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What to do when your core tech has become obsolete

Level 13

It’s a problem many have faced, myself included, in this industry. You spend years honing your craft on a particular skill, narrowed focus, and always learning. Then your organization decides to do a 180, and you’re either out of a job or low person on the totem pole. Think Novell!

How can one dedicate oneself to the task at hand, while attempting to remain relevant to an industry constantly in flux?

Having had this happen to me, I vowed that I’d not allow it to happen again. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

I’ve not had the experience of a developer, having always been an infrastructure guy, though I have supported many. I think that it may be more difficult to maintain or build a skillset in programming, while simultaneously trying to build skills in entirely new platforms, but I do imagine that this is what it’d take to not get phased out.

Following are a list of things that have come naturally to me over the years, and some ways in which to accomplish them.

  • Be Curious

In my case, there is always so much going on, new startups in software tools, storage, and orchestration are being launched practically every day.  To choose some particular piece of this tech, and learn it, if only to be able to speak intelligently about it, takes a bit of effort, but can be accomplished by reading white papers, or attending webinars. Even more beneficial would be to attend trade shows, accept meeting requests from sales teams who’ve targeted you, and most importantly, talk. User Groups, Meetups, and the like have proven to me to be highly effective entrees into newer technologies. Seek out the technologies that interest you, and can be solutions that appear ideal to the problem at hand.

  • Pursue your passions

Be aware that often, your time will be limited, and thus your productivity in launching into technology that you’ve not seen previously, will likely be hampered, if not thwarted entirely, but don’t despair. If you’re truly passionate about a given piece of tech, or the solution to a given issue, that passion will drive you forward to truly learn what you need on it.

Look at the big picture within your organization, take a look at potential needs that are not being fulfilled, or fulfilled well. Evaluate, and pursue the viable candidate(s). Once you’ve fully researched, you can present the findings to management. By establishing your interest and willingness to go above and beyond the call of your day to day job. You’ll then get to pursue this technology and have the opportunity to keep your skills fresh.

  • Look at market trends, and key players

When evaluating the next tool (Piece of Hardware, or software) you’d like to learn, acknowledge that dying technology is probably not a great place to go. You’ll want to know the pros and cons of yesterday’s stuff, as it relates to the solution of a problem, but more relevant are the newer, more elegant solutions to a problem. For example, look how far remote access into an organization has come since the introduction of a VPN into the IT landscape. Your needs will be secure, manageable, scalable, as well as easy to maintain. Some older remote access technologies require huge amounts of maintenance, and might even have difficulty keeping up with threats. There are new ways of accomplishing this, which seem almost revolutionary in comparison. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, you’ll want to make a deeper dive into them.

But to be sure, if you’re evaluating a product or solution set toward a particular goal, it’ll be far more enjoyable to do this, when the solution you’re hoping to solve is compelling to you.

Also, nothing can make your star shine more than taking on and implementing a highly beneficial solution that the organization never even considered. That would involve selling your solution to management, negotiating within workforce, vendors, and contractors as well to make it happen. A successful rollout is highly satisfactory.

Always remember, complacency is the enemy.

29 Comments
Level 10

Great write Matt. I found in the early stages that following the online community on twitter, starting around with VMware, had helped me immensely to understand what is going on. Everybody online have their opinions and favourite companies/technologies and they tend to be vocal when speaking about dose. The correct dose of curiosity may lead an individual to explore other options and maybe reorient.

Another thing I found out is that we infrastructure people sometimes complain about processes that are wrapped around our tech but do little to challenge these. I thing that we can and should play a role to challenge the status quo and shouldn't  hesitate to make propositions that can improve/streamline existing processes (or even get to the point where a process becomes deprecated). In the end it makes our lives a bit easier and it helps people move from a purely "tech" standpoint to a point where they help the organization overall.

Level 11

Thanks for the write up!

Level 13

One more thing I'd add - focus on learning. If you can learn to learn, it makes things so much easier. Just remember as you age, it gets harder to focus. Trying to find the time between work, spouse, and three kids and all their activities is like finding a needle in a haystack. But I always find time to read articles from various websites on new and upcoming technologies. Trade shows and conferences are also very helpful.

MVP
MVP

I like the write up.

While I don't follow Gartners closely, in fact I tend to walk away when I hear references to them, I do look to see who they list for a specific area of technology.  I also know they don't do a full hands on evaluation of a product to see where it fits...every ones "Magic Quadrant" is different.    But based on what I see there, I look to see what other companies offer that is similar as a starting point.

Level 10

I think...I need to take a break in the star trek marathon I've been going through. -_- I saw the word 'Core' and reacted with: DUMP THE CORE! QUICK!..oh.. wait.. nevermind >.>

Putting that aside, the writeup is very well written and has some good points.

