Skills for new people coming into a Windows infrastructure shop

Discussions over dinner can be easily forgotten. But a conversation at Exchange Connections sunk home because it sparked a really interesting debate about the training necessary for new people coming into an IT infrastructure shop. What advice would you give to a 22-year old starting off on an IT career today. Here's what we came up with.

It’s always nice to meet someone who actually reads your blog. Apart from hearing what that person thinks of the blog content, I like asking if they have any questions that could be discussed in a future blog. At the recent Exchange Connections, I attended a dinner given by the fine people at ENow Software, who specialize in monitoring products such as Exchange, Active Directory, and Lync. In any case, I was seated beside Mike, who runs Exchange for a very large company. He posed a great question – what advice would you give to a 22-year old who’s coming into the industry? Given the ever-increasing influence of the cloud, should they specialize in Exchange or any similar infrastructure-centric product?

A spirited discussion erupted around the table with lots of people contributing. When it came to my turn, I said that I thought that anyone new coming into the industry should establish a solid foundation for the skills that might be important over the next ten years or so. It’s hard to look past a ten-year horizon as the percentage of guesswork increases dramatically once you predict more than a few years out.

My advice would be to make sure that any new entrant has skills in the following areas:

  • Networking: We live in a networked world, so it’s important that technologists know networks inside out. Not at the level of wiring, but certainly broad and deep knowledge of IPv4 and, increasingly so, IPv6.
  • Virtualization: Much of what we do today involves virtual servers and you can expect this trend to continue as the influence of platforms such as AWS and Azure grow. Exchange performance guru Jeff Mealiffe was asked about running Exchange on AWS during a panel session. He acknowledged that Amazon is indeed helping customers to run in this configuration today and while Jeff cautioned people about the current supportability of an AWS-based Exchange deployment, he acknowledged that AWS and Azure are platforms of high interest. You can read between the lines.
  • Scripting/Automation: No one likes performing mundane actions such as basic server management. Exchange has invested in PowerShell as its scripting or automation framework and most other Windows infrastructure components have now caught up. In short, you can do a hell of a lot with PowerShell. In fact, some wise people have pointed out that it’s a good goal to automate yourself out of a job. Sounds scary, but it really just means that if you create scripts to automate much of what you do today, you release that most precious commodity – time – to take on more valuable work and as such, you increase your value to your company. Sounds good.

After a new technologist has mastered networking, virtualization, and scripting, they can build on their selected area of expertise – Exchange, Windows, SharePoint, or whatever. The solid foundation that’s been laid down can be exploited in so many ways to make infrastructure applications fly. Even better, the person will gradually become a fully-rounded IT professional who has the skills necessary for future growth.

Our discussion was great. It proved once again that although virtual learning is extremely valuable, there’s nothing quite like coming to a technology conference where the information presented in sessions is supplemented by interaction with fellow technologists. Ideas flow though human communications. Isn’t it nice when this happens over dinner?

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Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Oct 10, 2013

Thick skin as well.

on Oct 14, 2013

In the future (10-20 years) Enterprise companies will always need "Messaging Engineer". In the future Messaging Engineer need to know Exchange On-Premises (Enterprise), Archiving, Mobile Messaging, Lync, and AD. Also know how Messaging is tie to collaboration software such as SharePoint.

on Oct 14, 2013

Well, I think the engineer of today needs to know on-premises Exchange, the other parts of Microsoft's Office ecosystem that connect to Exchange (SharePoint, Lync, etc.) and hybrid if their company is going that way. Perhaps the future is now?

on Oct 14, 2013

Tony I agree 100%
Messaging Engineer today working for an Enterprise needs to Exchange On-Premises, Lync, Archiving, Mobile Messaging, AD and how Messaging ties to other Microsoft software such as SharePoint & SCOM.
I think this how Messaging job will look like from today and 10-20 years from now :-)

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On-premises and cloud-based Microsoft Exchange Server and all the associated technology that runs alongside Microsoft's enterprise messaging server.

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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