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Red or Blue Pill? Why IT Needs to Get Serious About Learning

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By Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek™, SolarWinds

In the very first Matrix movie, Morpheus famously tells a very confused Neo, “There’s a great difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” This could well describe what we’re seeing with IT pros today. On the one hand, technology professionals know they should be upskilling: learning new disciplines like software-defined infrastructure, cloud-native, data science, machine learning, and others. These technologies promise to throw some major curveballs in the next few years. On the other hand, their top skills priorities as charted by the 2019 SolarWinds® IT Trends Report are hybrid IT deployment, systems management, and scripting. Which path to take should be clear, but it’s not—a significant reason why few have been able to take the first step.

Granted, training and upskilling aren’t easy, particularly when you’re facing greater time and resource pressures than before. But IT pros are at a crossroads between the “red pill” of the harsh reality of significant self-improvement and the “blue pill” of delay, even at the risk of downline career limitations. Those who take the red pill, upskilling, may need a bit of help as they learn how deep the rabbithole goes, but their future amongst the machines looks bright.

Don’t Start—or Stick—With the Basics

The results of the 2019 SolarWinds IT Trends Report suggest businesses still haven’t accepted one simple fact: the digital transformation strategy of today and the tech investments of tomorrow both require teams to develop new skills. In lieu of greater organisational support—or, you know, having some free time at work—IT pros will unfortunately need to take upskilling matters into their own hands.

This means accepting some late-night revising for new technologies or putting aside time on weekends to get involved in meetups or hackathons. Unfortunately, unlike the Matrix, IT Neos don’t have an option to wake up believing whatever they want to believe. There’s no way to escape the accelerating curve of new technology. Putting in the effort and investment will ultimately result in better professional outcomes than simply hoping things will get better on their own.

What should IT pros focus on learning? Following one’s own interests can offer a great starting point. Most of us entered the technology field because we’re passionate about science, or data, or engineering, and rekindling that can lead to a streamlined learning path. If you’ve developed an inclination for the jiu-jitsu of machine learning, start training in it; if you’d rather learn the kung fu of data science, invest your energies there.

Despite new moves away from specialisation to automation and “everything as a service” in the cloud, the few specialists who remain will command some serious clout. For example, newly glamorous fields like site reliability engineering (SRE) can potentially command extremely high salary pay, albeit with high expectations for learning. Most IT pros won’t be especially passionate about replacing the command line with automation, but for those who are, going deep on technical skills can prove incredibly rewarding both intellectually and financially.

Stop Trying to Think Different, and Think Different!

There are, however, some universals which IT pros can enhance today, like critical thinking, asking the right questions, and aligning technology to business objectives. None of this is especially new; the only major difference might be that instead of configuring infrastructure to meet business demands, IT pros will find themselves collaboratively designing services and solutions to do the same. But the fundamental requirements—a willingness to test new theories, move past tradition, and seek constant improvement—remain the same.

Some of this sort of (un)learning can take place in the workplace itself, if there are others on the team who share the vision. The more time IT pros spend in conversation with lines of business or practicing new methodologies like agile project management, the more confidence they’ll gain. More importantly, they’ll learn how to apply those skills in more environments than any course or boot camp can cover. This should help them not only grow within their current organisations, but also switch jobs and companies with greater ease. Perhaps the real benefit to upskilling is basic knowledge of “hard” disciplines like data science and machine learning becoming a prerequisite for ops candidates, but useful skills like managing projects and engaging stakeholders in an agile and effective way can have direct benefits now.

There’s no better time to dodge the “blue pill” of skills redundancy—not least because most organisations’ digital transformation strategies are now well underway. Businesses don’t have the patience, or the headcount, to entertain IT pros who don’t exhibit the drive and desire to keep learning. The best thing smart technologists can do now is pick an area of passion and upskill in it. Before they know it, they’ll apply those new skills as part of critical and innovative thinking in the workplace. And that combo will make any ops leader or hiring manager say, “Woah.”


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1 Comment
  1. Zouzou says

    Thanks alot for the nice topic.

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