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A tenured IT worker wonders about his future career

The trap of legacy IT skills

January 16, 2018

By Lisa Dare

Sometimes fear is an asset. It can alert us that our current course is risky.

And if you’ve been in the same job or profession for more than a few years, it might be time to get scared. Two-thirds of IT leaders we polled are already implementing or about to start undertaking the culture and technology shifts needed for DevOps transformation. And what many of them are finding is that “legacy staff” may be as challenging to manage as legacy technology.

Before you get mad, here’s what IT leaders are up against: their jobs have changed a lot. The digital-first era has taken their roles to new places: customer service, revenue, innovation, risk—everything needed for your company to survive and grow. Worse, they know AI is coming, and most of them aren’t ready for it.

Right now, in the calm before the storm, IT departments must build a tech culture and platform that will prepare your organization the big shifts coming. That means automating everything possible for the speed and risk reduction benefits. It means figuring out how to remove roadblocks to moving faster and smarter. It means moving past legacy technologies and legacy ways of doing business. So where does that leave experienced IT professionals?

Replace or retrain?

These are the questions keeping IT leaders awake at night: Will my current staff be able to adapt to new ways of working? Can they overcome their old habits and learn new ones? Do they even want to?

The coming shifts mean different things for different jobs. In general, if you’re on the development side of the house, it may mean developing a “T-shaped” profile, with an area of specialty (e.g., coding, testing automation) and a broad understanding of operations and infrastructure. In practice, this might mean you’re a software developer who provisions your code or understands testing.

Operations professionals may have a larger gap to navigate. If you’re not skilled in software-defined networking, CI-CD and scripting, it’s probably time to learn. And it wouldn’t hurt to become proficient in whatever project management methodology your dev team uses.

Projecting the right attitude

The people who sustain long-term career success in IT are often the folks who care deeply about learning, embrace change … and still provide some sensible skepticism about new fads.

The collapsing of siloes, the trend toward automation, the move to cloud computing—these aren’t movements you can ignore. It’s time to accept and embrace them.

A few resolutions to consider for 2018:

  • Signal your willingness to stretch. Raise your hand if there’s a chance to join a cross-departmental activity. Study up on compliance. Read up on the new trends coming.
  • Learn new things. Don’t just optimize your current skill set, acquire a completely new skill.
  • Prepare your mind for the big changes afoot. Read books like The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies and The Phoenix Project.  
  • Model a blameless culture. Eschew finger pointing for fact finding when things go wrong. This is the core of a strong and flexible work culture.
  • Get to know people outside your unit. Build relationships, learn about their jobs, empathize with their pains. It will prepare you for the blurring of lines that will occur between functions like information security, development and infrastructure.

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