When I began my IT journey I had a guy that I worked with that had been in IT since the 90s. He told me that I needed to find my niche and stay there. He said if you know everything about one little part of the network, that they wouldn’t be able to get rid of you. For years that was the case in the IT world. If you were dedicated to data networking, security, wireless, VOIP, or any of the other myriad sub-disciplines, you could write your ticket, provided that a company had a vested interest in that area.
Today, things have changed. You hear about convergence in the data center and other parts of the network. Putting everything into one package and simplifying as you go, until you have a lean, mean networking machine. You’ve got it all in that piece of hardware; servers, storage, and networking.
That’s where today’s IT engineer is moving. In my career, I never really took heed of that old timers advice. I’ve been doing this for a while and have seen trends come and some grow into core technologies. I’ve embraced a lot of these and learned everything I can about them, and it’s helped me to become a better engineer.
When working on updating a data center, if you don’t know anything about storage or servers and just focus on the networking stuff, can you make it work? Yes, but most likely there will be a lot of heartache and fine tuning to be done, while you figure out the quirks of whatever systems are being implemented. What about security? Did you take that into consideration or did you just decide, “Oh, the security team will take care of all the details, I can make whatever changes are needed down the road.”
A good example is a data center project I worked on a few years ago. I had to build out the entire infrastructure of a large number of virtualization clusters and unified storage builds. I’m talking something capable of supporting thousands of users, simultaneously if need be. On paper, sure it doesn’t look like much work to do. What I kept hearing from the systems engineers and storage guys was that working with me on this project was great because I kept anticipating what their needs were going to be, because I was at least moderately familiar with the technologies they were using. So when it came down to the actual implementation and spin up of the project, we were able to go live quicker than the projected time. That saved the company money, and we all know that companies like money.
What I’m saying is that with the advent of technologies like SDN, network engineers are going to have their fingers in more pies, by necessity. We need to learn at least a little about all these connected systems, so that we can better understand how they fit into the whole.
Is there still room for the specialist? Of course, there will always be a need for someone that knows something like security cold. They have such a different mindset that the landscape has an entirely different color to them. But I can put on my nifty security shades and get a similar hue as them to understand what their needs might be.
Wireless is another great example, as a wireless guy is going to be able to step right into an area and tell you, “Yeah, if you could put about 10 more APs in here that would be great.”
With the trends moving like they are today, we as engineers need to be future-focused and future proof our own careers in the process.