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How the virtualization system administrator job is changing

Getting into the IT field can be challenging, but candidates with diverse technical interests and a desire to learn can succeed.

When many look at IT or networking as a new or career shift, they are often surprised at what they find. Information...

technology, as a career destination, is no longer about computers or hardware. In fact, today's system administrator job is not even about software or the cloud. It is about having the flexibility to deal with change.

IT has always had to keep up with business changes, which are often driven by the consumer. While some duties, such as fixing desktops or racking and stacking servers, still exist, they are being minimized as the IT industry continues to move toward BYOD, disposable desktops, cloud infrastructure and virtualization. Technology advancement has changed many of the traditional IT jobs into variants and combinations of what they used to be and companies have mostly embraced those changes.

System administrator jobs are necessary even among the clouds

As more traditional IT jobs go away, where does that leave the person looking to get into IT? Fortunately, while some things change, some will always remain the same and IT infrastructure will still be needed -- even if it's not on site. So, let's start with the biggest elephant in the room and address the perception that, "We don't need IT -- we'll move everything to the cloud." Oddly enough, going this route can require more resources and people with both specialized and general skills. Moving to the cloud isn't a magical stepping stone to removing IT; it's using and paying for someone else's resources. Sure, you may have a few additional wizards on the front end, but consider that convenience a trade-off for not always having access to the back end in case you want or need to make global changes.

Let's also not forget that a business still needs a reliable network connection to the cloud -- a connection far more complicated than residential service. In fact, the more you put in the cloud, the more important the connection is and the greater the need is for having someone on site to keep you connected, and secure, at all times. Setting up a cloud resource or business connection isn't something simply anyone can do -- that is, unless your business doesn't care about quality or security. We find that many IT roles are not going away, and IT personnel today must have a broad range of knowledge combined with specialized skills.

The modern IT role isn't simply about knowing hardware or being able to configure a server; it's about how to make things work together. While this may come as a surprise to some, not everything in the cloud works well together. In fact, it is normally the opposite. New IT professionals still need to know how a server works and how to install it, but that is the easy part. The real value an IT professional can bring is making that server work with everything else. These challenges are not exclusive to on-site servers, they also exist in the cloud. Integration skills are the new challenge for IT professionals.

The traditional IT model segregated different disciplines -- networking, storage, security -- into separate silos. Employers valued IT professionals who were highly-skilled in one of these silos. Increasingly, businesses are finding more value in IT professionals whose skills stretch beyond a single discipline and are adept at making everything working together.

System administrator jobs are about integrating skills

Tomorrow's system administrator job will require applicants to know a bit of security and networking to help protect a company's resources. Let us also not forget the technology itself, which has led us down a path to a convergence of these once-siloed duties. Virtualization has combined networking and storage into a hybrid role of the system administrator job. The same goes for the network administrator as they now need to understand this new virtualized world and the needs that go along with it.

The IT positions employers are looking for today and will value tomorrow put less emphasis on a specific discipline, but on a combination of skills. The people companies are looking for must have the fundamental knowledge in many disciplines in addition to the specialty they have chosen. The desktop administrator will need to understand mobile devices and thin clients. The server administrator will need security, virtualization and networking skills. Today's users and companies don't just want the technology to work together, they need it to. A successful business needs a high level of interaction between applications and devices, and to accomplish this goal it needs people able to stretch beyond the siloed lines of yesterday's IT environment into a new world without lines or barriers.

While this requirement for a broad skill set may sound like a barrier to starting an IT career, it's not. The chance to work with multiple technologies and solve a wide variety of challenges is what drives so many. IT is about lifelong change and learning, and this is something to embrace as you get started in IT.

Next Steps

Skills you need for the next generation of virtualization jobs

Keep learning if you want to stay relevant in enterprise IT

Why being an IT generalist can help your career

This was last published in May 2016

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