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Job for IT generalist ...

This topic was created by Bene Pendentes .

Job for IT generalist ...

... seeking advice from most highly respected commentards ... please indulge me ...

I'm an IT generalist. I know a bit of everything - I can behave appropriately up to Cxx level both internally and with clients, and I'm happy to crawl under a desk to plug in network cables. I know a little bit about how nearly everything works - enough to fill in the gaps quickly: I didn't know any C# a year ago, but 2 days into a project using it I could see the offshore guys were writing absolute rubbish. I can talk to DB folks about their DBs; network guys about their switches and wireless networks; programmers about their code and architects about their designs. Don't get me wrong, I can do as well as talk, programming, design, architecture - but I would never claim to be the equal of a specialist (although some of the work I have seen from the soi-disant specialists makes me wonder whether I'm missing a trick).

My principle skill, if there is one - is problem resolution, from nitty gritty tech details (performance and functionality) to handling tricky internal politics to detoxify projects and get them moving again.

How on earth do I sell this to an employer as a full-timer or contractor? Am I doomed to a low income role whilst the specialists command the big day rates? Or should I give up on IT altogether?

Very many thanks in advance for any comments you care to make - don't hold back (I know you wont!)

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Bronze badge

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

I too am an IT Generalist, My name is Bob, I’ve been a Generalist for my entire IT career. I’ve been coming to ITA for 6 months.

Seriously, I am in the same boat, and will be watching this with interest. I always figure I will hit some of our vendors and associates with job inquires. But they’ve been all been down sizing.

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

Simple, call yourself a Network Administrator.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

Yes, Project Management, or an Architect role sounds like it would be a logical route for extra money, but it more comes down to your employer and what you like to do.

Either way, you can pimp your CV different for each job you apply for, giving more focus on the applicable parts. Bear in mind that you can call yourself anything on your CV as long as you can tie it to one of your skills you have.

e.g

1st line support : Client Technical Engagement Specialist

2d line support : End User Compute / Back Office Specialist

3rd line support : Solutions Expert

Installed pron on iPads = "extension of content consumption options for mobile users"....

It's all bollocks of course, but sophistry works wonders for getting the interview at which point it comes down to you and preparing for the interview focusing on your skills that are applicable to the job.

Either way, best of luck.

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

"Yes, Project Management, or an Architect role sounds like it would be a logical route for extra money,"

This is exactly what I am doing, after being an IT generalist for the last 15 years. Life is getting increasingly sucky for IT generalists. Employers want much more, for much less money. I was at the cross roads of "specialize in something, or get out "

At the end of the day, my heart just wasn't in it, so I went off and did a 3 month project management course at my local Uni, and I am making the leap to Project Management.

There is a lot of need for GOOD project managers in IT, Software Dev and telecommunications.

Things you will need to do to be successful

1. Get your PMP or Prince2 certification

2. Get your Agile Certification

3. Have an awesome reputation for not just understanding IT, but also the business side of things.

Generalists tend to have a really good set of skills for this.

Another option is getting into "business analyst" type roles. IT generalists have good logic and problem solving skills which lends itself to that side of the business system as well. If you can translate business needs into SQL or programming specs then you will have a license to print money.

So, you CAN make the leap, but I am not going to lie that the first few jobs will be the hardest to get, so have a financial buffer to allow for it.

Best of Luck !

Check out my LinkedIn, and you can see my generalist history,

ca.linkedin.com/pub/andrew-fraser/1b/43/514/

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Silver badge

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

Some good advice here on how to sell yourself and possible options, but my advice is not so rosy.

Unless you get lucky (whatever that luck may be and however it manifests itself) it's pretty much only the specialists who get the big money. The specialists with experience. Who are hired directly by the companies.

Of course there are exceptions, but that's all they are: exceptions.

As a contractor, there is no path for advancement with the client.You will need certs to impress the contracting agency to command more money. Clients contract for a reason. "Contract to hire" is almost dead these days. Again there are exceptions, but don't count on them.

Companies still seem to direct hire specialists, but how you get that experience they require is another enigma. You really don't see too many entry level positions for, say, UX/UI specialist or VM admin.

I find all this quite odd. Arcane specialized skills aside, it still takes the person with practical knowledge to make sure the network functions all the way from the billion dollar data center to the receptionist's/customer's/accountants/sales person's desk. You know. The people who have no clue how a computer works but still need it to work. I've seen plenty of specialists who could not install a printer or email admins who not fix their own mailbox problems and others who swear up and down the problem is not their end until, yes, it was their end after all. Yet all making 3 times what you will be.

That kind of crap is very discouraging.

