Thinking Out Loud: Handling Career Evolution

As IT pros at the “cutting edge” of technology and industry change, I think sometimes we forget that not everyone has the same mindset toward learning, growth, and career evolution. That’s especially true, I think, for those of us who are bloggers, because it’s our passion for the technology that not only drives us to write about it but also drives us to constantly explore new trends, new areas, and new concepts. It is that passion that drives us to seek out new ways the technology could be applied to our jobs. That passion sustained us over the years, as we progressed from Windows admins to VMware admins and now to virtualization and cloud architects. That passion led us to “bring our work home” and build home labs. We’ve had years of actively seeking out new layers of knowledge to build on top of what we already knew.

This isn’t a bad thing; not by any stretch. But my point is this—we must consider that not everyone is like us. Not everyone is driven by a passion for the technology. Not everyone seeks out new technologies and explores new ways to put those technologies to work. Some IT pros like to leave their work at work. And that’s OK, too. However, knowing that there are folks out there who don’t have that same passion and don’t have years of layering pieces of information on top one another, it’s our job not to berate them about change but rather to encourage and educate them about why change is needed, how that change will affect them, and what they can do about it.

There have been times that I’ve seen some IT pros lecture others about how they aren’t embracing change, they aren’t growing fast enough, how they aren’t headed in the right direction and how technology will leave them behind. (Shoot, I’ve probably done it as well—none of us are perfect, that’s for sure.) I think we can all agree that career evolution is a necessity, but rather than jumping on the “You’d better change or else” bandwagon, wouldn’t we be better served by asking these simple questions:

  • What can I do to help others understand the changes that are coming?
  • Are there things I can do to help others formulate a plan to cope with change?
  • What can I do to help others get the information they need?
  • How can I help others know in what ways this information applies to them?

I don’t know, perhaps I’m overly optimistic, overly idealistic, or overly naive (or all three). I just think that maybe if we spent less time preaching about how career evolution has to occur and instead focused on helping others succeed at career evolution, we’d probably all be a little bit better off. This aligns really well, too, with some thinking I’ve been doing about my own personal “mission statement” and purpose, which centers around helping others.

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments below—courteous comments are always welcome.

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  1. Dan’s avatar

    This is well said, and it’s almost like you’ve been hovering around cubicles where I work as well because this is the discussion that’s been happening quite often here. Thanks for putting this out there, as I’m sure myself and others need an attitude adjustment on how better to handle those that don’t carry the passion like we do.

  2. Rowell Dionicio’s avatar

    Well said! I really like the questions you came up with. I think I’ve been thinking the same thing but you’ve communicated it much easily. These are some thoughts I will take on with my own blog and reflect on how I help others and myself.

  3. Greg Ferro’s avatar

    I agree strongly with your post although my perspective is a little different. An IT team consists of people with different roles and someone has to take the first call, to perform the day to day. Not everyone wants to be a hero, some people are content with a simple, peaceful life.

    Without them, I’m not able to take the escalation, access the database, find the records or other task. I treasure those people because they enable my work and enable me to to do the nerd stuff that fulfils me.

    Not everyone wants to “upgrade” or “be a winner” and respect for them starts with you.

  4. Shane Williford’s avatar

    I’m glad to see this post. I think it needed to be said.

    As I discussed earlier on Twitter, being a passionate technologist I believe can tend to lead folks to have a “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality. i.e. I need to be 1st in the know about this or that technology or feature; I need to make a post about ‘this or that’ before …whatever. As you point out Scott, technology ever-changes. As such, we can find ourselves in a never-ending loop of stress because we aren’t up to speed on the latest & greatest of .

    To a point, I was one of those folks. I LOVE my job & I love my career choice, but I also love my sanity, such that it is. :) As such, for most of this year to this point I’ve put up my lab and have only kept up with what I feel I need to help me be the best I can be at my job. Oh, I still work evenings because of my job, but for now I’ve just done away with voluntary lab work. I needed a break. I’m sure I’ll pick back up lab work at some point. But, I think it would be beneficial to us “passionate technologists” to take a break for a ‘season’ as well… you know… to recharge our batteries.

