IT Career Advice: “Be Prepared to be a Beginner, Forever!”

If you are anything like me, then you are passionate about technology, you like learning  new IT tools/languages/concepts and you are a bit of a perfectionist.

When starting your IT career, the first job you get will introduce you to some area of IT – be it web application development or mobile app development or database administration or infrastructure management or you name it. In my case it was desktop application development, about 15 years ago.

For a while, your professional life is going to be fulfilling. You will slowly start to master the area you are in and you will feel rewarded at work. You will be “the guy to go to” to ask for advises, tips and solutions to people’s problems in that area.

Few years down the road, that area will disappear. If you don’t decide to move on and learn some new stuff, your services won’t be needed anymore. You will have a vast knowledge about something old, that used to be something new at a time.

There is no point holding onto your expertise for things that are not in demand anymore. Move on, learn new things, be that guy again.

You used to be a great SQL database administrator, wizard in PLSQL, normalizing DB schema and tuning SQL queries was your thing.
But who cares about that today?
ORM tools do that better than you today, NoSQL requires different thinking about databases, Amazon RDS/Aurora/DynamoDB do all the scaling, replication, backup and tuning for you.

You used to be a guy who could craft a web application with JSP/ASP, JSF, some component based framework like Tapestry/Wicket/Struts.
But who cares about that today?
JavaScript frameworks Angular/React/Amber dominate the front-end today, back-end is reached via REST calls, JSON is transferring your data in between. Web applications are not even interesting anymore. The access to the Internet is not dominated anymore by browsers but by mobile devices. It’s the whole new area out there with mobile phones and wearables providing new kinds of user experience.

You used to be a wizard in Java, you did Java 5 certification, you knew all JSR’s by heart, a picture of J2EE components was hanging on the living room wall next to a picture of your grandmother.
But who cares about that today?
Java 8 arrived that makes lots of your knowledge outdated. You can’t even read code of all those lambdas and streams. Java 9 is coming and JigSaw is going to twist your mind once again. Spring is the beast that can do all of the server side stuff for you, leaving just a coffee making process to JEE specification. JVM is now supporting 20+ languages, knowing only one language is not enough anymore.

You used to be a guy who could create the most optimum snowflake and star schema and make the best Business Intelligence reports. People would crawl in front of your ETL scripts.
But who cares about that today?
Big Data is the new kid on the block. First batch processing with Hadoop, now real time processing with Spark, tomorrow who knows. If you can’t process all those Kim Kardashian tweets in real time, you are just not that guy anymore.

Maybe you were that nerd that knew all about infrastructure? How to install Linux, configure email server, configure firewalls and load balancers etc.
But who cares about that today?
Enter the world of cloud, where all that is done for you. AWS/Google/Microsoft/IBM/Oracle all provide you with user interfaces where you setup your infrastructure within minutes.  Anybody can be that nerd now. Even virtualization is going away slowly. Containers are eating the world. You can’t stay docked and tied up at a wharf. You need to ride the blue whale.

You were a build engineer. You could write Ant build scripts that only you understood. You were a smoker as you would have to light a cigarette after every successful build just to show that you made it once again.
But who cares about that today?
If you are not using Continuous Integration and Deployment toolsets, you are doing it wrong. Build scripts are not just Ant anymore, they are now also Chef and Puppet and Jenkins and Ansible and CloudFormation and Vagrant and Docker and Terraform scripts. You need to know them all. Quit smoking, it’s time for heavy drugs!

You used to be hit by your drunk neighbor driving a 1991 Cadillac Deville. Now you are going  to be hit by a self-driving car. Or you won’t. Depends on the software.

So, where do we go from here? What is the solution? How to avoid the oblivion?

There is no solution! Things are just going to get worse! There will be even more diversity, new areas will popup (maybe some inter-planetary WhatsApp?), your refrigerator is going to talk to your TV, your underwear will vibrate when they get wet and your dog will start spamming you somehow.

As an IT person, you just need to continue to learn new things and improve your skills. You need to keep an eye on what’s trendy. Don’t spend too much time exploring each hype, but get some high level overview on each of those. Try keeping dots connected and in case any of those hypes become a mature mainstream, only then start going into more details.

Your experience is the only asset that will benefit from all these new learning. Tools will come and go, but with exploring each of those you will get a bit wiser. Your advises will become more relevant as you have seen these hype cycles happening and you can select the right tool for the job. Your tool belt won’t have just one hammer but plenty of little picks.

IT is not easy! Learning curve is never done. It just gets steeper and steeper.
You won’t have time to specialize in anything anymore. In case you do, it comes with an expiry date. Make sure you specialize fast and apply that knowledge before expiry date hits you.

Be prepared to be a beginner, forever!

(Also beware of those self-driving cars. Your neighbor might not be behind the steering wheel but your microwave will be able to take the control, somehow)

4 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed reading the article. IT industry is full of change and it is rewarding if you are continuously learning by applying new things. You will definitely need curiosity to keep you motivated as a beginner and don’t be scared to jump in deep water. As Steve Jobs said “stay hungry, stay foolish!”.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. Great read….very well articulated and possibly this is the fact which not many IT colleagues want to embrace…

    Like

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    1. Thanks Soumya. I think it was important to mention that none of us is, or can be, totally up to date with what is happening out there. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. It just means that we need to get into the “constantly improving” mode. It’s not easy, but if you like IT and you like what you are doing that it’s more of a pleasure than the effort.

      I thought it was also important for newcomers to see the views of us “old-school” guys. 🙂

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      Reply

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