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Don't be labeled 'legacy admin,' update your virtualization job skills

As more companies consider multiple hypervisors, make sure your skills are keeping pace with the changing virtualization job market.

There's no doubt the virtualization job landscape is changing. The trend toward multiple hypervisors, cloud computing and the idea of a software-defined data center is making the IT generalist just as important as specialized experts -- if not more so. In some ways, virtualization vendors are helping push this change, introducing products that break the mold of traditional silos and offering new entry-level certifications for IT pros looking to branch out. Microsoft even went so far as to take a not-so-subtle jab at VMware Inc. when it introduced its latest certification, saying VMware admins should diversify or risk being left behind.

With that in mind, this month we're asking our Advisory Board members how IT pros should prepare now to stay relevant as technology and the industry changes. In today's changing data centers, what virtualization job skills are companies looking for when they hire new IT pros? What experiences or skills will get a prospective employee noticed?

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

When faced with lesser market share, Microsoft has always built in transition mechanisms within their products (i.e., Internet Explorer in response to Netscape or Active Directory to Novell NDS). The latest in this trend is virtualization education and certifications. Capitalizing on Hyper-V's increasing market share, Microsoft's new angle is that it cares about your career, and since [it believes] the world is moving toward Hyper-V, Microsoft is here to help. Whether Hyper-V will be a giant slayer is still to be seen, but it has made an impact on the market. I know of many strong VMware organizations that have deployed at least some Hyper-V in branch or test environments. The fact is those organizations were not even considering Hyper-V two years ago. Multi-hypervisor knowledge is now a necessity, and this trend will continue to be the dominant component of the modern data center for the next five years.

It's true, you are not going to find a lot of strictly Hyper-V shops, so hedging your bets on the underdog is not smart. But you are going to find more organizations looking for Hyper-V skills. Enterprises, hosting providers and even cloud providers are starting to realize the potential revenue streams from meeting customer/vendor desires for a particular hypervisor platform. With this demand, new jobs and career paths will open. As strong as the emotional tie to your hypervisor of choice may be, you are doing yourself a disservice -- at least if you want to stay relevant -- if you do not put time into learning multiple hypervisors. It is time to get prepared.

Jason Helmick, Concentrated Technology

Today's successful IT pro is a fearless problem solver with a lust for technology, architecture and solutions. The business is faced with a need for rapid IT management to stay agile in the face of rapidly changing technology. You should be that IT pro. Here are a few of my rules to keep me moving forward in my career and remain valuable to my company.

Non-vendor specific
An IT pro that can immediately dive into a new and foreign technology and produce results is worth his weight in gold. You might specialize in a specific vendor's product, like VMware, but the company needs someone that specializes in virtualization -- able to use VMware, Hyper-V and more. If you don’t believe you will have several different virtualization platforms on your network, then you haven't looked around the office.

Eliminate manual repetitive tasks
Manual processes are fraught with human error and need to be removed. Automation, regardless of scripting language or platform is essential. Many of your products today can be automated using PowerShell, so stop wondering if you should learn it and start automating.

Be cross platform
Do you have Windows, Unix/Linux and midrange systems in your environment? You should know something about them all and be comfortable diving into them when needed. This doesn't mean that you are the guru for each, but you should understand them and be able to assist in problem-solving and automation, which brings me to my personal favorite:

Never stop learning
Be aggressive to learn new technologies, even if you don't think you need them right away. As an example, the knowledge you gain in learning about Windows Server 2012 may affect near-future business decisions. Without that knowledge, you're just flying blind and not providing the best value to your company.

Companies need aggressive, smart and fearless problem solvers.

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

The IT professional's skills and education are not the same as many other fields. Technology moves at light speed and employers don't want people that can just keep up, they want people that can lead. IT skills are always in demand and certifications have always been a way in which hiring managers can find people with expertise in specific fields. The problem is, which certifications does a person look at? Most technology vendors have their own certifications -- some offer more than a dozen.

The question of where to start is a daunting one. Focusing in on a single vendor can help you achieve more advanced certifications, but it limits your exposure base. A person with certifications in VMware, for example, might get overlooked if the hiring manager is also looking for someone who has Hyper-V knowledge. Having a broad base of knowledge in multiple vendors can put a candidate a step above others. For the entry-level person, a combination of VMware VCA, Microsoft MTA and Cisco CCENT can open a lot of doors. Those certifications are also the first step to the higher-level professional VMware VCP, Microsoft MCSA and Cisco CCNA.

As the data center's isolated silos have started to break down, the IT professional that has certifications spanning servers, hypervisors and networking is a highly sought after person. If you add in a storage certification, such as EMC ISM or ITIL service management, you can become truly sought after.

Besides technology certifications, it's important to know that more employers are requiring applicants to have two- and four-year degrees. Employers are finding that just technical skills are not enough and they need candidates that also have the business, teamwork and communication skills that IT certifications do not provide.

Dave Sobel, Level Platforms Inc.

IT professionals have a multitude of different directions they can take their careers, which is one of the reasons it's considered such a dynamic field. The downside is that IT pros need to proactively engage to keep themselves current. Having piles of certifications is not always the right strategy. For those looking to pursue Data center careers, combining virtualization, hardware and security certifications trend towards generalist roles, and those who go deep in a particular specialty will continue on a highly specialized track. Getting noticed requires finding things that aren't as common. Ultimately, a resume that includes strong communication skills will always get attention.

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How will the multi-hypervisor and software-defined data center trends affect the virtualization job market?