Run Faster, Jump Higher

by Dmitry Kirsanov 31. July 2012 05:00

A cubic meter of wood weights differently in different parts of the planet. We know it from childhood. What we start to learn later – that it’s the same about your career potential.

Let’s take an example. Mike, an ordinary guy next door, lost his job at the local café shop in England. It wasn’t a lucrative position by any means, but it was a job. When his employer informed him about the forthcoming dismissal, Mike went to state employment services and applied for all kind of allowances he could. He was one of a few hundreds of other guys with the same level of education, skills and knowledge, as well as with the same work experience.

He had to choose the next specialty, which is neither easy or pleasant choice to make, even if someone else is going to fund it. Since he is reading newspapers and talks to friends, he knows that IT is sort of the most stable industry nowadays. He doesn’t feel like he’s able to become a programmer, he is not a geek, so he decided he could go into system administration. Maybe something related to wireless technologies, as it looks to make more buzz in media.

State employment agency sent him to free courses at the training center, to get his certification in IT. Ironically, he couldn’t afford such training if he would continue working in his café shop, and it only became available for him now, when Starbucks became an expensive restaurant.

In a month, he could pass his first exam. As he decided to go through the networking training, he had chosen the CCNA, or Cisco Network Associate, program. Theoretically, having this certification would qualify him to work as a 1st level tech support for a telecommunications division of an IT company. Not a dream job, but it’s a start, the first rung of the ladder, and anyway – it’s a job which is not worse than the one at the kitchen of any café.

In practice, there was no job waiting for him right after the CCNA certificate. Sure, he became qualified, but the problem is – the jobs of that level of complexity were outsourced from UK long time ago.

So the job is still a few thousand dollars and a few months away from Mike. That is – a chance to land a job. However, the higher level certification will not be paid by the state.

Meanwhile in …

Poland is by no means a 3rd world country. It’s a member of European Union, with the same European people, good education, medicine and whatever. But the standards of living and household income are way more modest than in UK. IT specialists more used to self-education and pirated content, while exams for the same certifications are way cheaper than in UK. Like – three times.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – three countries between Poland and Finland, are in even less enviable positions, with one additional nuance – there are almost no people in Latvia. They went elsewhere once their qualification overgrown the local market. Still, there are few thousands of specialists that take care of hundreds top European companies. That is – they play the role of 1st and sometimes 2nd level tech support for less than it would cost in UK, Norway, Sweden or Denmark. Or Germany, France, Netherlands – you name it.

If you are CCNA in Latvia, your chance to land a job is higher, than if you have the same certification in United Kingdom. The price you need to pay to get that certification is proportionally smaller as well.

Now, speaking about lack of people in that country – it’s worth mentioning as well, that you can’t find a software developer in that region, but you can get some students who may eventually become such. And could get such student for as low as 800 US$ per month. In a year or two he will be lured away by tens other local software companies and then – by someone from abroad.

For Western companies it means that the outsourcing market is not endless. Sure, the consulting companies will embrace you as their customer, but they won’t assign (m)any human resources to you, because everybody and his dog is trying to save on local IT staff and outsource it to “near shore” consulting company. These near shore companies can’t keep their consultants for long enough to keep up with your quality standards, so eventually you’ll notice, that your neighbors stopped using outsourcing and took all professionals out of your local jobs market.

For Western market it means that many specialists are training at faster pace in the East and Central Europe and then join the Western market. Because the lower qualified jobs are outsourced to the East, people usually don’t come to the West for lower paid IT support jobs. They still compete with locals, but while staying on their own ground, by means of outsourcing. Then, when they get to the higher level of qualification, they compete with locals on their own ground.

Run Faster

Remember the anecdote about two guys who were fishing at the lake in the forest, when suddenly a bear appeared from the woods and moved towards them? One of the guys started to run, while the other started to wear cross shoes. The first guy shouted – “these won’t help, the bear is faster!”. “I don’t have to run faster than a bear” – answered the second guy – “I have to be faster than you!”.

You can’t learn faster than people from East Europe. Your educational programs are the same, literally. They have the same training centers, same books and same vendor certifications. However, some technologies are first become available in the West. And it’s up to you to realize the trend and invest into training – be it a book from Amazon or a full scale training class.

