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5 Ways To Save Your Career as an IT Pro

Evolve with emerging tech and tools or lose your job to someone that will.

Scientists don't know exactly why dinosaurs vanished from the face of the earth 60-some million years ago. But the consensus is that they weren't able to adapt to sudden, wrenching changes in their environment.

IT pros in Microsoft-centric shops can learn a thing or two from that experience. To put it bluntly: Adapt or die. The pace of change in IT isn't slowing down. If anything, it's picking up speed.

And if you think you're immune because your organization has standard­ized on Microsoft tools, think again. Clinging to old habits while ignoring the changing environment can definitely put your career at risk. In the spirit of survival, then, here are five rules to follow in the new IT era.

1. Learn to Love the Cloud
About five years ago it might have made sense to approach the cloud with caution. Today, you should be approaching it with all deliberate speed. Move workloads to the cloud by spinning up virtual servers instead of deploying local hardware. Add backup and disaster recovery capabilities in the cloud. Take advantage of tools like Yammer, Skype for Business or Slack to increase collaboration.

The good news is you'll probably pull ahead of the competition if you start today. Every survey I saw in 2015 showed that businesses are just beginning to wake up to cloud-based solutions.

2. Automate, Automate, Automate!
Probably the single-greatest skill any IT pro can learn today is Windows PowerShell. If you haven't yet mastered this extraordinarily useful command-line shell and its accompanying scripting language, now's the time to do so. Windows PowerShell cmdlets can be used to perform one-off system and network administration tasks, as well as for enforcing policy using built-in features like Windows PowerShell Desired State Configuration.

Get even more bang for your scripting buck by exploiting Windows PowerShell integration with tools like Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server. It's OK to expand your horizons beyond Microsoft products, too (even Satya Nadella says it's OK), so try combining Windows PowerShell with Chef for automating Windows configuration management, for example.

3. Up Your Security Game
If I could wave a magic wand and make one change in every business network, it would be to make multifactor authentication mandatory for every service. Every person in your organization has a smartphone, and authentication software has gotten very good these days. There's no excuse for your network to be vulnerable to stolen credentials or phishing attacks.

And don't forget about wireless networks. Large organizations should have a robust 802.1X authentication infrastructure, but smaller businesses might think that's too complicated or expensive. As a result, they end up using off-the-shelf wireless solutions with shared encryption keys that make it too easy for strangers to get in. Try the JumpCloud RADIUS-as-a-service offering, which is free for the first 10 user accounts.

4. Reevaluate Your Hardware Replacement Cycles
Penny-pinching CFOs want you to hold on to hardware until every ounce of depreciable life has been squeezed from it. As far as I'm concerned, though, holding on to old hardware is a false economy, especially for mobile devices that lack crucial hardware features like a Trusted Platform Module or 802.11ac wireless.

Old hardware is a PITA to support. It makes employees feel unwanted and unmotivated. And if push comes to shove, ask your CFO to look at the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH), which permanently extends the Section 179 deduction for qualifying equipment purchases.

5. Leverage Support Contracts
Your IT resources are scarce and getting scarcer. Each time something goes wrong -- whether it's software, hardware or a cloud-based service -- you enter a troubleshooting black hole that can chew up hours of valuable time with no clear end in sight.

That's why the smartest IT pros I know aggressively negotiate support contracts. They get quotes from first- and third-party providers and negotiate the best possible deal. When anything goes wrong, that warranty provider owns the IT problem, leaving you free to concentrate on the business.

About the Author

Ed Bott is a Microsoft MVP and an award-winning tech journalist who has covered Microsoft for 25 years. He's written numerous books on Windows and Office, including the best-selling "Inside Out" series from Microsoft Press. Bott delivers outspoken advice on a wide range of technology topics at his ZDNet blog, "The Ed Bott Report."

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