So why don't the generalists go on strike or hold out for more money? Simple: because of the less than stellar pay they literally can't afford to.

All that said, good luck.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

....an IT Generalist? I personally would never use that term to describe myself. Just a few minutes ago, I made a reference to a friend and myself as IT Insanists. Now there's a term.

It's not about how much you know.....it's about how have you accomplished with what you know. Again, what have you done......or what can you do.

But most importantly, it's all about your resume.

1st - It needs to be HONEST. There is a special place in hell for liars!!

2nd - It needs to be formatted for the search engines. If not, you are a backdrop.

I can't speak to the # of years you have to fill a resume, but I tried to fit 15 years on two pages, and had a recruiter, which did not collect a commission from my experience, change my professional career with a few bits of information.

1. 15 years - 5 pages, at least. So 5 pages it is....my email blew up.

2. If it isn't between a date range, it doesn't mean anything:

SecOps, Inc: 06/2005 - 06/2010

<Now list everything you did, in detail....and include product names (Reinvented remote access using Juniper SA4500 VPN Concentrators, allowing for increased productivity for 5,000 users) (JUST DO NOT LIE) >.

Now everything in that list equals 5 years experience. The more years of your experience for a particular product/skill, the higher your resume will appear in the recruiter's search results.

I am a security engineer with insane AD, Linux, and Network skills, with business process, disaster recovery, change management and architecture experience. My interview 3 days ago with a Silicon Valley company, which I'm sure you know, lasted 6 hours, and I landed the job....and now will move from the east coast to the west....and I'm going to get paid.

I am so happy for the tips of that recruiter (Stephen Herrick of KForce). He changed my life.......just because my resume was all wrong.

But you seriously have to know you stuff. General knowledge is not enough. For example, can you answer these:

1. Describe the difference between active and passive FTP, and when it comes to implicit and explicit FTPS, which is more firewall friendly, and why......and what is required for the correct answer to be more firewall friendly - in both Cisco and Windows terms.

2. What is the difference between FTPS and SFTP?

3. Give an example of how you would use active directory to segment and protect critical applications from a malicious users using group policy.

4. Describe the difference between stateful and stateless packet filtering, and how it applies to firewall and router ACLs,

If you can give detailed answers off the top of your head, you are not a generalist, and you will most like make bank, with the right resume. If you have to Google the answers, you might not even be a generalist.

But if you don't know the answers, by all means, Google it, implement it, and know it. To get the 6 figure job, you'd better know them and a whole lot more, inside and out.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

" I know a little bit about how nearly everything works"

That's your issue. You need to learn a LOT about how everything works. And get some certifications to prove it. I make £600-£700 a day as an infrastructure consultant / architect on this basis.

If you don't care about mind numbingly tedious documentation and basically being a very well paid secretary / administrator then project / programme management is another relatively easy route to good pay...

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

I have seen over a career that spans 2 decades in IT, in roles varyingly as a generalist and a specialist, that the higher you climb up on an org-chart, the following things are needed -

1) depending on the size of the organization, a good mentor/ally in senior leadership

2) being able to quantify your work (e.g.: saved $1M in x project by reducing such and such cost, saved $250K in reduced man-hours by automating x, y and z process etc). It is not disingenuous at all, it shows that you understand what you are worth and are able to quantify your impact to your team/organization. I used this for years in organizations I've worked at and leadership had no option but to rate me at a top-performer, thereby paving the way to promotions and better pay

3) Show that it is not just about yourself and that you play a key role as a thought-leader and influencer within your own and peer organizations.

All of these when done with the right blend of aggression and amicability will open doors and lead the way to success.

Being a creative problem solver is a very valuable skill that many middle-management types don't understand. But when they see one in their team, they tend to rely on these individuals for advice and when in a bind. If you are in a similar position, make it known to your leader that you know that he knows what your worth is. After a couple of times of pulling the team's arse out of a blazing inferno, the leaders will be open to suggestions about your growth prospects and references etc.

These things (such as quantifiable achievements etc) will also help sell your resume to prospective employers. Suddenly you have a USP that you use to sell yourself better. A Creative Problem solver, multi-faceted process engineer, so on and so forth. I think you are selling yourself short. Don't. Have healthy pride in your abilities.

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

I am an IT generalist and at the moment I work full time in the design department in a multi-national aerospace company (I ran my own IT company for over 10 Years previously). The IT generalist it seams is ideal if more aligned with the customer (rather than the ICT department).

I interface for the engineering department to the ICT department. My job shouldn't exist but most "clever" people need generalists like us to steer them through the ICT minefield.

