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We asked our Advisory Board analysts, vendors and consultants what IT job requirements, certifications, skills and experience they look for on the résumés of job applicants. Pay attention, class; there'll be a test later!
Robert McFarlane, principal, data center design, Shen Milsom & Wilke
While high-level specialist certifications are certainly necessary for some operations, today's successful IT professionals have to know every aspect of the enterprise, including operating systems, virtualization, storage, networks and facilities. Since there are certification courses offered in all these areas, the most valuable people are going to have diverse training.
Going back to the days of big mainframes, there were specialists in each aspect of the operation, but the hardware vendor -- almost never a multi-vendor environment -- took care of the physical systems, usually with one or more on-site techs. Today's IT world is far more complex than ten years ago, and the complexity continues to increase.
Today, we have software from multiple vendors running on virtualized hardware, which has to then interconnect with other hardware that also comes from multiple vendors. And that hardware could very well be in a data center with varied cooling units, plus under-floor air that has to balance with loads that vary greatly from cabinet to cabinet, drawing power from overhead busways that can be reconfigured by IT technicians in the field to supply cabinet power strips that monitor temperature, humidity and power draw on three-phase circuits. Whew! In short, the whole data center has become a complex system whose interactions have to be understood across the board. It can't be properly managed strictly by specialists.
Think of IT like the medical field. Specialists are mandatory for deeper understanding of highly complex parts of an operation, but general practitioners are also required. And the specialists have to know enough about everything with which their field interacts to communicate effectively with the GP and with the other specialties to which they relate.
Sander van Vugt, independent trainer and consultant
As I'm mostly involved with Linux, I look for Linux skills on résumés, and there is a serious shortage of well-educated Linux experts. Many IT job applicants just know a little bit, but very few can be considered real experts.
Combined with that, VMware certification is a must. But unfortunately, too many people that know VMware are Windows-oriented, not Linux. The third lacking skill: Oracle. Many core IT systems are using Oracle in some way nowadays.
Robert Crawford, systems programmer
The first IT job requirement I have for new hires is mainframe systems programming skills. Of course, many of those are in short supply, so any type of mainframe experience is valuable. The specific skills aren't as important as long as they're commensurate with the applicant's experience and he or she expresses an interest in learning more.
It's not necessarily what's missing from a résumé that bugs me so much as padding. Sometimes, when individual accomplishments are too specific or there are too many employment positions in a short time span, it's not hard to tell that someone is trying to make mountains out of molehills.
I don't worry about certifications too much. While some certifications do require a lot of study, work and perseverance, they don't necessarily reflect real world experience. I prefer someone without certifications who has worked on live systems and dealt with day-to-day problems.
Finally, the "soft" skill I look for most in a candidate is curiosity. The impulse to know more about how the system works and the desire to tinker makes for a better, more capable systems programmer.
Clive Longbottom, co-founder, Quocirca
Certification [as an IT job requirement] doesn't hold much sway with me. A network manager may have full Cisco certification but no idea of the effect that his or her changes at the network level may have on a specific application or on a virtualized storage farm. A Microsoft-certified server pro may be able to make the server's operating system work well, but have no idea about how network I/O will mess up the apps running on that server. A certified security specialist could stop the business from doing anything at all by being just a tad over-zealous.
What I look for is a rounded person: one who understands that IT has to support the business and can demonstrate a basic understanding of what the business does. "Grunt" skills for fiddling about with networks, servers and storage can be brought in as required; business skills and how IT applies to those are like gold dust. As technology has become a major factor for the business's success, IT cannot allow any of its team to believe that they work for IT. They work for the business, whether in retail, pharmaceuticals, heavy manufacturing, financial service or any other industry. A job applicant's IT skills are only useful to me if the candidate can apply them to the business.
Therefore, I would look for a good résumé that shows some background research and enough technical knowledge to demonstrate that they can look at a problem in the round. In the interview, I want IT job seekers to talk about where they think the business could be improved through better application of technology.