One of my readers just raised some interesting questions for me about an earlier (4/25/2008) IT Expert post of mine: “What’s the Highest Position in an IT Consulting Career Path?” Despite the economic travails in the meantime, it’s cheering to see that my post still remains relevant even during today’s (and alas, tomorrow’s) ongoing troubled economic situation.
My current interlocutor raises an interesting follow-up question as he seeks to understand “…how IT professionals [can] balance a fast-paced and demanding career with personal/professional development.” That question, in fact, is stated as “…how [can] people in the tech industry find time to develop their career outside of work experience and what are some of the tools they [can] use…?”
About “Finding the Time”
This is a tough one, especially for those with families that include kids not yet off in college, because it’s so important to make sure they get ample interaction with their parents, step-parents, or guardians as well. Unfortunately, this is what’s known as a “bootstrapping exercise” which means that you somehow have to grab and lift yourself out of your current position while remaining where you are (at least for a while). Thus, the real answer to this question ultimately boils down to “give up on some leisure time, downtime, and sleep.” I’m sorry to have to say this so baldly, but that’s how it is.
Tools to Develop Oneself, Personally and Professionally
1. School, specifically in pursuit of a degree or certificate of some kind, which may lead to added technical knowledge, skills and qualifications (Masters and/or PhD taked onto an undergraduate degree), or to bolster technical skills with business or process coverage (like an MBA tacked onto an engineering or computer science undergraduate degree)
2. IT Certification (in pursuit of specific and focused technical credentials, which often impose pre-reqs of more general, less-focused lead-in credentials — like the CCNA leading to CCNP, MCTS to MCITP, and so forth and so on
3. Soft skills certification or certificates — most notably, the Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, which has proven to be a great career booster for people in all walks of IT (and other technical occupations)
4. Volunteer work designed for development purposes — Let’s say you’re a network administrator who years to be a DBA instead. A school, church, or charitable organization volunteer position may give you the chance to learn and develop further skills in this technical specialty that may simply not be available on the job. After enough unpaid time and effort, perhaps combined with a certification or two, you may be able to transition from network admin to DBA as a natural progression.
There are lots of other tools that people can use to improve themselves and their professional skills and standing, but these examples should give you some ideas of how to proceed. As long as you’re willing to sacrifice some time, coiugh up some money, and expend some old-fashioned elbow grease, you should be able to use these tools to get yourself ahead.
When I go shopping, nothing awakes my acquisitive spirit like the prospect of buying more stuff to save more money. Of course, this principle applies only if you really, really like what you buy — as regular shoppers at wholesale clubs such as Costco (my personal favorite), BJ’s, Sam’s Club, and so forth can tell. When you go home with that gallon jug of seven bean salad you’re much more likely to buy a second one later if your reaction is something less lukeware than “Hey! That’s not too bad!” (I won’t even bother discussing some of our less inspired purchases that resulted in immediate donations to our compost heap.)
With a “buying more means saving more” premise in mind, Microsoft has teamed up with Prometric Services to offer a “Grow Your Career” campaign. This program targets would-be and working IT professionals, and seeks to draw them into any of a number of career paths with associated Microsoft learning and certification offerings to help them walk along those paths. Click the “Grow Your Careers” tab on this Microsoft Learning page to see what’s up with that.
But here’s the “buy in bulk” pitch from MS, snipped and clipped from the actual offer page:
For verisimilitude (or whatever) the fingerprints and coffee stains on the clipped graphic are on the original: I swear those aren’t my work! But the bottom line for this offer, which can save nearly $100 (93.75) on the biggest package (not to mention the free second shot offer that applies to all 2-exam packs or higher) is that you can save by buying enough exams for various certifications if you plunk your cash down all at once.
But like the seven-bean salad at Costco, if you’re going to buy a great big, heaping helping, you’d better be sure you like what you’re buying, and that your appetite is big enough to put the whole serving away. All such exams and retakes have to be completed by June 30, 2011, so you have less than one year to exercise your options for discount exams and retakes. You’d better get going! And while you’re at it, cruise over the Prometric certpacks page to sign up and pay for your selections.
Every now and again, one of the numerous posters to the Microsoft “Born to Learn” blog throws up an item that details MS Learning product releases for some specific month or another. This month — that is, August 2010 — such a posting has popped up and amidst its many, many items, members of the MS learning community are bound to find at least one or two things of interest. Here’s an example snippet that shows the details, and hopefully also captures somebody’s interest (other than mine):
What you see is a listing that includes online classes (E-Learning) and also Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC, aka classroom training). In fact, 85 items appear in this particular posting, of which around half are non-English-language versions of existing materials, and the other half English-language versions of new materials. Lots of interesting stuff here for those who care about Microsoft Learning offerings in general, and about e-learning and classroom training offerings in particular. There is also information about 7 new exams as well, mostly related to the new Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) credentials.