    Just my little 2ยข worth of imput here :)


  5. Ed Grigson’s avatar

    Having just pushed the ‘publish’ button on my blog post about ‘evolution of the IT pro’ this made me think. Am I just pushing the same agenda as the rest of the echo chamber? I try to give some advice on how I see things developing but your angle on things is very valid. Hmm. :-)

  6. Jeremy Barth’s avatar

    Not everyone is like us … Including ourselves! In the course of any long career one’s definition of success and job satisfaction is likely to evolve. Navigating these changes is as important as knowing the latest hot trend. I’ve done everything in my career from C++ development to managing a team of Windows and Unix systems administrators. At some point, especially if you get kicked upstairs, you realize you can’t stay on top of every technical wrinkle. A few years ago, to stay fresh, I even took the radical step of walking away from systems engineering entirely, moving up to Layer 7 and providing web consulting services. It felt odd at first, having to learn a new skillset and engage with a very different community of practitioners, but it has been fun, liberating and rewarding.

  7. Andy Konecny’s avatar

    We are agents of change, exploring and testing to see what of the many new tools are of real value and where they work best. We are treated as heroes when we bring it all together bringing value to our customers. When we get it wrong, we are just seen as agents of chaos sowing pain and misery. And sometimes we are both just because change is so painful to many people even when it ultimately brings them great benefit. Like steel, change is only change, it is what we do with it that makes it good or bad/evil. While change is inevitable in the grand scheme of things, no individual change is a forgone conclusion.
    “Cutting edge” of anything is where you can readily get injured in someway, whether it is a sports activity, moving to a new land/planet, or IT. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but having some of us pave the way for others is of great value in addition to the fun of it. If we all did it, by definition it wouldn’t be cutting edge anymore, and would be a whole pile more chaotic.
    Just because something is new, it doesn’t mean it is automatically better than what has come before. Humans evolved to be cautious of new things as so many new things can be greatly damaging. But some exploration of the new things is important so that we are ready for the changes we can’t readily control. Exploring is not growing/harvesting food nor any of the other things that are essential to life, which is why only some of us can do the exploring, and if we want those things essential to life (food, shelter, safety, breathable air, etc) we have to be respectful to those who maintain the stability needed to provide those things or we may find ourselves without them.
    For most human activities (personal or business) work best when there is no change, and change itself rarely makes things better, usually makes things worse. It is when we can find the change that brings appropriate benefits to an activity that a given change gains value. Unfortunately many in our industry have gotten that concept back-wards because of how computing has been bringing so many useful benefits, to so many so quickly, as we living them think of it as the norm. In the scope of human experience, it is we the explorers who are the oddballs and outcasts that occasionally stories are written about.

    Many years of dealing with the chaos around change lead me to the thought of it all as and adventure, hence I now sometimes go by as Chaos Adventurer

  8. Aaron Dumbrow’s avatar

    This is a good point, and not just from a technology perspective. One of the toughest things to do for me in general is to translate what is in my head to others who don’t have the same perspective. This doesn’t make me better or smarter, it just means that I think differently. I can get up and talk about any topic technical or not and give a great deal of information, but the challenge is to lead and to instruct respectfully and without talking down to anyone. As a parent and husband, I struggle with this constantly. As a technologist, I feel like this is my greatest weakness.

    Sometimes we just need to take a step back, put ourselves in the other guys shoes, and realize that we all have things to learn, and we all think differently. The world would be a much less interesting place if we were all the same. After all, we all started somewhere, and we all think differently. The best way to succeed is to train others to fill the gaps we leave behind when we move up or move to a new technology or idea. We all have something to share, and we can all learn from others, that is what makes life so exciting, and so challanging.

  9. Sketch’s avatar

    All these deep comments and here I am diggin’ lint out of my belly button with a stale cheeto. Needless to say, I’m not “driven” by “technology”. I’m driven by keeping my family fed/sheltered without too much manual labor.

    Truth be told, I’d rather be out working in my garden, or tending my chickens or training my dogs – all with my kids next to me. I’ve only been a NetFlix subscriber for ~2 years, and I use my job as my lab. I’m not averse to technology, but to me its just a tool. I have always encouraged people to get “into computers” if only because its very easy to “get into” and I live in the sticks where there are few job prospects. I’m all for helping people out – but i see technology as a tool or stepping stool for it, not the end result.

