The renaissance IT professional

The renaissance IT professional

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Maintaining a day job and keeping pace with technology is an ongoing challenge. Demand for mid- to senior-level IT professional with expertise in multiple IT disciplines is on the rise. Meanwhile, junior-level positions are being eliminated, automated or removed from the core environment, limiting the ability to grow talent. The upshot: IT professionals will need to adopt a renaissance mentality.

What is a renaissance mentality as it relates to IT operations? Traditionally, IT departments have been structured to support specific technologies in silos, such as applications, servers, operating system, storage or networking. While there might have been some overlap, the skill set and jobs were largely independent of each other.

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In today's market we're witnessing a change in demand for professionals who are proficient across multiple platforms (think cloud computing and virtual desktops).

The transformation of the IT skill set is more pronounced than at any other time. Technology is evolving at a much faster pace than before, requiring skills to evolve just as quickly. With the recent economic downturn, as businesses were fighting for survival, IT departments were forced to delay investments in infrastructure upgrades. In the meantime, technology has leapfrogged those incremental IT improvements that were implemented just to keep the lights on.

As the CIOs and IT directors look beyond the traditional approach to improving infrastructure, it's time for managers to evaluate team skill sets. Current abilities may not be sufficient to make the necessary change deemed essential for the new way of IT.

One of the most compelling ways to lower costs is to transition to cloud and virtualization, as well as to adopt bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives. However, the skills necessary to pursue these opportunities may or may not be part of your IT department today. What's more, it is possible that with options like cloud, many of the administrative and support functions will no longer be required. A cloud systems administrator may require a whole new skill set than a classic Windows system administrator.

How IT directors can adapt

As organizations continue to look for ways to maximize IT investments in their quest to move to virtualization and cloud, it is imperative to look at ways to either retrain/retool existing IT resources or start looking for ways to attract talent more relevant to the "target architecture."

For example, adoption of virtualization technologies like VDI can possibly contribute toward lowering operational costs. With VDI, an IT department may not require a team of desktop administrators whose sole purpose is to keep the images on all laptops/desktops updated.

As a result, an IT department could conceivably reduce headcount after deploying VDI. However, day-to-day administration in a VDI environment is very different than a traditional desktop/laptop environment.. The management of a VDI infrastructure requires a skill set that encompasses desktops, virtualization, server, storage, BYOD ... the list goes on. Therefore, the remaining resources will have to have different skill sets; either retrained existing resources, or net new hires.

CIOs and IT managers are left with the decision as to whether team members can quickly adapt, or whether to hire a new person that comes with the requisite cross functional lines.

What can a CIO or IT director do today? Encourage more cross-silo projects that force teams to work together. Look for the natural leaders that rise to the top, that you want to invest in, and who can lead the team to future technologies. Now is the time to create and execute on your team's development plans. The last thing you want is for your IT staff to become obsolete!

How IT professionals can develop and maintain skills for today's market

For the individual IT professional, there are two components to developing and maintaining skills. First, regularly feed your passion for technology. Staying current on multiple and ever-changing technologies requires a fair amount of dedication that will go beyond normal working hours. Becoming proficient in different technologies is a long process, and requires a regimented effort.

Second, professionals must take advantage of workplace training opportunities across multiple technologies -- if they are offered. Otherwise, you risk limiting mobility at your current organization and within the broader IT marketplace.

When the training opportunities aren't present, initiating on-site, more formalized team training is an option as well.

It is very possible that in a world of cloud, where IT is provided as a service rather than a system, solution architects, IT-savvy project managers and mid- to senior-level IT managers who can bridge the gap between IT and business units/end users will be high in demand as compared to, let's say, a backup operator. The time is now for organizations to start creating a framework for developing talent to lead this new evolving requirement.

Sudhir Verma is vice president of consulting services at Crofton, Md.-based Force 3, which provides security, unified communications, networks, data center, and medical imaging solutions for federal agencies, enterprise organizations and their key partners.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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