If you’re toiling at a small to medium sized business, and you work with computer networks, whether inside or outside IT, you should check out Spiceworks. For the record, an SMB is defined as an organization with more than 10 but less than 100 employees for small, and from 101 to 999 for medium here in the U.S., but only up to 500 elsewhere in the world (mostly Europe). Spiceworks is a free network management, monitoring, and help desk environment that relies on financial support from technology and hardware vendors to bring cool tools and capabilities — and gosh, the Spiceworks environment suffers from a terrible embarassment of riches in that regard — to its one-million-plus registered users and adopters.
To give you an idea of what Spiceworks can do, here’s a high-level features list from the home page:
Suffice it to say that I’m learning to use Spiceworks to manage my network of 3 to 10 PCs, and that activity on the user communities indicates it’s being used in organizations with hundreds of PCs equally well (if not better, since I’m still a tyro). You should definitely check out this superlative package of network management capabilities, and expect to see regular coverage of its capabilities in future postings here and elsewhere. I’m also trying to twist the arms of management at the company, to persuade them that a certification program would be in everybody’s best interests.
Well, I’ve certainly heard our current economic and employment situation described as a “jobless recovery” — namely a set of economic circumstances where profits and output or productivity are growing, but where such growth has not buoyed confidence to the point where employers loosen their restraints on headcount, and finally start hiring. In fact, it seems like the US and to some extent the whole world (some places like China and India less than others, however) have been holding their breath waiting for some possibly dramatic, or at least obvious, sign of sufficient improvement to finally warrant turning the HR people loose with a hiring mandate.
That’s not a terribly happy state of affairs, so I chuckled when I read the phrase “joyless recovery” in the latest edition of The Economist (August 7-13, pp. 82-83) magazine. The title of the story is “Profits, but no jobs” Here’s my favorite snippet from this piece:
By some calculations, the rate of recovery of profits from their trough is the strongest since the end of the Great Depression. [paragraph break] Yet nobody seems pleased. Not investors, who have failed to push up share prices… Certainly not politicians, who complain that firms are “hoarding cash” and creating hardly any new jobs.
Then comes a quote from Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton “Bottom line: corporate profits no longer lead to higher employment. We’re witnessing a great decoupling of company profits from jobs.”
Holy mackerel! No wonder this recovery is joyless: joy is a human emotion, experienced by people, and the people are out of work. It seems like we’re trapped in a vicious circle, where corporations are waiting for a boost in consumer confidence (the engine of the economy as we’re told), and the consumers are waiting for jobs and money so they can have something to spend and turn that engine over. Who blinks first? Heck if I know…
Check out the Syllabus for the CUDA Certification Exam on the NVIDIA Website. Not ony does the company provide free access to the textbook as a collection of individual chapters in PDF format, they even have podcasts of lectures, online assignments and activities, and a raft of other supplementary documentation available — all for free! Seldom, if ever, do you see this level of support for vendor certifications available at no charge. Gee! Do you think NVIDIA is eager to get people enrolled in this program and earning their cert, or what?
For those not already in the know, CUDA is short for Complete Unified Device Architecture. It reflects NVIDIA’s ongoing work to make the hundreds of processors and complex processing pipelines available in its current, high-end graphics cards available for all kind of massively parallel or distributed computing applications. The goal of this cert is to get programmers trained to write code to use and exploit these largely untapped capabilities.
Those who complete the materials on the syllabus can take an exam to become recognized as an NVIDIA Certified CUDA Programmer. Exams are available through Prometric, and cost $250, which is decidely not free, but still well-supported with preparatory materials in any case.
Heard an interesting story on NPR last week while driving in the car. It’s entitled “For-Profit Colleges Encouraged Fraud, Used Deceptive Marketing, GAO Reports.” The meat of the story comes from results of undercover investigators that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent into 15 for-profit colleges all around the US. They went with hidden video cameras, and presented their findings to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on August 4, 2010.
Here’s an interesting and somewhat chilling quote from that NPR story:
Some recruiters, caught on hidden cameras, openly urged applicants to lie on the federal form use to obtain student aid. One student was urged not to report $250,000 in assets because it was “none of the government’s business.” Other would-be students asked to speak to a financial aid counselor, but were told they’d have to sign an admissions form first. In some cases, applicants practically begged to get a full accounting of the likely costs, but were told they’d have to sign on the dotted line first.
While our slow economy has led many people back to school to bolster their employability, there’s an increasing tendency for higher-ed recruiters (including at not-for-profit institutions, as well as the for-profit ones that were the focus of this story) to talk prospective students into assuming sizable debts that the work for which degrees might qualify them does not always allow them to repay. The various practices cited in the preceding quote are illegal, so the NPR story urges stronger enforcement of existing laws, despite calls from student advocates to close down schools that seek government aid as a way to stay afloat, or that encourage students to take on debt that they cannot easily repay after graduation.
