If your job is somewhat similar to mine, you’re familiar with being assigned to different projects that utilize new technology (or at least new to your organization) and you’re also tasked with continual learning and development as you get shifted where investments and priorities dictate. With that, you may have become a specialist or expert in a particular software or service in your organization and then moved onto some other service or product. What you probably don’t want to do is lose your skillset or let it get so low, you may have difficulty jumping back into your ‘old’ trade and getting your hands dirty. You never know when an incident will arise and you’re forced to restore standard or anticipated operations in a timely fashion. You also can’t predict when a business owner will request an enhancement from the product you manage or work with. If these scenarios sound familiar, you may want to begin a ‘skill maintenance’ plan for the products or services you don’t use on a daily or weekly basis.
Skill maintenance is my own definition that encompasses setting up test environments to perform basic system level activities based on your role or the expectations of your role. By utilizing virtual servers, it’s very easy to build test environments on private subnets, that have no impact to the rest of your network or your organization. Whether you want to build virtual environments at home or at work, there are products available to suit any need. Vmware makes a product called Workstation that I completely endorse and support. With Workstation, you can install virtual machines on your desktop PC and configure a private network for testing and development. Using a Mac at home primarily? No problem, check out Vmware Fusion or Parallels to solve for that. I’m unsure if Fusion is professional grade as it is primarily used for Mac users who would like to run Windows XP, or Windows 7 on their Mac’s (dual boot configurations too) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had it’s own bag of tricks for supporting multiple Linux based installs as well as server installs. Since I also support open source development and solutions, I must recommend Virtual Box. Note that in order to manage and maintain multiple virtual machines, you may want a computer with considerable horsepower. Read hardware requirements and recommendations carefully to ensure your system will be able to handle the load you plan on building. I don’t want to turn this post into a virtual software review and recommendation so lets move on. If you’re interested in building your own virtual environments, please examine each of the products I’ve listed here or simply do some Google’ing.
Software shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain for testing purposes. In a virtual environment, try to obtain 120/180 day licenses for Microsoft products. You can get Windows Server and SQL Server for example, complete your installs and then take snapshots of the ‘master’ images. The nice thing about that is you should be able to restore your original configuration and start from scratch with the product you’re testing. Microsoft Action Pack is a great program that gives you access to a TON of Microsoft products for use and testing. You’ll need to become a Microsoft Partner in order to get it but the benefits are very nice. Explore Solaris and the many Linux distributions that may fit your needs from a hosting perspective. Aside from the level of work it can take to build, manage, and test with virtual machines, you could take a less time consuming approach and review training documentation and material that you may have obtained from previous classes or training sessions. CA Education and Support has excellent resources for their customers to aid in learning. You can browse the course catalog, download a green book, or even take a skill assessment. Lastly, one other source I tend to use for reading up on skills is Books 24×7. There is a fee for this online library of sorts but it’s a great way to read and review technical as well as business related material. Both old and new publications are made available and you’re bound to run into topics of your interest.
How’s your skill maintenance plan? Maybe you don’t really bother with it and you go with the flow of your career wherever it might take you and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is unrealistic to maintain skills for all of the apps or products we’ve worked with or were trained on but either way, it’s an important concept to employ and with virtualization products as well as product demos, it’s easier to stay familiar with your skills and products than in years past. Good luck and see you on the flip side, the flip of a switch that is.