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2017
Sean Onion

IT is Changing: Are You?

Posted by Sean Onion Employee Jul 25, 2017

There was a time when personal reinvention was something you did only in the face of a major life event, like losing your job or a divorce. But as the Internet has grown larger, the world has grown smaller, and competition has grown fiercer, we should explore the possibility of reinventing ourselves every year or two. It’s no longer a recovery technique—it’s a career and life management tool.

Plenty of books and blogs help with techniques; what many lack is advice on where to focus your efforts: Where do you start? What’s your roadmap?

Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out the answers to those questions alone. You’re surrounded by people and systems that can help.

A great place to start is the organization you work for. Ask yourself this: Do you know how your company makes money? Better yet, do you know how you do or can help your company make money? I know, these seem like obvious questions, and you may believe you know the answers.  But do you know them well enough to formalize them in writing and show them to your peers? Your manager? Would you show them to your boss’s boss? How has the picture changed in the last year, and how will it change over the next 12 months?

You see, whether they like it or not, the application economy is forcing most businesses to change—radically. Organizations that don’t adapt will wither and fade away. Kodak created the first digital camera but shelved it due to fears that it would undercut film sales.  Blockbuster tried to buy out Netflix and doubled down on BlueRay, rightly predicting that streaming media would undercut its DVD business. Xerox invented many technologies we use today but didn’t exploit them for fear that they would undercut their photocopier business. See a theme here? Fear and protection of old business models will always lose out to courage and forward-thinking.

We in IT may think we’re safe—after all, IT is causing the change, right? But it’s not just the nature of business that’s changing—the nature of IT is changing. Whereas IT used to focus inward and was considered necessary overhead for running the business (like typewriters to my father’s generation), IT has moved closer to customers and is strategic to the business.

What we do no longer affects just internal operations; we affect the customer directly. And vice versa: Customers have a more direct and daily impact on what IT delivers and how we deliver it.

This shift means that our jobs are constantly changing. The skills, knowledge, and tools that used to serve you well are now out of date—or soon will be. To determine which skills, knowledge, and tools you now need, look to your company’s evolution, find out what has already changed and determine what changes are around the corner.

Next time I talk with you, I’ll spell out a plan of action. In the meantime, if you want to chew the fat or comment about this post, comment below or email me at sean.onion@ca.com.

During the 20 years I’ve been involved with CA Technologies as an employee or customer, I’ve watched the company continually adapt to changes in the software industry. That’s one reason I’m intrigued by CA CTO Otto Berkes’ book, Digitally Remastered, which addresses how changes wrought by the application economy affect all organizations and how organizations can adapt to those changes. 

In my first few blog posts, I’m excited to talk about how the changes that come along with the application economy also require people to adapt. This is especially true for us in IT. Software engineering is maturing, automation and virtualization are constantly evolving, security boundaries are shifting, and almost everyone now has some kind of customer contact. Just as organizations are reinventing themselves to adapt to change, so must we.

In the spirit of CA Services experts helping companies eliminate barriers between ideas and outcomes, I’ll talk about a barrier to IT professionals’ career growth and cover some ways that we can transform that barrier into a valuable outcome—career growth and fulfillment.

If you’ve been feeling a certain level of career inertia, feel trapped in your current role, or don’t really know what’s next for you—if you’re looking for a change but don’t know how to go about it—I believe I can offer some useful advice based on my own experience.

School’s Not out for Summer

Alice Cooper’s classic “School’s out for Summer” to the contrary, the learning process never ends. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but school (high school, college, even grad school) wasn’t a bridge to cross—it was training for a lifelong pattern. To keep current in any job—whether it’s manual labor or sitting behind a desk—homework is a reality. To move to the next “grade” in our career—or life—we apply what we’ve already learned and add new knowledge to our quivers.

Do you know someone who has decided that he or she has learned enough? I frequently meet IT professionals who won’t read technical manuals on personal time. They’ve decided that the cost and burden of further education is their employer’s (surrogate parents’?) responsibility, not theirs. They’ve abandoned the rudder needed to navigate life’s changes.

I’m not going to try to convince you to get more formal education. Instead, I want to show you ways to focus your efforts in a rapidly changing world.

 

My Personal Story: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

During the 2000s I was a Unicenter architect at a financial software company. We put a lot of work into making a world-class monitoring system. Then we hired a guy who rebelled against all of our best practices. He introduced a couple of new products, Spectrum and eHealth, but he didn’t go through a formal process; he went straight to the developers!

Suddenly I was viewed as “the old guy”! Any argument I made for improvement or remediation was perceived as dragging my feet. Looking back with the benefits of hindsight and maturity, I’m sure I contributed to the problem: I came across as inflexible, and my inexperience with the “new stuff” didn’t help.

So I took a radical—and ironic—turn. I took another job—as a Spectrum administrator, knowing next to nothing about the product. Fortunately, my new employers were looking for more than product skill. They recognized what they called “soft skills” and valued my ability to adapt quickly. 

In the process I learned valuable lessons. One was the value of breaking down the walls between Operations and Development. What I mean by that is that this new guy crossed the aisle and introduced a technical innovation directly to the developers (who, in turn, were closer to the customer). We had already stabilized operations monitoring, so he didn’t worry about that; he worked on making the business better. Instead of focusing on our processes, he aligned his effort with those who had their fingers on the customers’ pulse; he moved closer to the customer. 

Another lesson was this: Don’t get married to a tool. Understand the purpose of technology: Businesses employ technology innovations for competitive advantage, not for the sake of playing with cool tools. If goals change, or new innovations are needed, then either the tool has to change or you have to change tools. Just as a valued vendor constantly invests in and improves its portfolio, we also need to keep our personal portfolios fresh and current.

Which brings me to the third lesson. We have to embrace constant change. Our product knowledge is worth little compared to our ability to adapt and innovate. For both organizations and people, change is necessary for continuous improvement.

Next time, I’ll go into a bit more context and start to outline a plan of action. In the meantime, if you want to chew the fat or comment about this post, comment below or email me at sean.onion@ca.com.

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