Anybody who’s considering school as a ticket to work should weigh the costs of education carefully against the resulting income likely to be earned after graduation. Any time that debt cannot be serviced by a reasonable portion of resulting income (generally, no more than 10-15%) it’s time to step back and question the costs and re-examine the benefits.
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics pushed out their August Employment Situation Summary on Friday morning, it looked like deja vu all over again. Overall, numbers were down by 131,000 for July but that reflects a loss of 143,00 temporary workers hired for the US Census, and was offset by another very modest gain of 71,000 jobs in the private sector. Both the gross total unemployment number (14.6 million) and the unemployment rate (9.5 percent) were unchanged from June.
Looking at the information sector, we do finally see some teeny-tiny signs of improvement vis-a-vis July 2009. The number of unemployed persons in information jobs edged down from 373,000 (2009) to 344,000 (2010), and the unemployment rate likewise dipped from 11.5 percent (2009) to 10.6 percent (2010) (see Table A-14 for details). In the Information sector breakdown, all of the sub-sectors except “Telecommunications” (-5,800 jobs) and “Motion picture and sound recording industries” (-300 jobs) showed small gains (ranging from 300 jobs for “Data processing, hosting, and related services” to 3,800 jobs for “Broadcasting, except Internet”; see Table B-1 for details).
No wonder markets dipped a little, but not badly at the Friday, August 6, close. It’s almost become a “no bad news is no news at all” situation, given that there’s little to cheer about on the employment horizon, now and for the foreseeable future. All I can say is “Hang in there!”
With the introduction of Exam 304: Virtualization and High Availability, the Linux Professional Institute adds another specialty option to its senior-level LPIC-3 certification. Aimed at enterprise level Linux professionals, this base certification seeks to identify IT workers with substantial skills and experience in working with Linux in an enterprise-class computing environment. This includes several years’ experience installing and maintaining Linux on various systems and servers across a broad range of roles or applications, integration experience with multiple platforms and operating systems, and advanced Linux administration tasks and responsibilities related to installation, management, security, troubleshooting, and maintenance.
Likewise, familiarity with Open Source measurement and analysis tools is required to support capacity planning and resource consumption problems or issues. Sophisticated networking knowledge includes LDAP for use with Unix and Windows services, such as Samba, PAM, email, and Active Directory. Senior-level skills and knowledge come into play through requirements to understand and undertake the lifecycle process inherent in planning, architecting, designing, building and implementing a complete Linux-based computing environment, to measure and monitor its real-time behavior, and plan for growth and explansion. Finally, scripting skills (Perl, Bash, Korn Shell, and so forth) or knowledge of a system programming language (such as C, C+, or C++) is needed to handle automating routine tasks and analyzing system logs and reports.
What the virtualization exam add to LPI-3 is a strong working skills and knowledge regarding virtualization theory and concepts, as well as tools and technologies. Candidates must understand pros and cons of virtualization, as well as costs and benefits. They must also be familiar with various virtualization environments, including related hypervisors, virtual machines, paravirtualization techniques, and so forth. Platforms covered include Xen, KVM, OpenVZ, and VirtualBox. Other topics and techniques covered on the exam include load balancing, HAProxy, LinuxPMI, Cluster Management, Advanced Pacemaker, Red Hat Cluster Suite and Advanced Cluster Suite, Cluster Storage, Global File System and OCFS2, plus other clustered file systems.
Candidates must first take and pass LPIC-3 Exam 301 (Core, $260) before they can attempt Exam 304 (Virtualization, $160). Exams are offered at both Prometric and VUE testing centers worldwide.
As reported this morning on NPR, former Federal Reserve Chairmain Alan Greenspan opined during an interview yesterday on “Meet the Press” that the recovery is currently “in a pause” and went on to predict that there would be no substantial employment improvements for the rest of this year. With unemployment still stuck at about 9.5 percent this isn’t good news, either for the economy in general or the IT sector in particular.
By definition, we seem embroiled in what’s known as a “jobless recovery” — namely, a period of (usually modest or slight) economic growth where levels of employment either stay the same or decrease overall. If you look at the numbers for the last year, and accept that what Greenspan has also called a “technical recovery” is underway, the number line for unemployment fits that definition to a “T” (take a look at this chart from forecasts.org from July 2009 to August 2010 and you’ll see it confirmed throughout that period).
Thus my recurring mantra “Stay put. Be calm. Watch Out!” remains current, however much I might wish for more tangible signs of improvement or the kind of recovery that would boost hiring, increase capital spending, and open consumer’s checkbooks a little wider. All we can do, apparently, is to hang on and wait for things to improve some time next year. This makes Friday’s July employment situation report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics a point of some interest as well. We’ll see!