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8 Ways Star Wars Can Make You An IT Jedi

  • May the Force be with you. If you're like me, you grew up with that refrain as a constant reminder of the possibilities life has to offer. You idolized Luke Skywalker (even though Han Solo was cooler and better looking) and wanted to wield the mysterious power he channeled. This week, Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres around the world, reminding us of those hopes and dreams, and initiating a new generation of fans. 

    We all may not be able to use the Force to blow up the Death Star or whisk away our opponents' lightsabers. But we can use the concepts behind it in everyday life, however humdrum it seems. If there is one thing Yoda would endorse, it's using the resources you have to fulfill your potential and find your true path.

    Nowhere is this more applicable than in professional life. Our careers can always benefit from diligence and practice, especially in a field like information technology that requires constant learning and adaptation.

    So if you want to succeed in IT, following in the footsteps of the Jedi Knights makes perfect sense: Be the rare professional who tempers faith in oneself with intense study, awareness of the surrounding environment, and an ever-expanding knowledge base. We've collected career advice from several of our Network Computing contributors that would make Obi Wan proud. Those who adhere to the following principles will become Jedi Knights of the IT realm -- and are sure to fly the fastest X-wing fighter and rescue the princess.

  • Be the Jedi master

    SDN and network virtualization will create new challenges and new opportunities. New technologies need to be maintained just like any other system. New systems need knowledge to work properly. The limits of SDN and network virtualization must be transcended by someone flexible enough to overcome them. Its possible the playing field for network engineering jobs will shrink because of software-defined networking. The key to staying on the field is knowing how to play your game better than anyone else.

    --Tom Hollingsworth


  • Find your Yoda

    Karen Purcell, an engineer, is very familiar with the challenges women face in IT and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. As author of Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and founder of a nonprofit organization STEMspire, she's working to help young women pursue STEM careers. But her advice applies to anyone in technology, where job skills change quickly and supportive colleagues are important.

    "I would say pick out a mentor," she says. "Become involved in organizations that are based on technology. Don't be intimidated; just get your mindset that you can do this. Don't let anyone tell you, 'You can't do this.'"

    (Image: Marco Verch/Wikimedia Commons)

  • Seek out like-minded peers

    Whether you are working on getting hired for the first time or already have a job in IT, its worth getting to know the support communities for the vendors and tools you work with. Say you specialize in wireless. It doesnt matter if you install Xirrus; following the Ubiquiti and Aruba forums will teach you a lot. Though every vendor has a unique approach, the client devices and overall operational goals of WiFi tend to be the same for each vendor.

    Support forums tend to be where real customers tell of real-world challenges, bugs, triumphs, and horror stories. This is where you get the raw, unsterilized read on whats going on that you cant find anywhere else. Sometimes it helps to look at the online forums for Vendor B to get ideas on how to solve a challenge on Vendor As gear. Not getting locked into a single vendors mindset will also help keep your overall knowledge and perspective well rounded.

    --Lee Badman


  • Learn to fix your IT spaceship

    It can be really pricey to buy your own name-brand IT tools and enterprise-class gear. At the same time, you really want to have something on hand to keep your skills sharp. Even consumer-grade gear and some free apps will help you to develop a basic acumen for things like protocols and basic packet structure.

    Alternatively, vendors sometimes give away enterprise-class gear in exchange for participating in webinars or training sessions. And there are plenty of time-limited evaluation products available for many of the more popular analysis tools on the market.

    --Lee Badman


  • Make your own magic

    When I first started in IT, I used to be terrified when given assignments involving technology I knew very little about. Usually such projects were accompanied by hazy objectives and deadlines crafted by what I assume were amateur comedians, given their ridiculous nature. The mark of a good engineer, however, is taking vague and murky mandates and making magic happen: Yes, what I am saying is you need to be the unicorn. Your boss is looking for someone who can filter through all the hype, find the landmines in a proposed operation, and guide him/her through unfamiliar territory.

    Does this mean you have all the answers? No. It means you know how, who, and where to get answers from. It means you have the courage to point out flaws in proposed plans, the flexibility to work with others to resolve issues, and most of all, the communication skills that dont leave your boss or team hanging in the wind when trouble comes along. And trouble always comes along.

    --Amy Arnold


  • Don't be afraid to be the broker

    IT architects may not lose their jobs to cloud computing, but they might find themselves in the role of IT service broker because of it. If you look at the most popular roles in enterprise IT today compared to a decade ago, you'll notice that key IT roles have changed dramatically. Today's hot IT jobs -- including security engineers, server virtualization administrators, and mobile developers -- were nonexistent or played a far less significant role in the past. We can expect the same to happen in the future.

    One role starting to develop prominence is what's known as an "IT service broker." And if you don't think your department needs one now, you probably will see the need in the not too distant future. As cloud adoption continues to pick up steam, I expect many network and server virtualization experts to abandon their jobs as in-house data center architects and migrate to positions as IT service brokers. IT professionals who can translate business needs into technical designs are prime candidates. If these employees have the capacity to communicate both on technical and business levels, they will be able to settle in nicely to the next hot IT job.

    --Andrew Froehlich


  • Study hard, you must

    IT is the industry of change. Whats commonplace today is legacy gear in a New York minute; youve got to keep up. Blogs, podcasts, webinars, whitepapers -- all of these are tools that facilitate keeping pace with the rapid flux of technology. Now, do you need to be an expert in everything? Absolutely not. There is far too much information out there to be the master of all things IT, but the landscape is constantly morphing and you need to have an idea of what general shape it is taking.

    As a leader, you will be making decisions that will affect your organization five, 10, and 15 years down the road. To ensure your choices are educated ones, you need to connect with people in your area of expertise, train for certification exams, read books and blog posts, and play with whatever gear you can get your hands on. Bottom line: If you dont love learning, you are in the wrong field.

    --Amy Arnold


  • Princesses can be badass

    When I first started in engineering, I didn't realize I was expected to play by a different set of rules. I was often told to "take it down a notch" or "keep my head down"--often by other women. There's a lot of history to undo, but there is hope. My heroes are stoic soldiers like Grace Hopper and Marie Curie. They simply ignored their detractors, with their success becoming the sweetest revenge.

    You won't find me silently weeping into my keyboard about inequality. I'm going to support efforts such as the Ada Initiative, the IETF anti-harassment policy, The Society of Women Engineers and the Anita Borg Institute. They may not always get it right, but there's no crying in engineering. The only thing for STEM women to do is confront difficult issues head-on, with professionalism and optimism.

    --Michele Chubirka


  • Don't let the old guard suck you in

    Unification of IT policy delivery up and down the stack is the wave of future. Networking can take its cues from the virtualization and automation folks. Those people can create deliver new instances of applications in minutes, automating the installation of an operating system, storage, and virtual network connectivity. The challenge is for networking to catch up to this way of doing IT.

    All this will require new skills and perhaps the retirement of old skills. It's clear this change isnt going to happen overnight. Despite several bold pronouncements of the end of the expert-level network engineer, the flow of recruiter mail to my inbox hasnt slowed. And they arent asking me to build a software-defined data center yet.

    Still, network engineers with an eye to the future are getting serious about understanding SDN, getting a handle on automation techniques, and contemplating that virtual switch with a little more soberness than they once did. Lets not be dinosaurs when the meteor hits.

    --Ethan Banks