A few years ago I didn't even know this type of job existed. I have done it for 2 different major aerospace companies. We need more ICT generalists because they are the ones with common sense.

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

hi, with regard to point #2, if you work in a large organization on large projects how would you recommend quantifying your work in terms of cash or added value to the business? I've worked on R&D projects in big blue chip biotech companies and it's difficult to quantify how much your contribution is to some behemoth project. If you're at a lowly tech level performing some function, or help a task move along the pipeline/workflow, how do you quantify your actual contribution in that chain? I've never been fortunate to have direct line of site to say "yes, that was my contribution that delivered x million dollars to the business". It's always, "I helped person x out with task y that was part of processes a, b, c, d, e, f,....."

I would genuinely be interested in how people go about quantifying their individual contribution when working on very large industrial projects in order to sell that on their CV. I'm in the same boat as the forum post and although I have lots of "stuff" on my CV I struggle to describe how any of it was ever of any value. Certainly in my current role I wonder if anybody would notice if I didn't turn up for work for 6 months.

thanks :)

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Paris Hilton

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

There are several outs:

1) Pick an area - any area - and stick to it. (My suggestion based on your experience would be

perf debugging - that requires a breadth and trouble shooting skills). It will take 2-4 years to

establish yourself and the skills will be portable.

2) Join as an apprentice in a small <buzzword> company. Fight fires all day long and soon you

can be whatever you want to be.. (within 12 months).

3) Higher education. It may not have many things to teach you, but a higher degree can open some

closed doors. (Not my personal preference, but there are people who value it). You can be

"specialist" in 2+2 years.

4) Incorporate. Be the sysadmin for small businesses. Set up their clouds and shit. If you are not

making good money in 2 years, goto steps 1/2/3.

Paris, coz she can crawl under my desk anytime...

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Re: Job for IT generalist ...

Were I still running an ISP I would be interviewing to find someone with your skills and outlook to run support services. Good generalists are rare and have the potential to become hugely valuable assetts to any business if they are prepared to train in customer facing roles. Ultimately the best course may be to start your own business, but be prepared for this to fail (not you, the business), at least once before you succeed. To some extent being a generalist qualifies you as a team builder, and with a little training and experience, a team leader (skills that is, not titular roles). You have built a good foundation on which to build a career, corporate or startup, so don't undervalue it; but also be prepared to invest; there are many start ups that would benefit from your skills, but don't have the cashflow to support your salary.

Best of luck

T

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Happy

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

I'm assuming that question was for me. Okay, it is harder to quantify work at the tactical level. However, you could do something very simple.

Find out (if you don't know) the hourly rate that your company would be spending on labor for the work that you automated etc. The mathematics depends on many things. Or if you have contributed to some process improvement, that would reduce man-hours from 20 hours to 2 hours or something to that extent. You get the drift...

Another thing you can do, is get a hold of the project management document (say the MS Project report/gantt chart) where your individual piece was articulated. Lets say the PM budgeted 40 hours for your task but you were able to accomplish it in 5 hours (or 10 hours), you saved that much money. And the project in effect might have got sped up by a similar factor...and so on.

Sometimes I find things that I can do, to help improve processes, automate certain pieces of work, etc. And then I get that approved (some managers might say, okay, don't work on that as your primary goal, but you can definitely do it in your "spare" time). The first one is always hard, but then once you prove yourself, the subsequent efforts are easier to sell. By doing certain pieces of work, you are able to save time, effort, resources (whatever that might be).

Sometimes non-technical (or semi-techincal) managers find it difficult to gauge the degree of effort needed. Maybe you do it on the side (without explicit "blessings") but you can then demonstrate what the value of your work is (how much you saved the company etc). Managers love people who do things that make them look good with their bosses. But with that comes a fine line you have to walk - to ensure that you get credit for your work...

Hope that helps.

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Boffin

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

"If you don't care about mind numbingly tedious documentation and basically being a very well paid secretary / administrator"

I disagree with this sentiment, if you are a really good project manager then it can be very hands on and very rewarding. I love project execution work and overcoming problems.

I also happen to enjoy the business analyst side of it as well. You can be a good project manager and just go through the motions, or you can be a great project manager by actually helping the client to see the best way of doing things.

My favorite kind of projects are the one who have gone completely off the rails, and they need a "Mr Wolf" to come in and solve problems. If you have an IT background you are much better at getting these sort of IT projects back on track, or having the tough conversation with the project sponsors that you need to "old yellar" the thing and start again.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Job for IT generalist ...

