The more certifications and tech skills you can accumulate, the better, Reed says. "We have hundreds of candidates who apply for the positions we advertise, and everyone feels they can do the job, but companies are looking for the best candidate," he says. "You can be a Windows admin with two years of experience, but if you're competing with someone who has also touched Linux and Unix and has several certifications, you can see where you'll have a disadvantage," he says.
How to prep for change
Traditional sysadmins will not be able to make these changes overnight -- but they do need to get started because the clock is ticking. Forrester forecasts that the global market for cloud computing will grow from $40.7 billion in 2011 to more than $241 billion in 2020.
They should start, Topi says, by surveying the business context in which they currently work, the roles and responsibilities of the people they serve, and the business model of their employer. Also important, he says, is developing better communication capabilities, specifically the ability to both negotiate with and listen to users in a different way. "There will be an increasingly high intensity of dealing directly with users and understanding their needs," he says.
Employer-provided education can be somewhat helpful, though companies tend to provide training in narrow, product-specific areas, Kizer points out. Some universities offer formal programs in systems administration, and both LOPSA and ACM are working with educators to help define their curricula ( sample PDF here), but most skill revamping will likely be self-taught, he says.
"With the availability of free virtual computing environments, you can build you own cloud on your own hardware for learning, or you can cheaply rent it from IaaS providers."
Hill suggests sysadmins looking for gaps in the IT department and orient themselves to take advantage of the openings. "Companies aren't going to let go of an eager, adaptable and accountable employee," she says, "but sometimes employees have to remind leadership that that's who they are."
In place of employer-provided training -- which Hill agrees is hard to come by -- sysadmins should develop personal networks so they can develop mentor-apprentice relationships to learn about areas in which they're interested.
Change can be good
The need to change can actually be a good thing in the long run, Hill says. "The closer you get to the application layer, the closer you have to get to the business, and tech professionals who add value to the business are viewed in a different light." That "different light" can include a boost in salary, Hill says, noting that the overwhelming number of six-figure salaries in technology professions are be considered business-IT roles.
In the end, the role of the systems administrator is still a vital one, technologists and industry observers agree, but, as Topi says, "It's not going to be the same sysadmin as it was 10 or 20 years ago."
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