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Are you an IT pro? It's no longer safe to bet your career on Microsoft

Obviously don't just become an iOS dev, though ...

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Powershell is your friend

Ever since I scrawled my first Unix shell script in 1982, serious Unix Ops have included scripting as a mandatory part of their skills. That has helped their market value in several ways, but not always ones you’d like to hear. Yes I know that your skill is knowing which option to click and it’s in no way a more skilled task to type /etc/shutdown rather than clicking, but script code looks harder. When you have automated a task by scripting, you have delivered some useful visible productivity that is denied to the equally adept clicker.

Few Ops have any training in software engineering and many sneer at developers, so their bureaucratic obsession with version control and documentation rarely trouble you. You can pick a clicker off the street and as long as you interview them well you’ll have someone who can be productive before long.

Good scripts, the ones you are proud of, have Ifs and loops and other constructs that mean even a scripting ace will need time to make any sense of them and will be reluctant to change them. That's especially the case since Ops scripts can do far more damage than bugs created by developers, and since a scary percentage run with administrator privileges can damage far bigger things in more interesting ways.

Let’s be honest here, if a non-technical manager peers over your shoulder when you have a black text-based window open full of cryptic characters he will rate as being far more intelligent than if you have pretty icons with text like: “Let the Wizard help you through this simple task.”

Powershell is, well, powerful - giving you the sort of access to the internal objects of the big servers that makes it worth learning just to be better, but it's really just for Windows. That means, if you haven’t got Cygwin with its nearly Unix toolset and shells, then nothing it will cost you to download is a good investment.

VBA is not so crap as we say it is... Well actually, yes it is, but although these days it has little existence independent of Microsoft products, it is critical to most outfits that have Excel - which is close to everyone. It also drives Outlook and Powerpoint, so if you are a developer who finds that things have gotten very cold, then it is worth getting better than the average VBA developer - which is not in any way hard.

Microsoft Surface

Surface attractions

I’ve wanted a Windows tablet since Microsoft first demonstrated one to me in 1993. Not only do I buy my own Microsoft software (the days when Microsoft sent it to me free are long gone), but I will buy a Windows tablet if and when they make one, for the same reason IT managers very nearly like the Surface.

iPads are close to impossible to integrate fully with corporate IT, regardless of what operating system your servers are running. Security? No, not really, and corporate PCs require that all the apps for a user are available, not one that’s “quite like it”. They want the same version and remote access is only good if you have a signal all the time.

Tablets are sexy and organisations want to deploy them to support high-profile staff like sales and senior execs; they also most often hate the idea of BYOD because they will have to pay you far more money to look after a dozen types of devices - and, more importantly, their power will be reduced. They can’t wait for software to get through the actively malicious app store, so the job market based upon the Surface is stillborn.

But when a decent Surface comes out that runs Windows apps, there will be some work in rewriting code to cope with the bizarre constraints that Microsoft requires. And, if you ever work out how to get your app approved, then there will be people who want you to explain it to them.

You should bet your career not on Microsoft, but on you. Get your server skills upgraded and start looking at how you can hedge your bets with an option to move to a different platform. That applies to even the high-flying Microsoft products, because unless you’re very unlucky your career has decades left to run and no hot skill today will get you even halfway there. ®

Dominic Connor is a headhunter who has been a professional developer on every major and most minor MS platforms and is a director of a firm that is a Microsoft Partner.

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