I've been hearing a lot of talk this spring about a nebulous but huge and important shift in the nature of business and technology. From obvious clickbait headlines ("The Matrix Is Here and Why That's a Good Thing") to podcasts about Agile & DevOpschallenging older business organizational models to no less an authority than the Shellfather proclaiming that an Inflection Point is at hand in IT Departments, there's been much to read, consume and ponder about IT and business technology in Spring 2016.
What to make of it all?
It can't all be buzzword, clickbait, can it? I'm sure much of it is, but I know one thing: I've never regretted taking Jeff Snover's advice, and I'm not about to start now. So if you get nothing else from this post,head on over to Channel 9 and watch his recent video about this "Inflection Point" in IT. And then come back over here for my take on it and some practical advice on navigating the "Inflection Point."
THE WAY I SEE THINGS
Since so many are speculating about our brave new cloud-enabled utopia, I may as well tell you what I think is going on:
- Cloud providers like Microsoft are rolling their own hardware, which has three effects 1) keeps costs of running IaaS/SaaS/PaaS services low, 2) hurts traditional enterprise hardware & software vendors and 3) makes hardware truly abstract and irrelevant when combined with scale. Open Compute Initiative is but one example of this.
- These inexpensive cloud services running on commodity hardware enable startups -even ones run by a single individual- to have all the technology bells and whistles their competitors in established and older business enterprises have with none of the Technical Debt or legacy stack headaches.
- Agile/DevOps/CI are less about development methodologies and more about a shift in the way businesses organize themselves to compete in the 21st century. New businesses are flat, cooperative, and function more like a sports team coached by a veteran of the sport, while older businesses are just that; older organizational structures based largely on hierarchical models of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Another way to think of this: technical skills and knowledge are as prized as business acumen & education in the 21st century. Having both is positively lethal.
- New businesses are finding success in the marketplace, which puts pressure on older businesses to compete.
- Older businesses are falling behind for a number of reasons, many of which are related to in-house IT, uptime pressures that prevent change, legacy application stacks, and Technical Debt they never paid off
- The five horsemen of the internet are jockeying to position themselves and their technologies as both the lingua franca and coin of the realm for this new business age
- All other technology companies, resellers, bespoke hardware vendors and others realize this and are scaling efforts rapidly to profit from the demise of older businesses and IT even as they fear a "Blackberry moment" or are selling their swank Silicon Valley office properties to Google.
If I'm right about this, then my career as an IT Pro might not have as much runway as I thought it did when I got into this field 17 years ago.
What's more, what runway is left in my career will depend entirely on the maintenance of legacy technologies in older businesses, which are facing pressures from new businesses.
That's not a happy thought for me, and I haven't even mentioned the escalating, highly-successful, highly-profitable attacks occurring on older businesses in the US and the west, which adds a strange, almost Darwinian twist to this unfolding drama about older businesses falling behind newer businesses.
But this is a tech blog, not a business blog, and so all of the above boils down to this: what do we do as IT Pros if the talk of Spring 2016 is even partly true?
TIME FOR SOME TOUGH LOVE I.T.
I rather like my profession and technology, and I got into technology because I liked to learn new things. I want to stay in the game, so I list below some of my recommendations and encouragements for you if you are, like me, an IT Pro or generalist.
- Stop browsing the damned web for answers, and start investing in yourself and skill-up! Hey IT Guy, I'm just like you. I skated by in my career for years just Googling (and as of three years ago, Binging) for an answer to a technical problem I was having. Well guess what? Just in Time Knowledge is a bad approach. You need to invest in yourself to transition in this shake-out. And I promise you, it will be very rewarding both professionally.
- Build a lab now Talented basketball players practice their craft on their own time, so should you. The neat thing about this cloud stuff is that it's brought the cost down big time; as I wrote two years ago, you can get your own Office 365 tenant with full EOL, SharePoint Online, Azure AD, and Skype for Business for about $10 a month if you don't need the Office client, and under $30 if you do. If you're waiting on your employer to embrace cloud technologies, my advice is simple: don't. You will run out of time and have zero skills that are meaningful in the next 5-10 years.
- For the love of bits & bytes & TCP/IP, Embrace Powershell If you haven't already learned about Powershell, you're flirting with career flame-out. You need to make Powershell your primary interface at work, in your lab, and in your mind. It's that powerful and will help you in the years ahead. It helped me not only manage work stuff, but understand .net, which aided me in a bunch of other ways.
- Realize Microsoft IT Pros have an edge on Identity services We've been managing a unified Identity system called Active Directory for decades, and guess what? It's still a Thing and it's really the only unified, standards-based identity system that spans legacy on-premise to the cloud. So, dust off your AD Cookbooks, tear up Server TP4, play with ADFS 4.0 and get familiar with MSDN documentation because you're going to be the lead on this whether in an older business that's moving to the cloud or if you're lucky enough to go greenfield with a new business that harnesses Azure & Office 365 on day one.
- Remember that one time you had to stand-up an Internal CA for SCCM and you used a GPO to deploy certificates? Well guess what. Even if that's all you know about security, certificates, encryption and authentication, this too will give you a foundation to think about the years ahead. My advice is to embrace the full Microsoft thinking on security, which means that you need to understand attack vectors like Pass the Hash, securing AD, and enabling modern & legacy applications on all types of devices, not just PCs running Windows. Embrace it!
- Embrace your inner dev For a long time, I thought devs were just people in IT who beat up on my infrastructure then blamed me for it. Now I realize they are the ones powering this shift, and more importantly, get to play with all the new tech and build things constantly. So I've embraced my inner dev. You should too because that's the way the industry is going.
It's taken me a long time to put all these pieces together, and truth be told, I'm still just an IT Pro with one foot in the cloud and one foot in a legacy application stack.
But I think I'm geared up to transition successfully away from what we think of as IT.
Hopefully I'm on the right track as I've set my O'Reilly and Microsoft Infrastructure books on the shelf. In their place on my desk sit some well-thumbed through copies of MSDN magazine, a book about Object-Oriented Thinking, and Ivan Ristic's book on TLS crypto. Last week, I even compiled my first C# sample application in Visual Studio.
Most of my homelab hardware is powered off, save for a physical Domain Controller, a single Hyper-V host, and my storage box. I'm challenging myself to think beyond the VM.
My immature but passable understanding of the .Net framework has answered questions I didn't even know to ask, and it's given me a stronger understanding about some persistent problems in IT.
My laissez-faire attitude on security has been placed in the recycle bin, my new approach is to try and get an A+ on SSL Labs' website for all things I'm responsible for at work and especially on this blog.
Oh, and I turned off my old blog, agnosticcomputing.com, and stood up this new blog because it's utilizing current technologies Nginx, Ghost, NodeJS, and APIs, everything the old Wordpress/MySQL blog wasn't.
Everyone's path in technology is different, but I feel I should be able to extend the success I've had in my technical career no matter what's ahead by doing some of the things above.
I hope you find the best way forward in your own path and thanks for reading!