From working the help desk to specializing in databases and networking, there are many possible paths within an IT career. But with all of them comes a certain level of expectation as to what the job entails.

The reality is that there are constantly changing technologies and business needs that often put IT professionals in places they never expected to go. The real trick is to never let these changes come as a surprise. While preparing for every eventuality is unrealistic, keeping an eye out for change will often make for a more satisfying IT career.
Here are three areas of technological change that may not be what you expected when you chose an IT career path.

1) Virtualization

There is no question that today’s IT professional needs to understand virtualization. This technology has gone from something only done in large enterprises to an expected component of IT deployments at almost every level. The problem, however, is that you can have too much of a good thing. Especially as newer technologies get a lot of media attention, management may begin to ask for virtualization deployment in your environment, often without understanding what doing so entails.

Beyond the relatively simple issues involved in server and storage virtualization, these technologies are getting much more specialized. Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and the software defined data center (SDDC) have all gained a much higher profile — and it is the job of IT not to simply expend resources on these technologies, but to stay ahead of the curve and understand the value of the technology to your business.
And that may mean discovering that certain virtualization strategies aren’t right for you.
These technologies require a much different level of integration than server and storage virtualization, and are not appropriate for many business models — at least at their current stages of availability. For the IT professional, an understanding of where and when it is appropriate to consider these latest virtualization technologies is the key to effective utilization.

2) Mobility 

Dealing with mobility issues used to be little more than creating policies for laptop users and mobile connectivity. But that all changed when bring your own device (BYOD) came to the forefront. Most importantly, the wide adoption of BYOD programs demonstrates the importance of mobile devices, applications and support in future business efforts.

It isn’t enough to simply get control of BYOD and mobile device policies. The canny IT professional needs to be able to look for the competitive advantage that can be gained by integrating mobile devices and supporting mobile access to the corporate environment. IT should not consider their job done when they have implemented and deployed technologies that give them control over mobile integration. Rather, they should consider what they now have as the foundation for building and deploying the next generation of competitive business infrastructure.

3) Compliance

One thing that few IT professionals expect is how much time they will spend protecting their computing environment. On one hand, you have what is often called “shadow IT,” those third-party applications that end users so often enjoy installing on their corporate computing devices. Users are often not in outright violation of corporate computing policy, but are walking the line with application installations that may help them do their jobs, but have yet to be tested and approved by IT (and, in the worst case, can actually compromise the security of corporate networks and data). Much effort and expense has gone into locking down and controlling desktop computers, but as users become more casually connected and mobile devices become more prevalent, an entire shadow environment of applications and users is created, skirting IT compliance requirements.

On the other hand, you have a significant government regulatory compliance presence. In some industries like healthcare, you have very clear guidelines from regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). The trick becomes identifying what regulatory guidelines apply where, and in the case of multiple regulations, determining which take precedence.

In general business environments, you may find yourself needing to apply guidelines from Sarbanes-Oxley; or, if dealing directly with the government, from the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Dealing with financial institutions may require adhering to SEC Rule 17a-4, while even private industry gets into the regulatory business with standards such as Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance, which is required for secure cardholder data, and which — in light of the many security breaches over the last few years — may soon see much greater government oversight.
IT often finds themselves the gatekeepers of these sorts of regulatory standards. In such cases, IT professionals need to consider almost every change to the computing environment, as well as the impact of those changes on compliance with regulatory guidelines.

The changing IT career path

There was once a time when choosing an area of specialization in IT would allow you to focus only on that area. But in today’s world of work, there will always be unforeseen connections between the various aspects of an IT infrastructure, bringing the potential for work statement intrusions. For a successful turn on an IT career path, IT professionals must have the flexibility to respond to such changes.

Read more about the changing world of IT here.