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12/20/2013
12:00 AM
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Is Coding The Key To IT Survival?

Automation will eliminate IT jobs, so cultivate coding skills if you want to thrive, argues one observer.



It’s time for IT to address the need to acquire developer and programming skills. That’s a position advocated by Steve Shah, the senior director of product management and product marketing for cloud networking at Citrix.

Automation has eliminated jobs in manufacturing and other industries. Now automation is on the rise in IT industry as well, and IT professionals that aren’t skilled in coding will find themselves in a difficult position, said Shah.

“We think of the automation transformation as happening in another industry: The IT folks have been the automaters,” said Shah in an interview. “But this is a drastic change because IT is in the process of getting automated. If you aren't programming, you’ll find yourself struggling in five years.”

“We need to advocate for development skills in our own industry. We look at code as a STEM topic for our kids, but what about our own professionals?”

Shah isn’t saying that everyone should become an application developer. Instead, IT pros from network engineers to systems administrators should be proficient in systems programming—that is, be able to stitch together disparate systems with scripting tools—and have a strong grasp on APIs.

“Become a competent scripter that can put together a meaningfully sized program -- a few hundred to a thousand lines of code,” said Shah. “This isn’t a quick PowerShell hack. You’re writing objects, you’re thinking about usability.”

As for APIs, Shah noted that we’re living in an API-driven world. “This is different from traditional procedural programming. We learned, growing up, that all our libraries and tool chains lived locally and we could call them up. Now you can build rich apps that use a half dozen utilities that don’t live on your system.”

While this allows for a great deal of flexibility, it also presents challenges. “You’re dealing with a series of interconnected elements where every individual step has a large subsystem underneath you,” he said. “If you fail somewhere in the middle, your ability to recover is significantly challenged. Every step has to be assured and verified before you move on. An applications programmer doesn’t live with those restrictions—if they crash mid-way through, someone will reset it and run it again.”

So where to start? The first step is to accept that this change is happening. “I see a lot of resistance around the steps toward automation,” said Shah. “People say it will never happen, or you can’t automate my job. Get over the reluctance.”

Second, develop strong scripting skills before moving to a language such as Java. “If you can script confidently, then you can expand,” he said. While formal training is useful, practical self-education in your own environment is a must because every company has its own idiosyncrasies.

Third, you should start now. “A person who jumps into this today will be in front of the curve,” said Shah.

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