I think it's good to be active in the different techie meetups that may be happening, especially if there are any that are in or close to the city you live in. Get to meet different people who work in different aspects, and exchanging information/knowledge you get a glimpse into what seems to be the current topic out there.

IT is ever changing so there is never a pause when it comes to the learning. Always something new to soak up, always something new to learn.

Thanks for the write up.

Level 20

Goto work for a Defense Contractor and be interested in successfully solving problems... you'll never want for new stuff to work on again!  In fact you may find yourself doing more than two or three jobs!

Level 20

The way solarwinds was excluded for years in the magic quadrant is perfect evidence of how biased it really is...

Level 13

The issue with the Gartner quadrant is that it isn't magic. It's about who's paid Gartner off, or what few technologies they've actually dug into in the particular category. The key problem there is that people in the c-suite look at the quadrant as if the information is gospel.

Level 21

This is certainly not a place you ever want to find yourself in.  One other way to help avoid this is to diversify; don't put all your eggs into one basked.  You may not need to go to the point of specializing in a bunch of technologies; however, it certainly doesn't hurt to become familiar with them.

MVP
MVP

Not just biased...but their evaluation methods and technique are suspect as well.

MVP
MVP

I have worked places where if it wasn't in "The Quadrant" then it could never be considered...at least without going way up the food chain to even evaluate anything else.

I suspect Gartner markets to the C-Level so that people don't have to go out and evaluate products, "they are paying Gartner to do it for them" is their take on it so why should their people waste their time to evaluate things.

Level 21

Historically I had been a big fan of Gartner; I loved the Magic Quadrant reports specifically the details written in them.  These days I find myself questioning more and more if there is any logic at all behind where products are placed in the Magic Quadrant.  I also can't help but notice the best products are always from the companies with more $$$ and the most expensive products, I just can't ignore this direct correlation and in my experience this doesn't necessarily have any correlation to how good their product actually is.

MVP
MVP

Like I said before...it is a starting place..a launching pad.  Yes it gets a lot of data up front, but I won't rely on it. 

I wonder if they get kickbacks for sales generated through their quadrants ?

Is it me or does this topic come up monthly now?

This is IT Darwinism. Those who want to survive will adapt and keep learning. Those who keep their skills stagnant and/or expect the industry to carry them along will find themselves out in the cold. Staying relevant in IT is tough! A 25 year vet needs to approach the job much like he/she did when he/she started, with all the vigor and enthusiasm he/she can muster.

Level 13

Agreed completely. As I think about this, the goal is not to become obsolete. Training, research, etc. are methods to not become outdated. Well said, Peter.

I went through this twice, once with an all 3Com network in the 90's (33 sites, 14,000 users), and again with an all-Nortel network about nine years ago

In both cases, the loss of a future path for upgrades and support was devastating.

In both cases our teams made the conscious decision to maximize our chances of never having to go through this again, and we retired the old networks and replaced them with Cisco.

It wasn't the least expensive option.  But it was the one that we felt had the best future, and the least chance of having the rug pulled out from beneath us again.

MVP
MVP

Great writeup. I became a CNE in 3.11 and 2.2 in 1993. I upgraded it to 4 in 1997 I think it was. But we never rolled out version 4 in my new job that I got in 1995. We went down the Windows NT route. So I did an MSCE in Windows NT3.51 in 98 or so and then upgraded it to Windows NT 4.0 sometime after 2000.

The key is to know what you are using and going to use. I was lucky that my company put me on training each time we went down a certain route. I'm still at the same company and now solely look after the network.

Level 12

You are lucky that you have found a company that is willing to foot the bill and give/send you for training. That is getting significantly harder to find as time goes on, especially in the IT world. Now days company's want someone with 3 pages of experience in an obscene range of areas for a job, but they do not want to spend the time or the money to train someone for it. If you are with a company that no only encourages you to get training and certifications, but is willing to give you the time and the financing to do it, that is worth is wait in Gold-Pressed Latinum!

My company I am at does offer money for education, but it is only $800 a year, and you usually have to get in a bloody brawl with HR to actually get them to accept it. I had to have my director go to the head of HR to get them to pay me out for classes I was taking for my bachelors degree in Business Information Systems a few years ago. I filled out all the paper work and they came back and said that it was denied because it was no required for my job. When is the last time anyone took a class/course/training session in anything that cost less then $800? Granted vendor provided training is nice, but again your organization has to be willing to actually give you the time to go get the training, which again mine does not like to do.

