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The Legacy IT Pro

kpe
Level 8

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!

/Kim

24 Comments
Jfrazier
Level 18

I learned a long time ago in a shop not too far away that the team that does the monitoring and notification for the companies IT enterprise must be involved with all the teams they support.  We touch everything and have a unique perspective to the environment.  In order to evolve your monitoring you have to be aware of what the other teams are doing and their roadmaps so that you are not caught off guard by a technological change that you cannot work with.  You have to have a common place to meet and discuss what you and they are doing and share pain points.  I think it goes beyond simple networking at the water cooler or coffee pot amongst cohorts.  That is a good start, but there needs to be a structured point to be sure teams are aligned. 

The post here shows a perspective or subset of the types of shops represented by the customers of Solarwinds.  For the smaller shops usually with one platform (Windows) or even with a spattering on linux mixed in to the mid level shops with various flavors of windows, linux, AIX, HP-UX, solaris, and or a small mainframe, etc...  The larger shops can have several thousand servers with or without mainframes.  It is easier to share i the smaller shops since they tend to be more Mom & Pop like shops where people wear several hats.  Once you get past that level you need to consider getting past the water cooler talk for more formal bi-weekly or monthly touchpoints. 

So I agree on being more aware of what the IT industry is doing...but more importantly is what is your company doing with the newtech or how it will utilize these advancements in IT.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I like Jfrazier​ get to touch a lot of things which really helps to not be stuck doing one thing that could eventually become "legacy."

Jfrazier
Level 18

Yep...in a shop with a dedicated monitoring and notification team we touch everything.

Think of a hub and spoke environment.  We are the hub and everything else feeds up to us.

gfsutherland
Level 14

staying current is important. You do yourself and the place you work a great disservice by not doing so. Over the years I have seen too many people get painted into a corner because they knew a key older technology in the organization. Suddenly an update/change and they are on the outside looking in. Look forward and stay in front as best you can....

bobmarley
Level 15

When I started in Telecommunications - 1a2 Key Systems

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What I work on today - VOIP

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Not seeing any difference in 30 years... May have even been easier.....

Just kidding! Thanks nice write up

vinay.by
Level 16

Nice write up

petergwilson
Level 14

Don't be too harsh on legacy IT pros.  I spent 20 years as a contractor looking after legacy systems.  There was a great demand because most of the client's staff wanted to work on the newer stuff and that left no one to manage the stuff the business actually depended on.  Each time I moved clients I gained a bit of knowledge on newer stuff as I usually migrated some legacy systems to the newer stuff, decommissioned older stuff and helped out on the newer stuff when staff were ill / on holiday / off on training.  I kept a step or two behind the leading edge guys and kept gaining new skills without having to pay for training.  There was always a ton of useful support information available on the net so my job wasn't too difficult.  I always talk to the other parts of the business anyway and try to know about everything that is happening so that I may offer new solutions to actual issues they are experiencing.  Most of the leading edge stuff in organisations is just a solution looking for a problem.

hbetts
Level 9

Being a Legacy IT Pro is an essential skill. Too many "IT Pro's" are chasing the "new & shiny", untested, only partially proven technologies that will fade fast. Companies today still rely on big iron and COBOL. So, if you think that "just because it hasn't happened in my career lifespan it isn't relevant." Then you are setting yourself up for failure.

Only by knowing the past can you plan for the future.

rschroeder
Level 21

Staying current while retaining the "tribal knowledge" is not only the responsibility of employees; it's Management's responsibility to allocate resources to provide training opportunities for staff to keep them current.

If you've read many of my posts, you'll know I have Some Thoughts on Professional IT Training.  If you study successful businesses and businesses that have failed, you'll see how quickly a company becomes irrelevant and loses clients and good staff to competitors who send their employees to professional training.  It's probably most efficient to send staff off site, to ensure they are out of the business environment and can focus on the education instead of being interrupted by phone calls and drive-by staff who have "quick requests".  But it can also be a good strategy to  bring in a trainer to share knowledge to all employees, rather than just one or two.  The latter method, when applied to a group of employees simultaneously, reduces training costs per person dramatically.

I've been doing I.T. Network Support for twenty-one years, and have experienced the good training times and the ones where training just didn't happen at the company's expense.  In the former, I've been flown to multiple classes in Chicago, Portland, San Diego, Fort Worth, Atlanta, and Boston.  And I've done more driving trips to Minneapolis for training than I can remember accurately.  And there've even been a couple of sessions where the employer brought in a trainer for a week to teach everyone in the department, rather than just one person.  In the latter, businesses had poor internal moral, increased calls to the Help Desk, and staff that were spending more and more time searching for other employment opportunities.

