Recession Proofing your IT Skills

What are the most desirable skills in a recession or depression, or essentially any economic downturn?  Remember the Jack of All Trades, the guy who I say can be dangerous?  Don’t worry I’m not telling all developers to abandon their cutting edge focus, and I’m not telling admins to start coding.  Although I do think you should be looking more closely at Powershell, a skill that will strengthen your ability to scale and perform.  That’s most definitely one great example of a skillset to pick up.  After all your SharePoint courses, you should seriously consider a class on Powershell, and pick that as something to keep your mind on automation.

Guys like Jack, someone who can do a variety of things and looks like an architect, and be put on any project and be successful is definitely an asset that companies won’t want to cut off when they are looking to trim the fat.  IT often isn’t the first place where companies look, but contractors, vendors and consultants… many of whom are working very closely with IT in lines of business may be dumping their projects and handing them over to others.

Just don’t give jack the keys to develop an app, and then put it in production the next day.  You still need separation, staged deployment, security boundaries, but that’s for another discussion.  Let me tell you more about the skills you need to keep yourself recession proof.

The Skills

It’s important to understand how IT contributes to the business when businesses tighten up with various economic pressures and uncertainty.

Consolidation

The mantra of do more with less is happening at many levels throughout the company.  Let’s start with server consolidation a few years ago the move was to clusters and SANs.  More data ,less power, and big iron.  Then look today at Virtualization.  Various similar or like services which may do the same thing in different lines of business are both going to look to be centralized as IT attempts to achieve economies of scale. 

Migration

Are you a developer?  Can you write apps or leverage apps to migrate data from various platforms and push into a common platform.  Take SharePoint, what are all of the potential platforms that could be consolidated to SharePoint?

Fileshares, Notes, Documentum (migrate or coexist), Websphere, Legacy Frontpage server extensions, custom apps, various search platforms, and collaboration, portal and WCM platforms.  While SharePoint doesn’t currently completely take out records management platforms under more extreme circumstances it may be used to provide document management and asked to be used for more and more as companies try to do more with less.  It’s the guys who can touch all these things

Virtualization

IT folks should be looking at scaling strategies.  How do you provide one platform that can be used for many things.  In this how can you provide the availability and reliability of the previous?  This means server virtualization in a scale up and scale out to provide high availability and scalability.  Smaller hardware footprint in more or similar virtual nodes

Let’s take a file server, what can be done?  Archiving, life cycle management, consolidation, moving it to cheaper storage.  You have to get the unused data offline.  You’ve got to consolidate the on premise and move it to regional data centers, and those in regional data centers as the network infrastructure gets better.  Maybe you figure out a strategy to move it all the way in one move… now that’s someone you need.  Someone who can think ahead.

One of the biggest challenges that virtualization brings is manageability.  Even a one to one physical to virtual migration with the easiest click and go, now you’ve got tons and tons of images.  You’ve swapped out a bunch of hardware and have a smaller footprint in the data center, but now you’re watching disk I/O and network I/O.  Lots more concern for contention, and you’ve got to get much more serious about your monitoring strategies.  Patching isn’t any easier on those systems, at least today with out of the box solutions.  Same with monitoring.  If anything you have to watch things closer as apps get closer.  They have some security boundaries, but share physical assets.  That’s the challenge, and this requires new skills and  detail oriented focus to narrow down issues and resolve them quickly.  Many dashboards in off the shelf virtualization management suites have insight, but they will need more.

Let me caution you not to go hog wild with virtualization all at once.  If everyone on your team is brand new with it, you’ll find some wild and crazy stuff the first few times you do it.  I recommend a pilot program and starting with the apps that are not extremely I/O intensive.  As you dig into virtualization you’ll see there are many layers and management while similar to the old ways, does require some new skills and looking at a dedicated service in the datacenter with skilled virtualization admins will help everyone move a TON faster and help you achieve your migration goals.

Be Cautious

Mergers and Aquisitions

How do your skills relate to mergers and aquisitions?  How about your toolsets and your development skills?  Can you fully automate other people’s jobs? That may sound funny, but essentially during a merger those in IT with the ability to be seen as maleable and can do what they need you to do will be picked first.  We all want to be picked to be on the elite teams.  Those that are just looking to not be seen or be heard, will find during a merger they may be looking at severance.  That critical task that you were doing that you thought was your ticket, was easily looked over since they didn’t know you were doing it.  Even if your manager knows, how are they providing those details up stream? 