  10. Jason Rahl’s avatar

    Great thoughts Scott. As usual well thought out and well written.

    I think some of the issue is there is a population of us that dont necessarily have the luxury of focusing on one technology. While I have a passion for and I am the VMware ESXi and Horizon architect, administrator, installer, troubleshooter at my job at a Mid-size company I am also the architect, administrator, installer, troubleshooter for my Cisco UCS, iSCSI/FC/FCOE SANs and wireless infrastructures across 5 locations.

    So having guys like you helps me keep up with the technology trends and its interesting and challenging and I get a lot of information but going to NSX or VSAN or hyperconverged infrastructure isnt always a “duh” thing like some bloggers make it out to be.

    My reality is I go with technologies sometimes because I know its rock solid, I can support it now and it gives us the most bang for the buck. I dont go with a technology so I can say that I have it.

    We are bombarded with what we should be doing and trying to calm management down at the same time. We were lectured that we should go to the public cloud and then lectured that we should have a private cloud and then why werent we doing a hybrid cloud. If we just bought a traditional SAN we were crazy because of hyperconverged infrastructures or if we bought a regular switch we were not keeping up because of SDN. But what if you dont need those things as a company?

    If you arent in the trenches and dont have a limited budget its easy (and I by no means am saying you are one of those guys) to lecture others “why arent you doing A,B, and C?”. I think sometimes guys get out of the every day grind of IT and forget that you not only have to justify the cost you have to have a REAL reason to go with a technology.

    The thing that’s always been great about working in IT is the technology and the pace and being able to hear a problem and come up with a solution. But whats different today is with the blogs and twittersphere a lot of the guys lecturing on technology work for the companies they are lecturing you about using. I get it. You work for company A because you love what they are doing but no matter how much someone says “these views are my own” that isnt always true.

    Whats important is not everyone can implement the whiz bang new things not because they cant technically do it but because of budget or time or it just doesnt make sense to do it.

    Thanks for all of the great articles!


  11. Kevin Foster’s avatar

    I always like to stay up on the latest information but I can’t always implement the new tech because the company I work for isn’t ready for it. Also, it just costs way to much to constantly change to the latest and greatest. For me, I read and try to understand the latest information so that I can make a decision when my company is ready to move forward. I try my best to help my coworkers learn new ways to do our business and ask them to show me what they have learned. I am thankful that we have bloggers like you to help teach us about the new technologies.

    Thank you!

  12. John Max’s avatar

    For most things change in IT it doesn’t. It was Server/client now it is Private/Public cloud. Next it is mega Internet continents/oceanic. Next is Planet/space. All we have to do is wait for the next wave of recession. I coming out as pessimistic but this is what I am seeing. The problems will always be the same. Time/connectivity/etc…..


  13. ctopher’s avatar

    I think it depends where you are at in your career as well.

    I started in IT in 1990 as a Netware administrator. I built my own DOS PC’s back then as well. I moved through the Microsoft days as a Windows/Exchange engineer. I then go on board with the VMware early running ESX 1.0 at a fortune 19 company as a trail blazer.

    I was so into the tech. I lived for it. I went to all of the trade shows. I installed beta’s on lab equipment to my home lab. This “attitude” is great for learning and excelling technically.

    As I rose up in responsibility/position I actually got more involved with the “customer” you know they people/companies I had been working for. This was new to me as I was so focused on the tech. It was a eye opening change. I finally say IT/Tech as a cost to the company. Rarely does IT make any money. It is a necessary cost with out a doubt. I saw systems that I loved to geek over as simple tools for the business to use to help achieve the goals of the business. I saw how early adoption of technology was not always great for companies goals. Stability and usability could be impacted and when it was the goals of the company were harder to obtain.

    These days I keep up on trends for sure. I am always looking for the next “big” upgrade that will have a very positive effect on the company I work for in some way. That said I am no early adopter any more. I will let someone else bleed the technology to the point of stability before I jump in. Software defined networking and storage sounds great and I love reading about it. It will be even better when me and my company finally make the move.

    Thanks to all you that still live on that crazy tech high hunger. You give of lots of information to help us down the road!!!


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