So You Want to Work in IT? My Career Journey - Part 2
In Part 1 of this series, I went through all my previous jobs to show my career progression from a general sys admin to a specialist. This post will continue on that idea, mainly discussing why I left one of my first jobs and things I think you should think about in your current job role.
In the role where I was a junior sys admin, I mentioned I learned a lot of things: Active Directory, Exchange, SCCM, a little bit of SharePoint, VBScripting, and on. I spent a good number of years in that job and, looking back, really enjoyed the freedom I had to set my agenda most of the time. However, after many years there, I decided to move on for two reasons: compensation and skill set.
Let's Talk About Money
When I started this particular job, the salary was an increase of 40% over my previous job. I was over the moon! This was the most amount of money I had ever made. However, 4+ years later, I was making the exact same salary with a $250 longevity bonus. Two reasons for this: this was typical of the industry I was in, but I also never asked for a raise. I didn't feel I deserved it, I was still pretty new, and what if they said no? I simply didn't have the confidence to go for it. In my mind I felt, "If I deserved one, they would give it to me."
At the end of the day, while it is nice working for a company you might respect or do work you feel is valuable or have great coworkers, you are trading hours of your life for money. Why would you spend time earning less money or not asking for a raise when you could be making more? I get it, there's some comfort in doing the same work for the same company over a long period of time, and if that stability works for you, I'm not going to be the one to say that is a bad thing to do.
For myself, I decided that this situation wasn’t going to work any more, and I had to change.
When I decided to look for another position, I came to another realization: as much as I had learned in this role, I did not have the skill set the market was looking for. I started looking at job descriptions and saw things I did not know: VMware/virtualization, Citrix, PowerShell, networking. Oh yeah, certifications: MCSA, MCSE, VCP, CCNA. Here I was thinking I was going to find a job no problem, but I suddenly realized that I didn't have the skill set to work somewhere else. This idea hit home several years later when I came across an article from Don Jones discussing this very topic. Here's the relevant quote:
Your career is your career, not your company’s. You should be focusing on the technologies and techniques that you know are important to the industry, whether your company needs you to, wants you to, or pays for you to or not. You never know when your job – whether you love it or not – will suddenly cease to exist as you know it.
This industry is your career, not necessarily your current job. Make sure you’re learning what your career needs you to.
I had spent several years learning how to be a sys admin for my company, not a sys admin that the IT industry was looking for. During an interview around this time, I was humbled by a particular interviewer multiple times. During the phone screening, he asked if I had done anything with PowerShell. I said no. He simply said, "Why not? It's the backbone of Exchange, you should learn it." I spent the next 2 weeks re-writing a part of our user provisioning script that had been broken since we moved to Exchange 2007 (it didn't like VBScript anymore for creating mailboxes). I had been putting off learning this because I failed to see the relevance or knew how important it was going to be.
I managed to get an in-person interview. He asked if I had any experience with VMware. Again, this was a no, we weren't doing any virtualization at my current job so I had never touched it. Again, he said, "Why not? That doesn't matter, download a free trial and try it out." While he did this in a friendly manner and wasn't abrasive about it, I realized how right he was and that not doing it at my current job was no excuse not to learn something.
I had failed to understand what I should be learning or doing by not following what was happening in the industry. Honestly, I didn't know or talk with any IT people outside the people I worked with. I had no idea what was going on, and I failed to prepare to be valuable outside my current role.
I find myself almost back in that same position. The last several years, while specializing has brought me success, I haven't been working on keeping myself relevant. While Exchange is still the corporate email standard, it's now in Exchange Online. Skype for Business is transforming into Microsoft Teams. Continuing to support and to manage these cloud-based technologies is going to take a new skillset. You can't just know the 1-2 technologies in Office 365; you'll make yourself more valuable if you know multiple specialties and can maximize their value together. Azure and AWS are replacing your on-premises datacenters, are you prepared for that? I'm not, but that's OK, I'm going to start learning.
For a final thought, I would say evaluate your current job every two years and ask yourself two things:
Am I continuing to learn and to be challenged with problems that interest me and are of value to the IT industry?
Am I happy with my compensation and do I think I can achieve more out in the market?
There's nothing wrong with looking at other jobs, talking to recruiters, even taking an interview every now and then. You never know what opportunity you might come across.