IT pros must keep an open mind and adapt to cultural changes in order to remain relevant.
It’s that time of year again.Time to celebrate the holidays with friends and family and time for IT prognosticators to prognosticate. Will 2017 be the year software-defined networking finally becomes mainstream? Will cloud sales overtake on-premises hardware sales? Or will a new technology be developed that no one predicted but completely changes the way we interact with our world? I don’t know what will happen next year, but I do know there will be change, because change is a constant in IT.
I know you’re thinking this is just another article about embracing change. You're right, but I'm not talking about change that will see your job eliminated by some new technology. Instead, I’m talking about cultural change. For example, consider the COBOL programmer. My recent search on indeed.com for COBOL programmers found 1,637 entries. If you were to ask me in 1996 if COBOL jobs would still be available in 2016, I would have said no way. But, clearly there is still a market for technologies that have long been considered dead.
However, this doesn't mean the COBOL programmer's job hasn't changed. Regardless of your technological expertise, the way we interact in our day-to-day lives changes. Co-workers retire, new professionals enter the work place, tools change, collaboration technologies adapt, and so on. And that is the essence of cultural change. For COBOL programmers who started their career in 1989, the programing language hasn’t changed much, but their interaction with the language sure has.
Mainframes have given way to client/server and cloud. The internet has gone from a curiosity to pervasive and essential. Terminal emulation has given way to smartphones and laptops. Email exploded onto the scene, and now social-centric applications like Slack and Spark are starting to replace it. Voice calls have given way to text and video conferencing. Not to mention Gen Xers and Millennials have entered the job market. I could go on and on, but as you can see, COBOL programmers didn’t have to survive the death of their technological career, but they did have to adapt to a lot of cultural change.
What can IT professionals do to survive this change? Learn from everyone. I often hear IT pros say they do things a certain way because that's how they were taught. This is probably a good thing if the method is 100% perfect. However, perfection rarely occurs; constant incremental improvements are generally more common.
So, if you’re a network engineer, and a storage engineer makes a recommendation on how to improve network performance, be open to it. If you’re an application developer, and a network engineer suggests a way to improve application performance or security, consider it. You never know where the best idea for making that next improvement to your application, network, or system will come from.
Fail more often. Failing means you’re trying something new, and this usually means you are going to make a few mistakes. Moreover, we tend to learn a lot from our mistakes. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Learn a new application, try a new way to organize your e-mail or files. If you’re a network engineer, learn a bit of virtualization or if you’re a developer, learn how firewalls work.
The best part about technology is that there is always something new to learn -- and the worst part is there is always something new to learn. However, change in technology isn’t always because the technology changes; just as often, the people, process, and business requirements change. If you can keep an open mind and keep learning from others, you might just make a career of a “dead” technology like COBOL.