What happens to the Notes team when SharePoint is asked to replace it?  The most skilled developers may be asked how good their .NET skills are.  The admins may be asked to re-interview for their same job on the SharePoint team.  How are they going to do?  Have they continued to keep their skills relevant across the industry?  Have they kept up?

Outsourcing and Offshoring

With the demands for more with less often means less people.  Companies have found that offshoring and outsourcing works for some things, but other things not so well.  Do expect some companies to look at these strategies, but expect some things to come back, often it takes years for a company to realize a strategy isn’t working.  If I’ve seen one thing, it’s the lines of business apps and core apps that become so business critical to the company and are so critical they aren’t going to outsource.  If someone is just pushing buttons and it’s a repetitive task… those are the first to go.  You need to show mindshare, future thinking, architectural out of the box thinking.  You don’t want to outsource the core business functions and those people that can take you places.

Even if you are in India, you may find that your company is looking at Vietnam or China.  You’re in China? Then they are looking elsewhere in South East Asia.  Seems there is always somewhere cheaper.  If you’ve got the skills and mobility, then opportunities will open up.  From there the key is networking.  One thing I’ve found is social networks have become more and more open and strong.  It’s very easy for your reputation to precede you if you are top blogger, and involved in Linked In, twitter, friendfeed and various networks that push your skills, and in a pinch push your status and availability as it relates to your job.

BI and Data Mining

– Brush off your database management and design skills

Companies will look at doing things more out of the box, and use COTS (off the shelf solutions).  Developers will be moved to focus on data mining, and more core business solutions as a company tightens up.  Look to the CIO and see what they call out as the priorities of IT.  They will be asked to do more as other CXO’s are asked to focus more on the core business.  Everyone essentially is asked to focus on the bottom line.  The new scenarios BI and data mining.  So this means both IT Pros and Devs should freshen up their SQL skills.  Expect Microsoft to do well in this area as the cheaper solution as companies again try do discount shopping.  Instead of shopping at Macy’s they start shopping at Target.  More for less 🙂  Companies do the same thing.

Keep your eyes wide open

It sounds like a lot of projects going on right? Well, what you may find is projects that are currently in the hopper may simply be abandoned as other more core focus on consolidation focus happens.

I don’t mean to scare anyone, but I do want people to understand when there is writing on the wall.  Companies often do stupid things when it comes to money.  I’ve been in companies that have laid off all the contractors and started a hiring freeze, and went as far as telling people they would have to pay to bring their spouse to the company Christmas party. Yikes!

I saw the writing on the wall, my web admin team got cut in half and cubes were clearing out often without notice and although I was seen as a core asset, many of the recent hires weren’t.  Often each business unit is asked to trim X amount of jobs.  That promotion you were suppose to get, gets pushed out.

The best thing you can do is have confidence.  The way to do that is to have multiple places on your quick list that want you.  They are ready to take you the second you step out.  Talking to a head hunter and having your resume on monster.com, dice.com, or hotjobs.com ready to go.  Not saying you have to list it, but if you do want to have a few conversations that make you feel comfortable can bring peace.  If you haven’t seen the job market you’ll find the IT market isn’t as bad as it sounds, and this post may make it look bleak.  A lot of the changes are industry specific, and that’s where you need to touch base with the rumor mill on company news.  You don’t want to be caught off guard.  The tough part is when you’re in a really large company and mad layoffs push tons of competition for your position.  Where there is one job opening you now have tons of over qualified applicants.  Stuff like that happens.  Often it is dependent on what’s happening in cities and happens in regional pockets.

Be Conscious About Your Ability to Relocate

One thing that’s wierd this time around is this housing market.  Makes me upset.  You may find a house and a job in another city, but selling your current house is sloooow.  I’ve got some personal experience with that one.  I haven’t listed my home for sale yet, but was renting it out.   Your experience may vary as housing markets are different throughout the globe.  Even within a city the market can vary where it use to be hot, it could be very cold and slow moving.

I’ll follow up this post with some assistance for looking at the IT job market, with some real world numbers, tips on things like Linked In, how to leverage Monster.com, dice.com, amongst others, and managing head hunters (they can work for you, and you don’t have to pay them).

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