I'd say to try to get it to a relatively entry level gig at a big company and work your way up. I work at a Fortune 75 firm. Started there while getting my undergrad in Electrical Engineering, worked through my MBA back to back. I started as a guy tasked with creating a program we could sell to our customers. Not a software program, just a way of bundling knowledge. I built some Excel models where they could put in their sales stats and it would project out their rebate dollars, and ergo allow them to better predict profitability. People were impressed. We had a problem with the compensation team messing up people's quota and pay. I took that over. Excel modeled it with a little VBA on the side. Sales team needed a home place to collaborate: built a sharepoint site. Need to plan their PTO, built a SP calendar on the site and integrated it to the time-off-request page. The list goes on. Now I'm the architect/design lead of the CRM strategy for North American operations. It's been 5 years.

I don't know what you consider high income, but I do pretty well, especially compared to the standard of living in the area.

Another possible path for you would be to get into consulting. The level of knowledge you list about various topics would make you a very good project manager for a CRM/ERP consulting firm. It is an interesting time in those places with Salesforce being relatively new still, Microsoft making a play for the CRM market and SAP+Oracle trying to get their cloud vs on premise strategies figured out. That will net you a lot more pay but will come with lots of travel.

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I have to agree, project management. Probably one of the worst jobs in IT though (I am one!)

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Project management (or people management in general) is not for everyone.

I gave it a try some years ago and hated every minute of it.

I was a technician/programmer before and was happy when my boss let me return to my old job.

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Orv

That's the bind I find myself in. I don't want to manage people, but if I avoid it I've locked myself into a low salary forever. Advancement seems to involve spending less and less time working on computers and more and more time managing people.

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Silver badge

Depends on the country

There are countries where problem solving is valued and so is the breadth of knowledge needed to solve problems (real ones). There are countries where it is not.

Based on my personal experience (I am also a generalist) it is pointless to apply for any job in a UK company unless you are applying solely on the strength of one particular single skill. You will only be wasting your time. Breadth is not valued and is considered a hindrance or a potential threat - "someone who can replace me as a manager, let's not hire him". You will also be paid solely on the basis of that particular single skill. Once upon a time you could get around this problem by maintaining multiple identities with multiple mail addresses and multiple CVs. Not any more. That is no longer feasible nowdays.

So you are better off just dropping UK jobs altogether and concentrating on opportunities listed with US and to a lesser extent continental outfits. As far as Europe is concerned the "cult of the superhandiman" is the more pronounced as you go East. That is not such a bad idea - if you look at salaries in Bratislava, Brno, Sofia or Warsaw for example (as well as the buying power these salaries provide) they are definitely a better place than cranking out more useless "social" drivel in yet another startup @ Silly roundabout. You will probably be doing real work too.

As far as the rest of the world (outside US/EU) is concerned there are countries which follow the UK tradition and countries which are more US-like. Cannot really say - my familiarity with "discrimination against the generalist" is limited to Eu/US.

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Pint

Re: Depends on the country

Agree.

From a not-entirely-dissimilar perspective, I've seen UK industry has no use for techies older than a twentysomething grad. If you don't want to don a Suit and/or relegate your IT work to a hobby, look elsewhere. Either abroad (US being the obvious #1 market), or self-employed/contractor if you've got the salesmanship and negotiating skills to make that work for you.

I telecommute across the atlantic. Pay is still modest, but I get to live somewhere I can afford on it.

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Re: Depends on the country

As someone who left the UK in 2004 - never to return - I can only agree.

I run into people who have left the UK (some recently, some not so recently), and I hear pretty much the same thing: If the market is broken, the best solution is simply not to waste your time with that market - but to take your skills abroad. It's a small world, and leaving the UK has never been so easy.

I still get calls from UK job agents, hoping to take me on - but in every case, I have to break their hearts when I utter the words "I'm not available for UK work."

Here in Switzerland, none of the pros really worry about the lack of employment rights: If you're good, you'll be hired, paid well and kept on - and if you are crap, you'll end up back on the street pretty fast. Let the wasters worry about a Swiss employer's right to fire anyone without requiring a reason. It keeps them out. :)

Before the US went all Socialist, they had a hire 'em, fire 'em employment ethos. Didn't do them any harm - in fact, it fueled massive growth and opportunities.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Depends on the country

All this gnashing of teeth about the state of the UK Jobs market is only half the truth.

As a 60+yr old Generalist and proud of it, all I can say is that there are jobs out there.

In my experience the biggest problem is the Recruitment agencies. If you find an agent who has their head switched on then you arr halfway to getting a much improved position. The agent who found me my current position is the same as for the previous job.

Despite what the nay-sayers might have you believe there are roles for us generalists. Let me try to explain.

