In my new role at Pluralsight, I’ve been spending a ton of time looking at IT Operations, broadly, as an industry. Part of my job is to figure out where the industry is going, and help get our authors lined up to create effective training in those areas. But I can also share those areas with you… so that you know where you should be looking over the course of 2015.
I recently received a wonderful, humbling e-mail from a fellow who’s given me permission to share his story. I hope, after reading this, that you’ll do your best to pass it on – even to your non-technical friends. It has a wonderful ending, but it’s a really important cautionary tale. Share this with your co-workers, your user group, your Tweeple, and even your Facebook friends. It’s a technology story, but the moral is much more broadly applicable.
First of all, get them to consider it [technical careers] in the first place. That’s key. Even considering the thing. They need to understand that they’re in a land by themselves. Don’t look for your buddies to be helpful, because they won’t be. You’ve gotta step away from the crowd and go do your own thing. You find a ground; cover it; it’s brand-new; you’re on your own — you’re an explorer. That’s about what it’s going to be like. Explore new vistas, new avenues, new ways — not relying on everyone else’s way to tell you which way to go, and how to go, and what you should be doing.
Jerry Lawson, inventor of the first cartridge-based video game console, the “Fairchild Channel F.” via engadget Lawson’s advice was meant for young black men and women, but I think it’s quite applicable to any young person.
Your comments in a previous blog post were a huge help in identifying some of the areas where you think incoming entry-level help desk job candidates need education. My basic question is, “what should a new help desk job candidate know on day 1?”
Communication skills was a common item on many lists, and although that’s certainly a difficult topic to teach, it’s included in the below attachment. I’m calling that one out specifically because… well, there’s a lot of personality involved that just can’t be taught easily. Some people are just naturally more patient than others, whether by genetics or by upbringing. But, there’s no doubt that it’s important to cover.
Anyway, have a look at the attached. Ignoring Linux and Mac for the moment (not that they aren’t important, just that they’re not where I started), let me know if this draft list seems to be missing anything major.
Keep in mind that we’d all love for new job candidates to show up fully educated and ready to roll – but we mostly know that doesn’t happen. That’s why they’re called ‘entry-level’ jobs, of course! So I’m trying to not make this list comprehensive, but rather include just the things that a brand-new, young IT person could be expected to know their first day on a new job.
If there’s anything missing, drop it in the comments. I know some of these don’t have a super-ton of detail, so if there’s a majorly important detail that you think might be missing, feel free to leave that also.
Audience-wise, I’d love for this material to be available to high schoolers, anyone considering a two-year career college (in IT administration, of course, not other tracks), and so on. So I’m trying to keep the material at that kind of level. Not that a high schooler is dumb, but I’m not going to hit them with the full ITIL right out of the gate, either.
I’m not trying to target the material to someone who’s merely enthusiastic about computers, but not necessarily considering a job in them. This is for someone who’s goal is to get a job in the IT department of a company or other organization.
I hope you’ll take a moment to share this post with your coworkers, colleagues, peers, and even friends. Whether they’re in IT or not, there’s a strong lesson here – one that’s easy to lose in the day-to-day madness.
I have a good friend who’s not terribly happy at his current job. He’s stuck in a more-or-less dead-end position, and while they pay and benefits are fine, he feels a bit like he’s rotting in place. The world of IT is moving around him, and he’s worried about growing more irrelevant by the moment.
So he did the right thing: he started interviewing. That takes a lot of guts, and it’s the step where probably 80% of people will just give up and suffer in a job they don’t love. Interviewing is hard, it can feel humiliating, and practically nobody enjoys it. But he did it.
And had a problem, because for much of his career he’s been in larger companies that tend to “silo” people into a specific technology. So, he applies for this job, and told me:
I recently interviewed to take over a position at an Internet company and I failed… That was a pretty tough pill to swallow, considering the main skill they wanted was someone to manage their PowerShell / Desired State Configuration approach to configuration management on Windows servers. That’s pretty much my bread and butter right now. I was told that the reason for being turned down was that I don’t have enough experience with IIS and SQL.
Ouch. Perfectly qualified for the job’s main requirement – in fact, he’s probably one of the top people in the world for that job. But he didn’t get it because he didn’t have SQL Server and IIS skills.
This is such a common refrain. Folks, while your current employer might be happy with your skill set, nobody else will be. There’s a reason your employer isn’t “investing” in your skills by training you up in “unrelated” technologies – it makes it easier to keep you. Your employer has no reason to help solidify your career – they just want to make sure you can do your current job. And unless that job is the only one you ever want to have, you have to take the initiative on your career.
Technologies like SQL Server and IIS are as fundamentally important as understanding DNS, IP networking, and using a mouse and keyboard. Sure, if you’re in a non-Microsoft environment, you can substitute “SQL” and “IIS” with something else, like “MySQL” and “Apache,” but the point is that these functions are essential to everything. Knowing core infrastructure – Active Directory, DHCP, a bit about routing, all that – is lowest-common-denominator knowledge. If you want any kind of decent position, you need to know it all.
