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Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Cloud Career and IT Skill Set

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New data center demands are creating a wide array of new types of specialists.

It’s early 2014 and what have you done to progress your IT career? Technology is moving at a scorching pace. The latest report from Cisco’s Cloud Index shows that annual global cloud IP traffic will reach 5.3 zettabytes by the end of 2017. Furthermore, by 2017, global cloud IP traffic will reach 443 exabytes per month (up from 98 exabytes per month in 2012).

All of this activity creates new types of positions. New data center demands are creating a wide array of new types of specialists. Engineers become architects, programmers become cloud designers, and database administrators become data scientists! There are a lot of new and interesting options out there to help you push your career to the next level.

To be successful in the IT and cloud arena you’ll have to optimize your existing skill set.  With that, let’s take a look at 10 great ways you can accomplish this.

  • Get Social, Get Noticed. It’s not just about reading books. Social media is a major part of the cloud computing revolution. We do it here @datacenter – and you should be getting involved as well. Not only does technology operate on a second-by-second basis, we now have mediums that can capture these updates in real-time. Get your voice heard, start learning from others, and introduce the very social aspect of cloud computing into your skill set.
  • Learn a New Technology; Diversify! Are you an engineer or a specialist? Don’t let that control the rest of your career. There are plenty of engineers who specialize in very specific technologies and are happy to continue doing so. If you’re ready to break out of that mold,  start examining parallel technologies which relate to your existing skillset. Are you working with databases? Start looking at data intelligence and big data. Do you work in networking? Start exploring software-defined technologies and cloud-network abstraction. The point is that there are amazing options which let you stay in some comfort zone while still getting the opportunity to challenge yourself.
  • Learn The Language of Business. One of the best ways to get into management or into that lead role is to understand the business process. Learn the language of the executive. Understand that they’re trying to find business challenges and correlate that to technology. If you’re able to speak the language of business, you’ll be able to better relay your IT ideas to the right people. In some cases, this means taking a business course as it relates to technology. Moving forward, IT and the business process are going to be completely unified. More organizations are now building their entire business model around their data center. Take that into consideration.
  • Think Like an Architect – See The Big Picture. This actually takes a bit of mental practice. Thinking like an architect forces you to understand the entire problem, everything that it will impact, and how to design an all-encompassing solution. Here’s the challenge: you have to take IT, business and future fluctuations into consideration. From there, you’ll have to convey your ideas intelligently to a broad audience. This isn’t something you can do overnight, but it’s a valuable skill to pick up. Instead of jumping right into a solution, take a few minutes and think about the impact of a given challenge. Then, think of a solution that not only helps solve that problem, but helps create a better overall infrastructure as well. It’ll take some practice, but thinking like an architect will help you truly understand the big picture around technology and business.
  • Understand Group and Organizational Dynamics. A big piece of IT is collaboration and communication. It may come as little surprise, but some IT folks have a challenge communicating their thoughts to people outside of the IT community. A big piece of becoming a leader in your IT space is the ability to convey your thoughts and ideas to a broad group of people. The other challenge is making sure they understand your message. In many cases this means presenting to executives and engineers. Here’s something that needs to be understood immediately: IT is no longer an independent function of the business organization. Rather, modern businesses are actively integrating technology functions directly into their enterprise model. This means more communication, more reliance on the data center, and a lot more demands from the IT department. Business no longer tells IT where to go. Now, IT and technologists have a direct say in the direction that a business must take. 
  • Translate Business and Marketing into Real IT solutions. There have been a lot of new terms thrown into the technology mix recently. Let’s look at a few: software-defined technologies (SDx), data center operating systems (DCOS), next-generation firewalls (NGFW), community cloud platforms, fog computing, and converged infrastructures. Yes, some of these are marketing terms to draw more attention to the vendor. But the truth is that there are very real technologies behind these marketing terms. Let’s look at software-defined networks (SDN). Here you have a technology which completely abstracts the networking layer and allows the administrator to deploy truly advanced global networking configurations and services. Learn about these new technologies, how they are defined and how they can impact your business. Many of these technologies are the foundation of the future cloud and data center model.
  • Don’t be Afraid to Speak Up (Both Virtually and Physically). Ask questions, participate in meetings, and make sure to be heard. Research issues and be able to back your thoughts with solid data and technological metrics. Learning to communicate in today’s IT world now spans the physical and virtual world. This means getting your thoughts across –intelligently – digitally as well as in person. The only way you’ll be able to implement new technologies that you feel can truly make an impact is by getting your voice heard.
  • Network, Network and Network! Not only is it about who you know, it’s about how many of those people you know. Networking has become a critical career path for the modern IT person. Conferences, local meet-ups, online groups, and social media are the new ways to create your career and technology network. Broaden your network group by incorporating people outside of your area of expertise. Let me give you an example. I was originally a cloud expert focusing on cloud technologies, virtualization, and workload delivery. Over the years, I’ve aligned a lot of my new training around the modern data center, optimization technologies, and how cloud directly integrates with data center operations. Networking with people who can enhance your area of business not only increases your IT knowledge, but can help you optimize your organization.
  • Start Thinking Outside and Beyond the “Data Center.” Get creative. There are so many supportive technologies out there to help optimize your environment. If you’re a storage expert, start thinking about data management and optimization. How can you increase density, improve IO, or decrease space utilization? Here’s the challenge: How can I optimize my data center environment while still lowering operational costs? Understanding SDx technologies and the data center virtualization revolution can help you create new types of business strategies. Learn about new supportive technologies which directly optimize core data center functions.
  • Never Become Complacent. Technology is evolving at such a fast pace that waiting a day to learn about a new solution may already put you behind. Even if you’re a specialized engineer, learn about new trends that will impact what you do. Infrastructures age, systems become legacy, and new platforms are constantly being introduced. It’s more important than ever to diversify your skill set and to stay on top of the latest IT trends. In today’s age of such rapid evolution, it will always feel like you’re catching up to new technologies. Even so, being complacent and ignoring the fast pace of technological evolution can be very detrimental to an IT career. Never forget the importance of constant innovation and all of the new platforms that can support the next-generation computing model.

It’s really a fascinating IT world right now. Users are utilizing more devices, there’s a lot more data traversing the cloud, and the future is bright for the modern data center and cloud platform. Already we’re seeing the data center become the home of everything. Looking ahead, it’s clear that cloud will only continue to increase in its usage. There will be more offerings, better solutions, and a lot more power from the cloud infrastructure.

This means that there have to be people who can understand the demands of the business and translate that into intelligent IT solutions. Start to think about your career, where you want it to go and what fascinates you in the modern IT era. The beauty here is that there is a place for everyone in the future cloud and data center infrastructure.

About the Author

Bill Kleyman is a veteran, enthusiastic technologist with experience in data center design, management and deployment. His architecture work includes virtualization and cloud deployments as well as business network design and implementation. Currently, Bill works as the National Director of Strategy and Innovation at MTM Technologies, a Stamford, CT based consulting firm.

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