IT systems are getting ever more complex. Not only Databases and networking but lots of other 'stuff' besides. Some of this other stuff has been mentioned.

Understanding how the business works.

Telling the so-called architects that they are talking out of their backsides because their 'cute' design just ain't possible.

Making sure that all the bits of a project actually work when put together.

The latter part is very important IMHO. As the IT Skills coming online are more and more compartmentalised the chances of the old 'square peg and round hole' symptom happening becomes more and more likely. Companies will soon see the value of someone who can spot these problems before they happen.

Oh, and in may areas of IT 'Agile' is better named 'Fragile' because it does not work very well.

In the right setting then it is great but it is not the panacea it ia made out to be.

A 'fragile' team I was working with quoted me two sprints for a bit of code. that is 4 weeks. I asked how long would it take to actually do the coding. 2 days was the reply. The rest of the time was integrating it into their continuious build and test environment.

I shook my head and wrote it myself with a far better test coverage and fully documented in less than 4 days. Documentation was another sprint's worth of effort.

Go for it. There are really rewarding roles out there. You could have mine in a few years as I'll be retiring... :)

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Thumb Up

Re: Depends on the country

AC, I couldn't agree with you more.

The hiring system is the biggest broken part of this equation.

People need to learn how to network, rather than using recruiters and job applications. There is a LOT of work out there if you know how to make the connections and find it. The "Old boys network" is re asserting itself again because hiring departments are so bloody useless.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Depends on the country

This reply both amuses and annoys me.

As someone who is dead set on moving to the USA but finding their immigration systems somewhat unwelcoming, your suggestions seems awfully flippant. As a 30 year old with 14 years experience as a "generalist" with the occasional foray into short specialist contracts, I don't see that I have anything near what's required to get a job in the US from the point of view of visa requirements. Perhaps if you have a degree you're on partially on your way, but unless you're already carrying a unique specialist skill you're not just going to be able to apply for any old job willy-nilly and hop across the pond. You'll need employer sponsorship and that's going to require them to prove that there's no US citizen in the vicinity capable of doing the job that you're going to be filling. Which given that the OP is selling themselves as a generalist, is highly unlikely to be the case.

If you know something I don't, then please do reply with the info because I will very, very happily be proven wrong and get my CV/resume across to whoever you tell me to, so that I can fulfill my dream.

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Silver badge

Re: Depends on the country

Quote "This reply both amuses and annoys me"

Err... There is nothing easier than getting a work permit for a generalist. Rule number one - you do not put generalist on the application

A generalist by definition has more than one skill. Just list a combination of skills on the job spec. By the time you have listed 3 skills the likelihood of finding a local person from the specialist pool is in the 0.1% or less. Four or more, which is possible if you are highly qualified generalist which can apply for a mid-level job on the basis of a single skill alone,

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Depends on the country

So you're suggesting the best process is to find someone to hire me, and then explain to them how to spec the job so that they're pretty much guaranteed to get me in on a permit?

It's interesting because I did get a job offer from a small local company in CA but it fell through because the process seemed quite daunting/expensive.

I'm going to step up my game based on this info. I'd pretty much resigned myself to having to find a pretty Californian girl and get married.

Thanks for the info/inspiration :)

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Orv

Re: Depends on the country

I don't know what parallel universe you're living in, but in the US job market that exists in my reality, "at will" contracts are still the norm. Most people can be fired at any time, for any reason. Union contracts that make firing difficult are mostly limited to a handful of blue-collar trades. Job security here has been on the decline for years.

Good luck if you *do* get fired, too; the labor market is so flooded with applicants that most companies consider unemployed people undesirable, and will only interview people who already have a job. And if you get unemployment benefits -- which is a big "if", since companies often lie and say people were fired for cause, disqualifying them -- they'll eventually run out.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmmmm......

The only way I know to sell these skills at a premium is to pull them out of the "techie" trench (no offence meant I am a techie myself) and start presenting them as management or strategic skills.

After all what is a good manager/consultant (I know, I know, not a lot of these around) but someone who knows just enough about what the techies are doing to ensure a proper job is done...

And that seems to be exactly your profile.

The hardest part is that you would still be doing exactly the same thing but you would have to translate it into managerial speak - which can be a tortuous exercise at first....

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Anonymous Coward

Systems Design/Engineering/Architecting

Requires knowledge of all of the above and an understanding of how everything fits together. Ultimately, I would see this leading to work in technical sales or consultancy. Project management will pay the bills, but it's a dull line of work.