I get so frustrated when I teach things like PowerShell DSC and hear comments like, “this looks cool, but I’ll never get to use it at my current job, so….” Why should that stop you? If you don’t work for a leading-edge-tech company – and few folks do – then it’s up to you to invest in your career. You have to keep up, even if it’s on your own… or you’re going to be stuck in your current job. Maybe you’re okay with that – maybe your current job fits you perfectly, in which case, congratulations! But I’d be terrified of being stuck with no options.
People bemoan how difficult it is to “keep up,” but it isn’t always that hard. Buy a book, or subscribe to one of the many video training services (I like Pluralsight these days) out there and watch a video. My Month of Lunches series has IIS and SQL Server books for a reason. You need to identify the lower-level platforms and technologies that power everything, and make bloody sure you know about them. Yeah, it’s harder when you’re not using them for a living at work – but man, it’s so easy to get stuck otherwise. Yeah, books and videos won’t give you experience – but it gives you a start. A home lab helps fill that in. Nothing replaces on-the-job experience, but if you can speak intelligently about a technology in an interview, you might clinch it anyway.
But you gotta learn.
And you know, it’s funny – but think of some of the “religious IT” arguments you’ve heard others make over the years. Linux is better than Windows, IIS is better than Apache, nobody ever needs IPv6, VMware is better than Hyper-V, whatever. Those arguments are rarely founded on technical merit. They’re often based more on the person’s desire to avoid learning something new. Not always; sometimes those arguments are genuinely made in a “what’s the right tool for this job” vein, in which case they’re not “religious” arguments. But way too often, they’re just people defending their turf because they don’t want to learn something new – even when the opportunity arises in their current job.
Never turn down an opportunity to learn something new. Make those opportunities for yourself by learning outside the job. You have to. Because someday you might need to move on, and you need to make sure you’ve got the skills that the marketplace is looking for.
No matter how m@d your sk1llz are in your chosen area of specialization… you’re stuck if you don’t have the breadth needed to fit into a variety of other environments. Please don’t be stuck. Invest in your career, so that you’ll always have options when it comes to a job.
Every been out on a boat? You’re supposed to wear a life jacket, right? You might not need it, but just in case.
Does your career have a life jacket?
That is, if you run into a day-to-day technical problem, to whom would you go to for help? Google? Online forums? That’s kind of like forgoing the life jacket and just hoping the dolphins will save you if something goes wrong. They might. It’s not impossible.
Or maybe you rely on your coworkers. That’s kind of like relying on the other people in the same boat, though, isn’t it? If the ship’s going down, it’s kinda every man for himself. I’ve always relied heavily on coworkers to make sure the job gets done, and they’ve relied on me; but when it comes to dealing with real problems, I’d like my safety net to be a little more expansive.
I find that software developers tend to grasp this concept pretty well. Most developers I know regard the entire software development industry as their “career,” regardless of what their current job might be. They actively participate in the broader community:
- They reliably respond to questions on forums. They spend a lot of time correcting each other, but that’s part of community, too.
- They attend conferences. They go to classes. They watch instruction videos. They really learn.
- They go to user group meetings. They do stuff after hours and on the weekends that’s development-related.
- They blog a lot. Even if it’s on something either other people have blogged on. For any given problem, you usually get a range of opinions on how to solve it.
- The complain a lot. Loudly, about things they don’t like in technology. This results in more fixes from vendors.
I don’t know why, but I find that fewer IT pros engage in some of the same behaviors. It’s tougher for us to get to conferences, I feel, because we’re often needed more from minute-to-minute than developers, who tend to work on projects more than “fires.” But I see fewer IT pros engaging in community.
Community isn’t just asking a question on a forum. It’s going back to that same forum later and seeing if you can offer any answers. Of all the various IT pro-focused forums I’ve engaged with over the years, fewer than .01% of the question-askers ever come back to offer answers, or an alternate approach, or an additional observation. Most just show up when they have a problem, and then vanish when it’s solved. But think about the advantages of coming back. You get to know the other people who post there. When you’re in real need, you can ping them in an e-mail and ask them to look at something a bit quicker than usual.
And this isn’t just forums. There are all kinds of ways to engage and become a part of community. Get on Twitter and watch relevant hash tags. Frequent some blogs, and comment on their articles. Attend a user group meeting – every time they have one. Heck, start a virtual, online user group around a specific topic. Attend a conference and actually network, instead of just soaking in all the education. Make personal connections. Get to know people. Those people will become your colleagues. They will support you when you need an answer, and they will recommend you when you need a job. They will offer suggestions when you need to find a solution, and they will be there when your current job isn’t.
If you don’t have connections then you do not have a career. You have a job. I’ve written before about the distinction, and I think it’s an important one. Yes, it can be difficult to begin, and it can be time-consuming to maintain. But having a career is a life jacket for when your job starts to sink. When your job has a fire, your career helps provide the extinguisher. If your job becomes vexing, your career helps offer the way out.
So consider spending the effort to get connected. Find colleagues, and keep in touch. Find ways to meet people virtually, if not in person. Form a network. Make a career.