The Perfect IT Storm

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Just because the economy is in a funk doesn’t mean you career has to sputter along, too. In fact, this year could be the perfect storm for IT professionals who want to step up, stand out and push their career into high gear.

The operative term: coattails. This 17th-century word has come to define the most successful strategy for managing a 21st-century IT career. Unlike the stock market, past performance of the coattail career management strategy does indicate future returns.

Regardless of economic conditions, the introduction of a new major computing platform creates demand for IT professionals with major new computing skills. The secret is figuring out which platform introductions will fly and which will flop. Get certified on the right platform early in the game, and you can be sitting pretty, even in a down economy. Chose a loser, and your career will veer off course and possibly hit the skids.

For a peek at the future, look to the past. Rewind to 1994. Microsoft Corp. was beta testing Windows NT 3.1, the first release, investing millions in development and marketing. It’s hard to imagine today, but there were virtually no Windows NT shops at the time. This was a brand-new client/server operating system.

MS-DOS, Windows 3.1 and the Mac OS were the popular desktops. Novell NetWare, Artisoft’s LANtastic and other operating systems such as UNIX defined client/server computing. Conventional thinking held that Microsoft would be lucky if Windows NT found even a sliver of acceptance among enterprise IT organizations.

While Microsoft product managers evangelized Windows NT throughout the industry, analysts’ projections for Windows NT enterprise penetration were depressing at best. After all, who needed a pretty GUI on their server operating system?

Lots of businesses, apparently. Forward-thinking IT professionals who mastered Windows NT 3.x early on and, later, Windows NT 4.x found a ready market for their skills and services.

The market for Novell NetWare-certified professionals was hot and competitive, the obvious career choice. But the lack of qualified Windows NT professionals, coupled with unexpectedly strong demand for Windows NT, made it easy for early Windows NT gurus to stand out and get hired.

Bucking the Trend
Going against the experts’ predictions, Windows NT became the most successful server operating system in history, ultimately taking on more back-room processes than any other operating system. When the Web caught fire in 1995, Windows NT 4.0 caught fire as well with the release of its integrated Internet Information Server (IIS).

Demand for certified Windows NT technicians skyrocketed. Savvy IT professionals rode the coattails of Windows NT to success during the client/server and first-generation Web eras. Meanwhile, IT pros who failed to strike when the Windows NT iron was hot—mistakenly assuming nothing could dislodge entrenched NetWare and LANtastic products—ultimately found their skill set becoming obsolete.

This scenario was repeated on a grander scale with the release of Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server and Datacenter Server in 2000. Where Windows NT 3.x and 4.x were largely client/server solutions, Windows 2000 ushered in Microsoft’s first truly distributed operating systems.

Once again, many industry experts miscalculated, predicting a slow uptake for the oft-delayed release of the Windows 2000 lineup. They argued that upgrade costs were too great for IT organizations still reeling from expensive Y2K conversion efforts. Or they said the features in Windows 2000 weren’t compelling enough to justify wholesale adoption. But some insightful IT professionals saw rewards, not risk. They ignored the naysayers, exploited the rare opportunity to leapfrog their colleagues and upgraded their skills by getting certified for Windows 2000.

It turned out to be a very smart move. Huge demand for Windows 2000, coupled with the operating system’s new capabilities, such as distributed directory services though the Active Directory directory service, integrated load balancing and hot-swappable hardware, created a huge demand for qualified professionals. Windows was moving into the glass house, going shoulder to shoulder with other large-scale enterprise systems. And the first Windows 2000-certified professionals were muscling in along with it.

In addition to IT technicians being needed to upgrade Windows NT sites to Windows 2000, skilled professionals were required to take advantage of new automated deployment, operational, management and administration capabilities in Windows 2000. The need for qualified IT architects increased dramatically. That’s because IT organizations were targeting Windows 2000, an enterprise-class operating system, to support mission-critical enterprise requirements, such as directory services, messaging, databases and distributed applications.

Forward-thinking Windows NT professionals who sought Windows 2000 certification early once again found themselves in the catbird seat. They were pulled to success on the coattails of the sweeping acceptance of Windows 2000 by the enterprise.

Here We Go Again
That scenario is about to be repeated again. Windows Server 2003 has launched. This provides IT professionals of all stripes—UNIX, Linux, Windows, what-have-you—with a rare opportunity, a perfect storm, to pull ahead of the pack and accelerate their IT career.

Given its powerful and cost-saving new features and attractive licensing plans, and Microsoft’s multimillion-dollar marketing effort, it’s a good bet that Windows Server 2003 will find rapid, pervasive acceptance in the enterprise, regardless of any expert predictions to the contrary.

But who is certified on this new operating system? Answer: not many. The demand for certified Windows 2003 Server professional administrators and architects will increase with each new license Microsoft sells. It’s a talent vacuum somebody needs to fill. That somebody could be you.

IT professionals who strike first and get certified on Windows Server 2003 will enjoy superior positioning and a strategic competitive advantage. That’s not mere marketing talk. It’s a fact substantiated by past experience and hard market research.

A study conducted by market researcher International Data Corp. (IDC) in August 2002 found that certification is a wise investment for both employers and employees. Companies with Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) on staff experienced fewer and shorter server downtimes. Their help desk functions are measurably more efficient, which pays for direct and indirect costs associated with certification. Using a certified employee on the help desk saved surveyed companies an average of 19 percent compared with using an uncertified technician. Similarly, IT managers surveyed said they are more productive and less reliant on outside consulting firms when MCPs are on staff.

Specifically, IDC found that companies with MCPs on staff saved $2,500 annually per server. This translates into a rapid ROI of four months to recoup costs associated with MCP certification, based on an IT environment with 13 Windows servers. In addition, IS managers surveyed rate technical staff holding MCP certifications as more productive in their area of certification. Other benefits, such as reduced reliance on outside solution providers, were also reported.

Banking on Certification
The average cost to certify an employee is $14,000. This includes direct costs associated with training, testing and travel. It also includes indirect costs of lost employee time, and an average 12 percent annual salary premium earned by MCP-certified employees over non-certified workers. At the end of the day, 89 percent of IT managers who experienced the benefits of MCPs on staff now recommend Microsoft certification for candidates seeking IT positions at their company.


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