Future of Work: What aspiring IT professionals must know about a transforming industry

Today's entry-level IT jobs are no longer about understanding how systems work - they are instead focused on understanding how employees work and facilitating their work.     

Much of the changes to the IT industry reflect the proliferation of cloud-based services. A number of tasks that were the day-to-day jobs of system administrators (SysAdmins) a decade or more ago have been automated. Today, when an organization brings a new server online, it is often a matter of mouse clicks whereas years ago, it took hours, if not days, to properly configure a server before facing it to the Internet.     

As such, today’s entry-level employees should understand the administration tools of cloud-service providers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. While how much they need to know will vary depending on the company and the job they have, almost every company today has some component of IT infrastructure in a cloud environment that will require an understanding of the relevant service providers.       

The most significant aspect of this shift is understanding how these different cloud environments secure or share data.      

With this shift, a lot of system administrator jobs have now been replaced by customer/employee service positions. Whereas organizations once insisted on uniformity – every employee had the exact same hardware and software on their desk – today’s workforce uses a variety of devices to access company resources. At the same time, that workforce is increasingly mobile and/or remote. These entry level positions need to be familiar with all the OS at work today – iOS, Android, flavors of Windows, Mac, and even Linux – but they also need to be comfortable and experienced with desktop sharing tools like TeamViewer or Google Hangouts that make collaboration easier.     

Much of this points toward the fact that data no longer has a distinct physical location. It is diffused out into the cloud and constantly being moved to and from a workforce geographically spread out. Today’s entry-level employees need to understand tools like VPNs and the HTTPs protocol. They should also have some understanding of device security for smartphones, tablets, laptops and such. They should understand the difference between file-level and whole disk encryption and be able to use tools like Bitlocker or Veracrypt. Experience with major anti-malware products is essential, but it is a bonus if that experience is with enterprise-level versions of such tools. Again, it's not how to you install this stuff as much how do you manage the dashboard that tells you the status of these things across 500 different devices.       

One thing that hasn’t changed much in IT, is the value of at least rudimentary coding skills. The ability to write a batch script or to know a simple SQL statement can be a difference maker for prospective employers. Many organizations aren’t looking for just technical skills, but the creative problem-solving ones, too. A ubiquitous language like Python is a nice-to-have on your resume, but many employers will recognize that coding skills often translate from one language to another. It’s not what you know that matters; it’s what you did with that knowledge. Similarly, you can’t do much today without some knowledge of HTML. Certainly, if you are seeking a job involving Web work, you should know the jQuery javascript library and AJAX. If you are diving into the backend, Python, PHP and Ruby remain popular languages. You should also know something about database design in addition to having a good command of SQL.     

All that said, fewer and fewer entry level jobs are looking for people to write software as much as manage existing software or perhaps cobble together different packages into one system. Even app developers are using automated tools. In other words, it’s better know how to install and manage a content management system like WordPress or get it to interact with other systems than it is to know how to build one from scratch. Even if you can build a better system, companies today don’t want to take on a lot of custom software that never gets updated the day you leave for your next job. Of course the exception is if you land a job with a software developer.    

Serving as a backdrop to all of these skills is cyber security. Entry-level employees might find obtaining security certifications challenging because many require a certain amount of work experience. The (ISC)2 Associate or CompTIA certifications (e.g. Network+ and Security+) don’t require much in terms of experience but can carry weight on a resume. Any kind of security certification or training will be a bonus. It should be ever-present in an interview. It is not enough to say you know how to use a technology, put it in the context of using it securely. No company wants to be the next cybersecurity headline.

While they often get brushed aside, the soft skills of interpersonal communication, time management, and so forth, aren’t just people skills. Today they are technical skills because technology often fails around people. This is increasingly borne out in things like phishing attacks, but even something like the Equifax data breach appears to have been an inexplicable failure to update one piece of software. That is akin to someone who lost their keys, and so what they did was leave the backdoor unlocked. Is the problem the lock or is the problem on a more human level?     

The last thing for young job seekers to keep in mind is to be honest. Invariably, prospective employers get resumes indicating things like five years of experience with technologies that have only been around three years. Things like that are a double hit; not only do they indicate someone prone to personal exaggeration, but it also shows they really don’t know the technology. Experience is important, but more often isn’t better. Technology shifts so quickly, that in many cases anything more than two years’ experience doesn’t matter too much.     

Joe Peters, Senior Editor at MindEdge 

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