need to be an expert in every field. But you should at least have an understanding of the core concepts for networking, storage, server, and virtualization in order to be successful. Like kevincrouch4 said: know a little of everything and one thing well.