Charl VenterIn a rapidly changing business landscape, deciding which skills to invest in carries risk for both employees and companies. This is especially true in the IT sector, which has had to accommodate macro-trends such as digital transformation, the fourth industrial revolution, and the acceleration in remote work and cloud computing occasioned by Covid-19.Today’s digital world has become increasingly complex, with companies providing services across multiple domains, clouds and apps, bringing together customer-facing solutions with supply chain and logistics, all while maintaining security. The rapid evolution in customer expectations, and the shift to the cloud can make it difficult for professionals to know where to specialise – and presents a challenge to those who have already obtained previously sought-after qualifications in IT infrastructure. The problem may be particularly acute in South Africa, where tech skills are already a scarce commodity. As a Cisco-Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Data Centres, I empathise with this dilemma. I had aspired to reaching CCIE level since starting my IT career some 12 years ago. The qualification wasn’t easy to obtain, and the year I completed my lab exam was very tough professionally. My peers and colleagues doubted my ability and the lab exam was not available locally, forcing me to travel to Australia. My CCIE designation remains one of my proudest accomplishments.In order to maintain Altron’s designation as a Cisco Gold Partner, we have to employ at least 4 CCIE-holders in our organisation. In 2019 there were 59,737 CCIE professionals worldwide, with only a handful in South Africa holding the same CCIE Data Centre specialisation that I do.But in the last few years, the hype around CCIEs has faded away. Attention has shifted away from infrastructure and towards integration software. Where does this leave me, and others like me who have invested years of late-night and weekend studying towards gaining what we believed was one of the most prized certifications in the world?Most CCIE-holders, or people with comparable skill experience and skills, are mid-career and stepping into senior roles in business, making our experience especially sought after. For me, this shift from technical expertise into business is key. It’s now up to me to evolve my skillset to approach problems effectively and creatively – in keeping with the new generation solutions now available, such as Cisco’s Full Stack Observability. We need to abandon a siloed approach to solutions and technology in favour of a business lens. My job now is to find out what the business drivers are and ask what business problem we are trying to solve.While the breaking down of siloes is largely positive, we need to come up with more collaborative approaches. Too often, large enterprises are quick to form a “war room” to deal with outages, bringing together departments in a manner that quickly degenerates into finger-pointing and scapegoating. As senior IT professionals, it’s important that we show leadership and lead a solutions-driven approach.Technology such as FSO forces teams to collaborate as events leading up to the outage are collated into a single point of view. This makes it easier for infrastructure, networking and application teams to work together to determine the root cause and resolve the issue.Is there still a place for CCIEs in this new normal?My answer is yes. But it’s on us to ensure that our designation remains as sought-after and respected as before. We should not restrict ourselves to technical leadership in a specific vertical, but we have the opportunity to broaden our knowledge and to look at the overall business environment as well as technology.When the world is changing, we look for certainty and stability. Unfortunately, there’s no sure thing, golden ticket, or guarantee in careers and life. Cisco remains one of the world’s foremost technology companies, and I have reaped many benefits from following this path. My journey in leadership began in part because of my qualification. But at the end of the day, any qualification is worth only what you bring to it: passion, curiosity, integrity and quality. It is up to you to ensure that your qualifications stay relevant.Charl Venter is practice lead: infrastructure-as-a-service at Altron Systems Integration
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