Don Jones

Tech | Career | Musings

Ever invest money? Like, even a 401(k) or something? What’s the first piece of advice you’re usually given by investment people?

Diversify.

The idea in finance is that, if one part of your portfolio sucks at the moment, you kind of want it balanced with something that doesn’t suck. So you invest a bit in domestic, a bit in international. A bit in stocks, a bit in bonds. That kind of thing.

Investing solely in one kind of thing creates what’s called a homogeneous portfolio, and it’s typically a bad idea. The same applies to your career.

Let’s say you got into IT Ops because Microsoft Windows made it E-Z to do. Look! A server that runs the same as a desktop! It’s E-Z! Cool. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But it’s a bit like an 8-year old who’ll only eat chicken nuggets and hot dogs. You know that someday the kid is going to have to eat something else, right? Same, again, with your career. Regardless of what your job demands of you, your career needs to be diversified. You can’t have a homogeneous IT career. Your career needs to go hetero.

“Going het,” from a tech perspective, means gearing up in some things you’ve never done before. But in looking at the other “teams to bat for,” you need to be smart.

Take it back to investing. We people say to diversify your financial portfolio, they don’t mean to invest in Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Oracle. Those are all tech companies. They’re all US-domestic. That is not diversification. So as you experiment with other sides of your career, think diversity. An Exchange admin who “diversifies” into Lync is kidding him/herself. Try diversifying into Office 365… and Google for Work… and whatever mail server the Linux kids are running these days. Not Notes, though. Never that. So no matter who’s “up” in the job market, you can jump in and be successful. Unless it’s Notes that’s somehow “up,” in which case, take up house painting.

This does not mean you have to be a world expert at everything. That is impossible. But it does mean you need to know the basics. How it works, what the fundamental design looks like. Where the tools are, and which websites provide Q&A coverage for it. You should never feel comfortable describing yourself as an “Exchange admin.” You should justifiably be able to describe yourself as a “messaging admin, with pan-technology capabilities.”

The point is to embrace other technologies. Know how they differ. Have no favorites. Be the guy/gal who can do whatever, given a little bit of prep time and some research. Know that within a field – messaging! – the concepts, tasks, and underlying bolts and sockets are all the same. Rely on that foundation to carry your career, and supplement that foundation with a vendor-neutral structure that can handle whatever the market throws at you.

2 thoughts on “Add Diversity to Your Career

  1. Interesting that it’s people who invested in the Microsoft ecosystem that are being “gently encouraged” to diversify into the open source ecosystem, yet people that chose to specialize in the open source ecosystem aren’t under any similar pressure to adopt Microsoft technologies (certainly not from within their own communities).

    This is probably because of a pragmatic realization that by far the most dominant player in terms of workloads and revenues in the cloud is Amazon and the vast majority of workloads running on Amazon are open source. If the future is the cloud, given the way the market is going, the future is AWS with Azure being an also-ran or BetaMax technology.

    Diversification is usually smart if you aren’t sure which technology will end up dominant and you want to place a bet each way, but given the “winner take all” historical tendencies of the industry, once one ecosystem does reach dominance, it’s pretty much game over.

    Rather than suggesting people diversify, a better strategy for those who previously invested in the Microsoft ecosystem might be to commit/convert wholeheartedly to the alternative. It’s not like what they have learned about Microsoft products will go away, it’s more that they should focus on the future completely and not hold out faint hope that Azure will somehow catch up to AWS staggering lead or that a new generation that chose open source technologies will for some reason decide to embrace a Microsoft that seems unconvinced enough by its own products that it’s openly professing it *hearts* the traditional enemy.

  2. Kiran says:

    Thanks Don!!

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