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Definitely sounds like a strong candidate for project management or a buisness analyst. Being able to take your general knowledge and understanding helps ensure that your specialists will be working on the right goals. To strengthen your CV you need supervisory and managerial experience, alongside project planning and implimentation skills.

There's also opportunities out there to move towards the Cxx level instead, particularly in smaller companies which can't afford hordes of specialists, but can invest in an individual who can handle or oversee most of the IT needs for the company. Consider looking at a software development company, they often have diverse roles, particularly those engaged in B2B software sales.

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DJV
Happy

Interesting...

It's interesting how things have changed.

In 1998 I applied for a Java programming job at a "sunrise" company who were building a subscription-based educational web site. In addition to Java (which I had only been playing with for a week or so) my CV mentioned my other skills in C, Pascal, HTML, JavaScript, assembler (on several CPUs), Unix, BTOS/CTOS (yeah, go look them up!), Windows NT and several others. I didn't get the Java job as they looked at what I could do, and instead created and offered me a "Senior Programmer" post instead!

Maybe I was just in the right place at the right time.

DJV

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Don't knock being a generalist as most IT people are just that. What this does give you is raw experience in real life situations.You get told an issue and you can come up with mulitple ways to talk through and resolve the problem. If you're like me, you 'see' the desktop in your mind as you chat with a customer.

See if you can get on the books of national breakfix companies. When I worked for microtechs (who have a habit of going bust quite often) I would be swapping server mobos in nuclear power stations, or visiting MOD facilities.

I have been in IT since the mid 90's and not once have I been asked what qualifications I have. Prospects tend to look for confidence, experience and a reasonable priced invoice.

I will be the first to say that IT isn't very well paid. But this is my choice. I would rather work a couple of weeks a month and draw 15k than work everyday of the week for 25k. I have been fortunate to watch my boys growup and be involved in their school activites - some thing I would not have been able to do if I was a wage slave.

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Silver badge

Good for you sir! The world would be a much happier place if more people had the courage and conviction to do what that like, instead of something they hate.

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Orv

I wish I could take that attitude, but retirement looms like an oncoming truck. Given the age discrimination in IT I'm not sure how I'm going to have enough money saved up soon enough to make it.

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Anonymous Coward

You pretty much describe my own skills and experience. I bounced around filling in gaps by supervising and working in networking, programming, operations, and service desk. It gave me a respect for the specialist in each area, and a good understanding of all the areas.

We went through a long series of CIOs at a rate one every 10 months or so. When the last one made a public gaffe, they put me in at CIO on an interim basis. I been in the position about 75 months now.

All the problems that come up to me are based in two or more of the specific disciplines, otherwise the specialists would have solved it already. If you can understand the issues and explain the solution to CxO leaders and IT people, you'll do great.

Don't settle for just being a generalist in the IT areas, be a generalist in the business areas as well.

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RE: 75 month CIO

75 months? lol.

Are you a stickler for punctuality or do you just find the job dull and spend a lot of time looking at the clock and calendar in your office?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: RE: 75 month CIO

The guy's got a point though. CIO's a great place for someone with a reasonable depth of knowledge across a broad range of subjects and it's obviously worked for him. If you're CIO you need to be able to spot when people are talking crap and it's difficult for them to do that if you know their subject.

I work in one of the big IT firms. We have dedicated problem resolution managers and while they may come from a particular technical or non-technical background, they may specialise in another area. A broad knowledge of customers' IT environments is critical when you're looking for resources or dealing with situations and you have little time to spare and are under a lot of pressure.

I do a similar job. I'm primarily a techie in a particular area, but I have a good range of knowledge and experience in a number of organisations as well as a number of technical subjects. It comes in very useful when you're put on the spot by, say, a DB admin and you can explain the situation to them in language they understand, then draw some pretty pictures for management in the same meeting.

I think it's important to be a specialist in at least one area, and management or running a business counts as one. If you've really got a broad range of knowledge you can probably take your pick and you'll still be better than some people who claim to be experts.

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Re: RE: 75 month CIO

No, this guy is just a good engineer.

He used months as unit when talking about the other CIOs. Months is a good choice here, as it was less than a year, but much more than several weeks.

He then re-used the unit when talking about himself. Makes it easier to compare when you use the same unit.

He could've used weeks or days instead. That would look like nitpicking, wouldn't it?

/Zane

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You may need to narrow your target

Aside from the good advice above, you may also want to look at the nature of the companies to which you're applying.

I find larger organizations (generally over 500 employees) or IT-specific organizations tend to have rigid structures with more specialized positions and requirements. Look for smaller firms: they'll be more likely to have need for a part-network-admin, part-dba, part-hardware guy. I also find they tend more to look at all of your qualifications and, if they like you, to adjust their organization (a bit) to fit you in.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You may need to narrow your target

I had exactly this at DirectGov, back in the day when it was rapidly expanding.

