Chris Hunt was kind enough to offer a response to my post yesterday and voiced an opinion I’ve heard from many others. I’d like to address his comments. (And Chris, I do value your opinion, I just couldn’t disagree more. :) )
Legacy Environments Will Be Around
This discussion assumes you are a person who places high values on working in an environment with the latest and greatest. Considering there are still mainframes and a ton of Windows XP machines, I think it’s safe to say that even outdated skills will provide a viable career path for many years.
First off, to make sure the discussion is framed correctly, this is about protecting your career path, not about working with the latest and greatest necessarily. Patterns and practices do not require working with the latest and greatest. There are COBOL shops that are doing Agile development and Continuous Delivery. Declarative configuration management has been a thing for about 25 years (starting with CFEngine).
And speaking of legacy (like COBOL), in the same way that we still have horse-drawn carriages, black powder rifles, and sailboats, we still have legacy environments. But the number of jobs and the way those legacy resources are used does change. New systems are built on top of or to replace them and the number of roles to support that infrastructure decrease - over time. This is a discussion about movement in the industry, not necessarily one point in time in one locale.
Moving Toward Trends Is Counter Productive In Legacy Environments
I think the real assumption, that I know Don like to discuss a lot, is that maintaining that legacy infrastructure costs more than you think and we, as a community of admins, should be pushing forward with a more aggressive velocity.
Keep in mind, Don’s job is to sell training so if more people are interested in learning new things, he is more successful. If your job is maintaining legacy systems and you find the work rewarding, it’s probably counter productive to invest in new trends.
Admins aren’t the only ones watching this space. CIOs and other C-level execs, as well as Boards of Directors and investors are starting to see a radical difference in IT organizational effectiveness. Note, I said “starting”, we are still early in this curve, but it is happening. Studies like Puppet Lab’s DevOps survey and articles on CIO.com show that there are real business impacts for embracing this change. And again, these changes don’t require the latest and greatest (it might be easier with those tools, but it’s not required). IT departments are beginning to compete more heavily with outsourced services. When internal IT departments can’t provide the same or better value that purchased services can (look at what is happening in email and document sharing), businesses are duty-bound to explore other options.
This is not a discussion about what tech you like to work with. It’s about protecting your career when the your world changes. For example, in the area where I live, manufacturing, beer, and meat packing plants were huge employers. Over the past 20 to 30 years, those jobs have been going away. On a more personal note, some former co-workers were working in a more traditional shop, which was recently purchased and the new management reversed the IT direction 180 degrees. These folks had a choice, stay with x company, look for jobs with a legacy focus (and for less than they were making), or look at moving into consulting and have to travel more. They weren’t ready to move to environments that would better suit their work preferences and were left with less desirable options.
Not All Trends Become New Principals and Practices
A trend might evolve into a principle, but not necessarily. Investing in exploring all trends can be expensive, in time and money. There is room in the job market for people who want to be trend scientists and people who want to just use the well explored principles.
Here I agree with Chris. Not everything sticks. That’s where we need to build our intuition about our industry. Sometimes we’ll be wrong. But if we build our understanding of the industry and guess right more often than not, you’ll be more prepared for the future. As an aggregate, I think Chris is right that there will a job market for legacy, but do you really want to give up total control of your future working conditions, location, and employer? I understand that this is work, it requires time and investment, but I believe you owe it to yourself and those who depend on you to take responsibility for your future. Your employer, while having a moral obligation to help develop your career, isn’t on the hook if your world changes.
Order Up, One DevOps Please!
This also all assumes that the job market is like Burger King and you can just have any kind of job you want. Where I live, there is a huge market for “classic admins”. Pretty much none of the job descriptions include any of the trends on your watch list.
If you have a handle on the upcoming trends, you pretty much can “have it your way”. This is about putting more of your future under your control. If you are happy in your current position, you don’t have to change it, but when something does change, having the ability to better influence your role change is to your advantage. Just because today’s job listings in your area don’t have my suggested areas for investment doesn’t mean they won’t.
What happens when your organization decides they want “the devops” and to experience what a high performing IT organization can deliver. Will you be ready? Or will you be replaceable (or worse, irrelevant)?
And, guess what, most of the jobs in my local area don’t have these requirements either, but that hasn’t stopped me (and others I know) from finding work (and having a choice of jobs to select from). My situation though isn’t the focus of this discussion. My main point is that YOU need to own your career development and be prepared for the changes that will come.
Is it possible that you could ride out changes in our industry without having to change your role? Sure.
Is it likely that you can? I don’t think so. And I want you to be successful and provide a good living for your dependents and significant other(s).
I want you to enjoy your work and have a fulfilling career. I want you to be and feel AWESOME!
I hate hearing stories like one Don wrote about recently, where there was a guy who realized he could have a career and not just a job, but wasn’t prepared to step into the role he wanted. It makes me sad to see that, especially since I know a number of folks in that same boat. That’s why I beat this drum.