For many IT professionals, particularly those that got their start in the 90s or early 2000s, career challenges can feel somewhat existential.
It has traditionally been perceived as a profession for the young, admitted Orin Thomas, who moderated a panel on the subject at IT/Dev Connections.
Now that I'm older, am I in danger of becoming obsolete?
The consensus was ultimately no, but continued career success often relies heavily on staying flexible, one step ahead of the trends, and finding a way to turn lessons learned back in the NT4 days into an asset.
But it's important to note that changes, big and small, have occurred: There's a push from Microsoft to move from on-premise to Azure or Office 365, for example.
Particularly jarring for those that grew up in the industry in the 90s is Microsoft's embrace of Linux.
If you say that there was sarcasm, that might be understating it. If you were to say there was abuse, that might be understating it, said Thomas, recalling Microsoft vs. Linux flamewars on Slashdot.
So now Microsoft says we love Linux, and in the back of your mind your thinking — those people really hated us.'
Even relatively small pieces of the industry are different, as Adnan Hendricks, a chief technical architect, noted.
I built data centers for years. It used to be freezing, he recalled.
Now if you go, you have to wear a t-shirt. Even those kinds of things change.
But a lot of the industry sea changes aren't without precedent, and that can give seasoned IT professionals an edge: The move from on-premise to hosted is about the third time it's happened, and all the focus on areas like security or backups have seen prior cycles as well.
Everything I know is useless, this is a completely new world, said John Savill, explaining the first feelings of any major update in technology.
Really it's just a shift. It's just a jarring idea, but the like the reality in life is if you do patching and monitoring, you'll still do those things. If you're a networking expert, there's a shift but there's still a lot of network. You just have to adapt.
Be careful before throwing stones
The experts also offered advice on making sure that you become one of the respected voices in your business.
There's a narrative: IT is stopping businesses for what they want to do, said Thomas.
I think it's rubbish, but that's how it's being framed. IT pros are naturally conservative, because if it breaks who is fixing it.
That's meant that in too many battles, from cloud to consumerization, IT has been framed as the bad guy holding progress back, rather than as a source of strategy on mitigating risk.
Because of that, it's easy to get placed in the role of technology curmudgeon — which often leads to IT being routed around.
Never be the person to dismiss a technology. Always be the one to say, we'll investigate that, said Savill.
It might not be the right fit, but you'll be the trusted person to evaluate technology. If it's not right the fit, then you'll have reasons. If you always resist change, you'll get caught.
Mark Minasi agreed.
Unless you're making the decision, don't say negative things about new technologies, he said.
Let someone else take the hit. That makes you sound old.
And a lot of time that thoughtful evaluation, followed by wait-and-see, is later vindicated.
I think it it the mid-life IT folks who have the knowledge, experience, and wisdom to see if something fits within their organization, said Rod Trent.
He pointed to Microsoft major push to the cloud a few years — and how ultimately they pivoted their offer to better support on-premise use cases.
You absolutely have control, said Trent.
You also have a network, which several panelists encouraged IT professionals to take advantage of.
Who goes back to the office and does a pizza session where they go over what they learned? said Adnan Hendricks.
What your job is to take back what you've learned, and say this is why it was a great idea to go to Dev Connections.
Those kinds of conversations help establish your value within the organization and help your group drive forward the changes you think will best benefit the organization.
Outside your organization, social media can also help keep you connected to not only other IT professionals but also industry shifts more generally.
I do a lot of social media, and that's how i keep my hooks in the ground, said Harjit Dhaliwal.
Trent agreed with social media's power.
We absolutely have to look young. It's about finding those resources that make us look young, that make us feel young, within the organization, he said.
We don't have to be the fuddy duddies that say I don't use Facebook.
Those kinds of connections and lifelong learning pay of.
If a shark stops swimming, it dies. If an IT pro stops learning, his career dies, said Minasi.
But for those professionals who are able to adapt, there's still plenty of opportunities.
We still exist, and we're going to be here for a while, said Dhaliwal.