They wanted someone to just install some 60 computers over the course of a couple of months - three month contract, that was it.

When they realised I was well versed in networking, virtualisation, hardware, troubleshooting, windows imaging (which incliuded testing of images - and the test dept was technically where I worked) and pretty much everything IT related bar programming (I can parse programming languages in my head, but don't have the mental spacial awareness to write from scratch) they made a space in the organisation for me, which was as the guy who ran the 'offline' test network (IE an ADSL connnection rather than the secure government network, GSI) and the guy who consulted on pretty much everything else and could ask and answer a lot of difficult questions that the local specialists (some very good artists, programmers, web devs, content editors, etc) were perhaps less used to thinking about. Standalone Network Adminstrator was the title, but really I was a multidisciplinary consultant - who they'd talk to before going to vendors, etc.

That went really well till I had a nervous breakdown, but that was less about the job, and more about me.

At the moment I work as a a Specialist Engineer at a local computer services outfit - my namebadge literally reads : "IT Ninja: I know everything" as it's a bit of a truism that if something even slightly outside of the normal Windows/Networking/Server stuff comes up (Unix, complex networking (VPN trunks, heavy VLANing, someone wanting to have a portable network on sites, etc) then it almost always gets passed to me.

It's a nice job, with good people, but not great pay.

So I'm in the same position as OP to an extent. I'm happy enough for now (they really are great people) but I can't stay on sub £20k forever....

Name withheld because My People read here. If you recognise me, lets keep this to ourselves, eh? And besides, you know all this already and know to keep me sweet as best you can ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

If I were you...

I'd be looking into getting a Scrum Master qualification. Reason being that many companies from my experience bring those people into the business in order to get things done. Where I've been, Scrum Masters were always isolated roles, often created for the purpose of moving things forward, often a bunch of projects at the same time.

The better ones I had to deal with (I'm a sysadmin guy, and sysadmin work isn't very Scrum compatible) were generalists like you. It gave them a good understanding of how things worked together in the big picture. If you understand (but not constantly speak) Cxx level lingo, that certainly helps.

In any case, aim for middle management roles, if that's your cup of tea. Managers who actually have a good understanding of everything (not only Powerpoint presentations and bullshit bingo language) are becoming increasingly rare in some places. There's an increasing disconnect between people who know how to talk and hang out in meetings most of the time, and those who actually know what they are doing (and want to get things done). The latter would be more than pleased to have a guy like you in charge.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If I were you...

I'd agree. Good SMs are generalists who can speak tech, with enough experience to see through a problem and a cool enough head to talk to the powerpoint jockeys who want to waste dev time. Just don't get tripped up by the certs. Really the only one worth getting is CSP - despite its name CSM is the entry-level qualification.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If I were you...

The most commonly looked for and well regarded / valuable certs are MCSE, VCE, CCNA, ITIL and Prince 2.

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The jobs do exist, but I've no idea how common they are

I am in the US, but I work for an international company for which the UK members have a strong leadership presence. My boss' boss is in the UK.

I'm a generalist. I know something about a lot of different things, can use that to solve lots of problems, or create lots of solutions. And I've got a job where that's basically what I do professionally, where the breadth of my skills is basically specifically why I'm valued, and I'm paid very well. I've been where I'm at for some time, though, so I can't speak to how easy it is to find a job like mine, and it's something I do worry about should this job disappear or become unsavory. I *can* tell you my team wishes we could find more people with a breadth of skills.

Where I fit in best is in a place where specialists exist in their own silos. You have developers, DBAs, sysadmins, storage teams, and networking gurus. In places that divide specialties up like that, you often benefit from someone who is a bit like a business analyst, except instead of being the interface between developers and customers, they face the other direction, interfacing between developers and infrastructure / middleware.

What we find is that the developers often are wildly ignorant of the implications of the system's (virtual) physical design. The infrastructure teams often have no time to learn the ins and outs of the applications, in order to tune their systems for them. I help the developers create systems that won't be rubbish on the basis of the systems on which they run, and help the infrastructure folks design hardware that won't be rubbish for the needs of the application.

The challenge is in finding an organization that values this role. Not everyone does, and that's clear even within my company. What seems to make the tuning and problem solving skills valuable to people is when they're strapped for budget and they need to expand their system or make their existing scale of system run better. Tuning things can increase concurrent users on existing footprint or reduce infrastructure for same performance. And even in a cloudy context, the ability to achieve those things can be valued. But I fear that may be rare.