When we are talking about new technologies, it doesn’t really matter where you are, so your advantage of being local will only be considered as such, if you have similar knowledge as a foreign specialist.

To “run faster”, you need to learn the most wanted technologies before others do, and perhaps try to avoid most common academic programs.

Trends of 2012

Talking about the trends in year 2012, as well as trends at all, usually it’s not that easy to realize, unless you really follow the market. Or even better – when the market is following you, which means you provide the top-notch consultancy services and are not locked on any particular technology.

The trend number one in 2012 is virtualization, for sure, but not the virtualization alone. Remember, that each technology is measured in financial metrics of gained efficiency, so knowing the vSphere or Hyper-V alone is not enough. You must be able to design scenarios of implementing the virtualization in the company and make the financial numbers speak for you.

The second trend is automation and integration. Just like before, it’s about money, which you gain by substituting people with machines. And then – with even less machines.  The market cries for specialists in Microsoft System Center 2012 (SCCM), but automation begins with smaller tools like PowerShell and WSUS, group policies and scripting, which are also parts of normal Microsoft Windows administrator’s certification. But again, knowing tools alone is great, but analytical application of your knowledge is priceless.

The third trend is improving the software development processes – things like Agile, SCRUM, Team Foundation Server, Android development. While implementing methodologies like SCRUM and Clear Light would require previous experience with software development and project management, things like TFS and Android do not require such – they are new and constantly evolving, so most employers are looking for new specialists in the field where they have no specialists yet, not just “yet another specialist of many” in this field. Being a new guy in a particular field is usually better.

There it’s worth mentioning, that even though the software development is definitely more lucrative, it also requires genuine passion for programming, to succeed in this area, while the system administration generally doesn’t.

The fourth trend is the overall IT automation – be it ITIL, the Microsoft System Center Service Manager 2012 and other IT project management techniques. Almost impossible topics for new people in IT, so let’s leave it for now.

The fifth trend in my list is Microsoft Lync server. Microsoft Lync server is a pretty complex product which is not easy to deploy in a corporation and even to learn by yourself, as practical examples would require running tens of virtual machines simultaneously.

The sixth trend is databases, meaning Microsoft SQL Server, and the seventh is the growing needs for security specialists. While with SQL Server specialists everything is more or less clear, the information security is a topic with expensive training and of a very complex matter, especially when we are talking about highest level certifications, such as CISSP. However, certifications like these open most doors.

Jump Higher

As I said before, you need to get into the higher level of knowledge than others to land a job. If you want to land a job in IT in the West, you need to learn enough to get over the outsourcing cap. There is no such cap in the East, but at certain level even the tech support is not outsourced.

You can either go by the mainstream, or use the sharpshooting technique.

The Mainstream

There are few main streams, or paths, that people follow. The same certifications in the same areas. For example – MCSE program. Many employers desire to see such specialists as their employee or their employee as such specialists (which is not the same, in the latter case they are training, not hiring).

It’s easy to follow that path – just get the certification resources – books, videos or for the faster pace – some courses, and in a few months you are done.

But there is also another way.

The Sharpshooting Technique

There are some technologies, for which there is a constant shortage of professionals. The mentioned Microsoft System Center is one of such areas. Corporations are ready to go at great lengths to get good specialists – even to send someone for a training to another part of the world. However, with every new release of most demanded products, the shortage grows. That’s because the old specialists are busy enough to not have time for learning the new stuff. They count on their previous knowledge and hope that learning the new tricks can wait.

And they wait for years.

Before the release of the Big product, there is a preliminary (and usually complimentary) version of the product, and the period of time when not many training resources available. For example – no books at Amazon or courses at the training centers.

And that is your chance. Dig the internet, get everything you could about the previous version, learn what’s new and pose yourself as the specialist in the brand new release, before books hit the shelves.

That way you could get the job at the company that wasn’t even looking for new employee, or would otherwise reject you.

The Morale Of The Story

Everything is relative. You are what you are where you are. And somewhere else you are someone else, meaning that your knowledge has a different value. Different places are like different levels of the same computer game, and to get a better outcome you should run faster and jump higher.

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