The basically means that if I want any certifications, I am basically going to have to put out my own time and money for it. That is the worst part because even something as basic as the A+ or Net+ cost a couple of hundred dollars and hours of time just to take the test. If you want to take courses or a boot camp to get ready for the test, well yeah. And if you want to do something like a Cisco certification training boot camp, well I guess you could sell a kidney. I hear they sell pretty well on the black market right now, so that would get you started at least! It's frustrating, but that is the way things are going in business these days. I know a lot of other people in the same boat as I am.

Level 20

So true... I've seen the same thing over and over again.  One thing is 100% for sure... Cisco isn't going away anytime soon.  I saw it with 3Com (and the IBM rebranded 3Com switches), Cabletron (remember them?) and so many more in big and small ways.

When we attend an off-site training solution (Ascolta, GlobalKnowledge, Sunrise, etc.), we have to allocate something on the order of $6-8K to cover the class tuition/materials, travel (car rental plus gas plus insurance), lodging, meals, etc. 

Attending "virtually" via telephone & video conference can be a money-saver, but one loses a lot of valuable training by going that way.  By this I am referencing the time before class spent with the instructor and classmates, the time together with them at lunch away from the classroom, and the time shared with them after class in the evenings.

There's a LOT of valuable information that occurs at these informal sessions away from the microphone and camera, and learning about other organizations and policies and practices can be done in leisure and great detail.

Plus, video and audio quality and reliability remain problematic for each class I've ever shared with a virtual classmate.


Not to mention the loss of training that occurs when you're attending virtually and someone walks in with a fire they want put out.

It's expensive to attend in person.  It's even more expensive to attend virtually, in my humble experience.

Level 12

Pay to play is never cool for something like this.  Pretty sure Gartner got sued a while back over just such an alleged situation.

Level 14

Love "be curious".  That's how I got into this field to begin with.

For what it's worth, I just completed a Gartner survey about NPM. 

Like others, my company paid a lot of heed to the Magic Quadrant, and it took strong logic to persuade the powers that be to go with something that wasn't in the upper right corner.

After reading some of the comments here, and after having filled out a review for Gartner about NPM, my opinion of Gartner may be changing.  I felt/assumed/believed they were actually doing the research themselves and publishing their findings and evaluations.  If they're just soliciting input from folks like me, putting the answers into buckets, and posting them into a Magic Quadrant, their information won't seem to be as valuable.

Sort of like Consumer Reports.  Lots of owners of a product write in to contribute about it via their surveys, but it appears C.R. actually does buy products and tests them and reports on them for up to five years, depending on the product.

Level 15

Never lost In nature, all if recreate.

Lavoisier low.

Level 14

Nice job mbleib​ with this topic. The minute you think in terms of what you currently know as "job security" you are "dead man walking!"

Be Curious is the mantra for being successful in what we do.

Read... network... listen and play around! If nothing else you'll learned something and had fun..

You'd think they'd build the Holodeck around the warp core and just run it virtually.   If they ever needed to dump it, just do so--or shut down the holodeck program.  And then start up a new Warp Core program.  Simple!

MVP
MVP

It also depends on the accuracy of the survey and comments that are concluded.

In the past I have seen their evaluations and noted we here they have failed to mention certain functionality that works in ways that are not quite what people expect.  Thus their evaluations are likely not hands on.  In some cases I don't think they scoured the manuals either.

So when you read them, have a bag of rock salt ready...you'll need more than a grain.

MVP
MVP

I hear ya. Here it is also getting harder to get training. Money is getting tighter and tighter. People are being made redundant all the time. But they do try and give you training at least once every 2-3 years which is better than nothing. Although I'm just thankful that I still have a job.

Level 10

If they had just taken a snapshot of the holodeck before the issue happened, they could have saved so many lives! XD

backup backup backup lol

About the Author
Hi, I'm Matt Leib. I'm an old dude, with years on the customer side, years on the vendor side, and now, years on the channel side. Exist as a Pre-Sales Solutions Architect in the channel space. I specialize in virtualization, orchestration, storage and cloud. On my personal blog, I talk about anything from baseball and music to most technical things I enjoy including personal and enterprise tech. For the last few years, I've been a Tech Field Day delegate, and a blogger on Thwack's Geek Speak as well as a personal blog site at http://Virtuallytiedtomydesktop.wordpress.com . Always learning, growing (though sometimes, that's the waistline) and striving to be as good as I can. I also like to sing, play guitar, and am a rabid Cubs and Blackhawks fan. I live in Evanston, IL, a suburb of Chicago, also grew up here. I work for Connection Enterprise Solutions, in a strategic solutions role, speaking to C Level on Corporate IT Initiatives