I would never do project management. It has nothing to do with why I'm in IT, and requires primarily the exercise of people skills, not technical ones. If I lost this position, I would look for a job as a systems architect - someone who looks at the big picture of software, infrastructure, APIs and whatnot and assembles it into a solution. I see a PM as someone who drives all the people involved to implement that vision. I would want to be the person creating the vision itself.

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Re: The jobs do exist, but I've no idea how common they are

I too have such a position, they exist. The trick seems to be finding the organizations that value getting problems solved.

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Re: The jobs do exist, but I've no idea how common they are

If you think you'd be OK with working abroad (and can fluently speak the language) then I always tell people to do that if they can and are looking to get a leg up. The 'foreign guy' will always get some, crucial, extra attention and if they demonstrate competence (instead of being the 'stupid foreigner', an role, unfortunately, filled by many of my countrymen overseas) then it's an easy way to move up a few notches and get international experience.

If you've got some foreigners around your workplace, or people who have worked abroad for years, just watch. A smart manager will ask the foreigner how they do something 'over there', and ask why they do that. It might be done the same old boring way it's done where you're from, but it might be different, and all or parts of 'their way' might integrate super well and beneficially with 'your way'. Having someone ask you a question, and providing a good answer, is how you get noticed. Keep that up and you'll get closer to where you want to be. It's getting asked that's tough to arrange.

Plus working abroad is fun!

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Re: The jobs do exist, but I've no idea how common they are

zanshin - you hit the nail on the head there. You are absolutely correct - everyone interested in this topic or affected in the same way should read and digest this. I am even going to update my profile based on these succinct comments.

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Great Question

I'm in a similar situation to yourself, in that I can hit the ground running in basically any aspect of IT, and every job available seems to be for only one skill.

I think there is something really interesting happening at the moment in IT.

If you go back even a decade, a typical web development company would have say a team of dedicated HTML/CSS developers, a team of dedicated Javascript developers, a dedicated team writing the server side code, and an IT department who looked after the servers/network etc.

Recently there have been all sorts of really cool frameworks released which quite simply make everything easier. Where it would previously have taken a team of HTML/CSS developers to make a nice looking website, this can now be done as part of one persons job with Twitter Bootstrap. Same goes for the Javascript using something like jQuery/Angular, and the server side code with a framework like Ruby on Rails or ASP.Net MVC.

As for the server stuff, if you are using a cloud service like AWS or Azure, you really don't need a team of people to maintain all of that, again it can now be done as part of one persons job (that person being the IT generalist).

I think there are a lot of companies out there that still have that old structure, but are using the new frameworks + the cloud. They have a lot of employees who have been there for years, and they can't just fire them so they try to find a role for everyone. When you apply for a job there, they try to fit you into that structure also, in a way that others don't feel as though their jobs are threatened.

Because you are only hired to only do one thing, you only get paid for one thing. The solution seems to be startups, who welcome the fact that you can wear many hats, but then startups don't tend to have the cash flow of a larger company, so you may make more or less the same as you would in a larger company doing one job, but at least the work will be more interesting. I would definitely choose this over a single skilled job at a larger company, mainly to keep my skills sharp and up to date in all areas.

I don't really have any answers, just thought I would spill my thoughts on the situation into a textbox and see what others say.

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Anonymous Coward

Pick one that you enjoy and specialise in it, buy the books, read them, do the exercises, do the certs/degree/whatever qualification is suitable for that area.

You're correct in saying that a generalist won't ever earn much, but having a good grounding in multiple disciplines already puts you in a much better position than many, and it should allow you to choose a field that is growing. This may seem unfair, but it's near impossible to learn everything to the depth required to operate it effectively in a larger scale, and this is where the money is.

The generalist will only ever exist as a filter for the specialists (i.e. 2nd line), or in a small company with small IT budget. I know this as I used to be a generalist, and tried to learn everything (Programming, SQL, Security, Networking, Windows, Linux, Telephony etc). A lot of it stuck, and it makes it easier to learn new things, but unless you do something regularly you'll never get good at it. I specialised, and I’m now 10 years later I’m earning a very good wage, with a good employer, and I’m looking to move into Architecture/Pre-Sales /Consultancy type work.

When it comes to applying for a specialist job, focus your CV so that you only really mention the parts that a relative to your chosen specialisation in detail, and be prepared to be asked the tough technical questions to prove that what you say on your CV is true. Don’t discount the rest of your experience, mention it if you think it’s relevant to the role. If you can get through the technical interview, and your CV demonstrates the experience required you are on the way to getting into your chosen career.

Good Luck!

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