5 Hot Tech Projects to Boost Your IT Career

Essential IT Project No. 2: Master your mobile devices

The consumerization of IT is here to stay. The question is, What are you going to do about it?

You have two choices: Resist and kiss your career ambitions good-bye, or embrace it and win the undying respect of the C-suite executives who really want to use their iPads at work, even if they're not entirely sure why.

The project IT pros need to wrap their arms around is the mobile device dilemma: How to manage devices securely, provision them efficiently, and make your bosses happy without compromising the integrity of your network, says Mike Meikle, principal of Hawkthorne Group.

Even if you or your enterprise aren't quite ready to jump with both feet into the realm of mobile device management, you should at least be conversant with all the options available to you, he adds.

"A lot of IT folks will simply say no, they don't want those devices in their environment," says Meikle. "That's not going to fly, especially if this is being driven by executives. If you're approached by senior management about what it will take to integrate these devices into the enterprise and you say they're too risky or that you want to take a wait-and-see approach, you're not going to look so good. Being knowledgeable about what solutions are available will make you look like a pro to the business side of the organization."

If your enterprise is thinking about going BYOD, you'll have to figure out how to securely sandbox those corporate apps and what kind of authentication hoops users will jump through in order to log on, he adds.

You'll also need to take a deep dive in the mobile apps pool. If you have the programming chops to develop mobile apps that align with your business objectives, go for it. But even if you don't, you should be familiar with the apps commonly used in your company's industry, and be provisioning a store of approved apps your business customers can select and install with a click.

If this is such a great idea, why isn't everyone doing it? Transitioning from a legacy mobile device infrastructure (typically BlackBerry) isn't trivial, notes Meikle, especially if you are planning to support multiple mobile platforms.

Until recently, managing iOS devices required a Corporate Apple Developer Certificate, which some organizations -- particularly those in government -- were loath to obtain due to their issues with the terms and conditions of Apple's developer agreement. Meikle says Apple recently relaxed its policies to make it easier to manage devices in the enterprise.

Even so, mobile device management solutions are still relatively immature, and there are few clear-cut choices. "These devices are only a couple of years old, and enterprise IT doesn't typically turn on a dime," he says. "So trying to come up with the right solution can be difficult."

Essential IT Project No. 3: Become a devops shop

cloud code
Tens of thousands of developers have adopted agile development methodologies -- a highly iterative approach that keeps coding projects from going off the rails, out of scope, or over budget. But when those projects need to move from the development team to operations for load or functionality testing, they're no longer so agile.

"When programmers have to put in a request for system resources and go through that whole approval and provisioning process, projects can stop dead in their tracks," says Brian Moloney, managing partner of Web design and development firm Imaginary Landscape.

The project you need to own: Building a cross-functional devops team that blends programming chops with sysadmin acumen to keep projects flowing. "It requires a blended skill set," says Moloney. "Programmers need the authority to make administrative changes, and Ops needs to know how to do a little coding. That way the dev team doesn't have to stop the flow of what it's doing to disconnect and then reconnect the project."

Interdisciplinary skills become even more important as organizations build apps to run in the cloud, says Todd Olson, vice president of products at Rally Software, an agile project management and coaching firm. "Developing for the cloud affects how software is written," he says. "Coordinating what happens to that binary after it leaves Dev's hands is even harder. If you're doing both agile and cloud deployment, devops becomes something you really can't ignore."

The best way to get started? "Select a small proof-of-concept project, pluck people from each silo, put them in a room together, and look at the result," says Moloney.

If this is such a great idea, why isn't everyone doing it? A lot of organizations haven't solved the first problem, yet -- getting good code out the door quickly, says Olson. Interdepartmental politics also plays a role, especially in larger organizations. And the devops concept is still fairly new, while divisions between developers and admins are not.

"Dev people and ops people speak different languages," Olson says. "The role of the ops guy is to reduce risk so he doesn't get desperate phone calls on the weekend. The goal of the dev team is to produce as much good new stuff as possible. There's a conflict there. You can't just buy a tool to make it happen. It requires a change in culture."

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