Without keeping the knowledge of your staff current, a business can fall behind the competition and become unable to retain great staff.  It can lose clients while losing security and its good business reputation. This is one way to create "the Legacy IT Pro" staff--fail to do right by them, fail to get them into training, expect them to sacrifice their own money and personal time with their families as they try to take care of their own training.  That's no way to keep employees, to keep a family together, and no way to run a business.

I'm lucky, and I know it.  But I also know my team and need a lot more training, continued training, to enable us to provide good advice to Management and to be able to adopt and properly support new technologies.  Without that training, a business doesn't keep great people.  Without great people, Management must rely on outside agents to recommend and guide purchases and directions.  And that can often be like asking the fox how to best secure the hen house.

Legacy IT Pro's understand that concept because they've seen managers and administration come and go, making the same mistakes over and over as they are always asked to try to do more with less.  Those managers and administrators waste time reinventing the wheel, and lose opportunities and good people as they make the same mistakes of their predecessors.

From this perspective, Management makes a big mistake when they don't leverage their Legacy I.T. Pro's experience by promoting them to positions where they can perform experienced decision-making and provide better guidance.  Directors and C-Level staff need the best, most experienced, most well-trained people they can find.  A great way to end up with those people is to leverage the Legacy IT Pro's tribal knowledge while providing excellent training opportunities to them, and to all the staff.  That's how to build a future management core that's competent and reliable, that will be there when you need them, and that can be trusted.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

Outside of extra specialized training I have a bunch of training I'm required to take annually.

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Sometimes it's a pain and I have to watch to make sure I don't miss deadlines on them.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

So it seems we agree there's some good things about "legacy."

gfsutherland
Level 14

To be clear... I am not saying abandon the "legacy" knowledge, rather that nobody should solely focus themselves on "legacy" knowledge. I have witnessed this a few too many times from former colleagues...

(As for myself, heaven knows I have way too much legacy stuff stashed away in the inner reaches of my own grey matter! - )

rschroeder
Level 21

Yes, my team also has to deal with a good amount of regularly scheduled annual company safety & security policies & training.  Those are outside the scope of my requirement for entities to provide technical (switch configuration, router configuration, firewall, wireless, general security, etc.) training sessions.

We go through security drills and training and testing for what to do in case of fire, tornado, active shooters (a new one in the last two years, but a good one!), malware, PHI, PCI, PII, and more.  And none of that teaches a person how to correctly configure spanning-tree priorities at every different level, or how to troubleshoot ISE, how to built an EPG in ACI and troubleshoot it, how to correctly design a WLAN with fast roaming and resilience, how to create a VSS paired Distribution layer that relies on HSRP and EIGRP, how to configure and troubleshoot BGP on routers and ASA's, etc.

When I talk training provided by the company, it's more "The company will provide funds to bring in a technical Cisco (or other) trainer suitable to the support and design needs of the organization, or will fund employees to attend off-site training at the trainer's facility to address those same needs.

gfsutherland
Level 14

looks like the list of compliance training I have to complete every year!

tinmann0715
Level 16

My simple recommendation: Never allow yourself to be identified as the "Legacy IT Pro." That will be your death knell. On your LinkedIn profile and your CV never list any job or any technology prior to Y2K either. Keep yourself fresh and fool prospects in thinking you are younger than what you are. Keep reading, keep learning, keep tinkering, keep networking.

mtgilmore1
Level 13

I so agree with you.  nothing has changed just cable type.

tigger2
Level 13

for "I learned ....that the team that does the monitoring and notification for the companies IT enterprise must be involved with all the teams they support."

Agreed . For larger companies, I've found that if monitoring is put into a certain team/silo (like a network or server team, or "apps") and is not a separate entity like a NOC or similar that is on the same management level as all the teams that need to be monitored, that the team monitoring is in will dominate what is being monitored and mostly exclude all other areas.  This leads to all the other areas building/buying their own monitoring or doing without (depending on how stable or visible their area is). It also makes it impossible in a larger company to centralize things that benefit from centralization, like the alerting system, event consolidation systems, and/or reporting/dashboard views.  This decentralized set of systems leads to disorganized communications between teams/management when things break (with multiple motoring systems all watching different things, whomever is watching the thing that breaks is the first, and possibly only, team to know what's really going on). Decentralization like this also leads to the individual IT teams (or NOC or helpdesk if they not considered first class citizens of IT) team being forced to get (usually email) notifications from dozens of separate systems but them not being able to fix this problem by controlling how they get their information/alerts because they become a dumping ground for data/alerts and are expected to just figure it all out and do manual correlation, which only the better trained and/or more seasoned veterans of those teams can sometimes do.  I don't know how many times I've been in a meeting where people who own their own monitoring just decide to "cc the helpdesk/xyz team on all of these alerts" and then assume the recipients can just sort it all out, sometimes without being notified they're going to be getting notified or what to do about it.

