|Here are eight storage skills that will top employers' must-have lists in 2008.
Hiring managers and recruiters say finding candidates who know the ins and outs of storage and have the so-called "soft skills" to talk about business goals instead of just bits and bytes is becoming more difficult. So what type of skills are they looking for? Someone who knows how to design and construct a SAN; knows how to implement and test a disaster recovery (DR) plan; is up to date on the latest Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices; knows how to get business buy-in; has experience with virtualization, deduplication and ediscovery processes; and, most importantly, can talk to nontechnical people in language they can understand.
"It's an incredibly fast-moving field," says Pete Fischer, a 26-year-old storage administrator at International Paper Co. in Memphis. "Three years ago, no one was talking about deduplication," adds Fischer, whose team is starting a data deduplication project.
Fischer has been part of the global paper and packaging company's dedicated storage team for the last three years. While there, he earned an MBA from the University of Memphis, a definite plus at a time when recruiters and industry experts say there's a big push for storage professionals who can work closely with business colleagues, and envision storage acquisitions and strategy as part of an overall business model.
"There's a lot of forecasting and a lot of planning when it comes to data protection, and I have been able to apply some of those MBA lessons to my job," says Fischer. "Also, I think it helped me to think globally and understand the company mission."
"Soft skills are one of three fastest growing requests we hear," says Brian Gabrielson, VP at IT placement firm Robert Half Technology headquartered in Menlo Park, CA. (Virtualization and ediscovery are the other two.) "Technology is, a lot of the time, tied to generating revenue," he adds.
Rod Masney, global director of IT infrastructure services at Ohio manufacturing company O-I Inc. (formerly Owens-Illinois Inc.) and chairperson of the Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG), agrees: "It's so important that we hire people with business acumen beyond the technologies."
Alok Shrivastava, director of educational services at EMC Corp., says SAN architecture and design, including backup and DR, is where companies tell him they have the greatest need.
Based on interviews with storage professionals, industry analysts, recruiters and hiring managers, backup and DR ranked second on our list of in-demand storage skills. Business acumen ranked a close third. Then two of the hottest new technologies in data centers--virtualization and data deduplication--rounded out the top five skills. Security (data protection), ediscovery and ITIL best practices completed the list, respectively.
It's unlikely you'll find a storage professional whose work has allowed them to get knee-deep into all of those technologies and tools. Hiring managers know this and instead look for a candidate who has shown a capacity for understanding storage as part of a larger corporate framework and is able to strive for efficiency in their day-to-day tasks while planning for growth and new business demands.
Ken Gehring, data center manager at Alberta Finance, where he's on assignment from CGI, a Canadian IT services company, says the most important SAN skill in today's complex environments is intellectual curiosity. Without it "you are never going to be able to move ahead." Gehring adds that CGI's most recent hire didn't have a long list of SAN skills. "He's actually a Windows person. But he's like a sponge. Feed him information and he'll soak it up."
"Long-range vision" is on Beth Cohen's must-have skills list. As director of technology operations at Broadleaf Services, a VAR and services provider specializing in virtualization and data protection for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), she says that "there are a lot of people who can install EMC systems, but they don't understand the complexity of how the storage fits into someone's infrastructure ... when I hire people and I see a certification, all that really tells me is that they have passed the exam."
Evolving skill sets
When Steve Davidek arrived as the computer operator for the City of Sparks, NV, nightly backups took about two hours, and he worked on a single Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. HP3000 server with 256KB of memory, four 120MB disk packs and tapes for backup. That was 23 years ago; Davidek is now operations and systems administrator for the City of Sparks, and part of a 12-member IT team that oversees a dedicated SAN with two HP EVA arrays in separate locations and approximately 20TB of storage. They also have 39 servers (15 physical and 24 virtual). In the last five years, new virtualization, as well as DR and ediscovery tools and strategies have dominated his work.
"In the last five years, ediscovery has become a nightmare for us," says Davidek, who's also a member of the board of directors for Encompass, HP's 15,000-member IT user group. "I say it's a nightmare because it's not easy to do email discovery and document discovery, and it's usually for a legal case and they usually need it yesterday." The city has been exploring and testing ediscovery software products to automate and simplify this process. Says Davidek: "The question is where do you keep it and how long do you keep it?"
Storage virtualization experience is the new tiebreaker for storage jobs, according to some IT recruiters. "I just had one guy, a good candidate, who simply didn't have enough virtualization experience," says Jason Wilson, a resource development manager at Modis, an IT staffing firm headquartered in Atlanta.
"A lot of companies are keen to have [people with] experience working with VMware," states Aidan Newman, who specializes in storage placements at Foton IT Recruitment Ltd. in the U.K. "A year ago, they didn't really care and now they're asking for it."
Virtualization is on Harold Shapiro's hot skills list, too. As director and technology architect, management information services at Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Shapiro says that knowledge of data deduplication is also vital. Storage pros "need to understand what data deduplication is and master it now," he adds.
Wanted: ITIL, encryption experience
"If a person has exposure to ITIL, and you're implementing processes based on ITIL in your organization, then that's of value to us," says Stewart Hubbard, director of technology engineering at Coldwater Creek Inc., a Coeur d'Alene, ID-based women's apparel retailer. The retailer credits ITIL methods (and service management products from BMC Software Inc.) for drastically improving its service desk ticket system. That being said, it's not going to disqualify someone if they don't have that knowledge. "Once they get here, they definitely need to understand the importance of change management and subscribe to the policies and procedures that we have in place," says Hubbard.
Hubbard also places a premium on storage professionals who have worked in a publicly traded company and firms that accept credit cards, making them subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard. "Encryption is really important to us," he notes.
Storage professionals have to be more concerned about data protection and security than ever before, says Jon Oltsik, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA, who began his career at EMC Corp. and worked in storage before focusing on networks and security. "For a long time, there was simply no knowledge of security in the storage domain," he says. Now, says Oltsik, storage professionals must focus on securing IP networks, and configuring and controlling role-based access. "If you believe, as I do, that 2008 will be a big year for gigabyte or 10 Gig, and a big year for IP-based storage--whether it's iSCSI or IP--that brings in some real security concerns."
Both jobs require "great communication and so-called soft skills," says Gabler. That means "the ability to understand the storage space and how it impacts business. We have a dedicated storage department and that department needs to be well represented throughout the organization."
Two months later (at the time of this writing), both jobs remain open. "The technical skills are hard enough to find," says Gabler. "But it's the management angle, especially for the PM job, that's really challenging [to find]."
If it's any consolation to Gabler, a lot of other companies are in the same boat and looking for the same skill sets.