You really need a team of people (generally not a team of 1) to handle monitoring or make it a dedicated "function" within each team to keep things maintained in a few central apps. I think this is sort of what "DevOps" ?tries to do? but I've never been at a place where monitoring wasn't an afterthought (or necessary evil?)  for most of the organization, especially for companies where IT/software is not their core business and they have a lot of purchased software/apps or very small IT departments.

Jfrazier
Level 18

That is the challenge.  If everybody rolls there own there is no accountability nor standards.  Having a central team allows things to be put in place and tracked via ticketing.  Thus requests and the subsequent monitor/notification procedure is documented and we can be sure the persons being notified are aware and signoff on the new notifications (email, tickets, etc.).  Otherwise people can be bombarded with notifications and not be able to figure out where they came from or whom to contact. 

smttysmth02gt
Level 13

This write up spoke to me.  I've been with my current employer for nearly 12 years now and I can't help but feel like I've gotten stuck in the "legacy" box quite a bit...although not to the same extent as some other folks.  Some of the things mentioned in the comments, in terms of having a dedicated monitoring team seemed like they're intimately familiar with my workplace.  I guess it seems like the topics brought up both in the write up, and comments are well known across the board in the IT field.  While that's good to know "I'm not alone", it's also disheartening to have it brought to light that it's such a common occurrence. 

Something I'd like to add is that nobody has mentioned political implications caused by these issues that have been brought up.  It can really cause issues when you have detached personnel managing the monitoring system, AND the legacy label applied to people who could otherwise be of more use...if there were allowed out of their box and trained properly.  That can virtually kill all good morale in a department, and very quickly.  Good leadership should encourage education and training, and be eager to listen to employees in regards to preferred direction they wish to reach for.  I'm not saying they are entirely to blame in this scenario, but they retain a certain influence in the environment that nobody else can access.  The direction should always be towards improving human resources, especially in regards to the monitoring system...since the staff should have their hands in everything.  In other words, a company ought to actively avoid the scenario where the label of "Legacy Pro" is applied to ANY employee or team, and instead focus on improving resources to realize full potential.

byrona
Level 21

I think one of the great things about the legacy model was that everybody had a specialty.  There are too many things for one person to be specialized in all of them yet if you read a lot of the job postings out there it seems this is the expectation of many companies.  In our current model as things have progressed I think it's important for folks to have a reasonable understanding of all of the different components in their environment but I still think it's important for people to be specialized in specific areas though some of these areas may have changed.

petergwilson
Level 14

True.  I had a job advert sent to me recently where they wanted an expert in Microsoft, Linux, VMware, Cisco and a whole host of other skills.  Certifications were mandatory and it was in the centre of London.  The salary should have been about £100,000 but they were offering £21,000.  Helpdesk numpties get more than that.  I applied for a joke.  They were really excited (even though I didn't have some of the skills or certifications).  I led them on for a bit then told them where to go after 'discussing' the salary.  Morons.

ccieby30
Level 8

Great Write up! I think that as long as you're keeping up to date with your skills you'll be fine. You don't have to transition to a new role just to learn the material. A great example is legacy telecom professionals. I have many friends who spent 15-20 years in telecom, learn VoIP and have since since time migrating customers to new VoIP platforms. They are in huge demand because they understand where we came from and where we're going.

sirgoogle
Level 8

Same as most already, great write up. DevOps and continuous improvement as cultures seem to be hard for "siloed" individuals to grasp but are essential. Learn as much as you can about as much as you can. Force your leadership to help you grow and develop, or ,at a minimum, expect it. As leaders, we should be adding the right amount of pressure, not stress, to create an environment of growth for our people. In the long run, it weeds out the few issues and leaves those willing to grow. It probably sounds more aggressive than I mean it, as I try to help everyone move toward their full potential, but there have been a few that decided change was not their "cup of tea." Having people read "Who Moved My Cheese?" is always an option as well...

tallyrich
Level 15

I've been doing this since before networking was really a thing. I always find humor in those "no one will ever need" or "this cannot get any faster" type of statements. I remember an often mis-quoted statement from Bill Gates saying that no one would ever need more than xyz megabytes of RAM. And modem manufactures stating that communications across phone lines couldn't get any faster because the lines couldn't support it.