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How to become a better IT pro

Applies to: Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7

As I work and communicate with IT pros on a daily basis, a common theme resonates through many conversations. Many IT pros spend so much time in the present fighting fires that they fail to look forward and learn new skills. Given the constantly changing environment of IT, that is a recipe for career disaster. Well, fear not IT pros, here are some thoughts on how to stay current and become a better IT pro.

First, you need to begin with the end in mind. Yeah…it’s cliché but true. You have to have a goal for your learning. Whether it be improving you skills to advance in your current position, learning a technology for deploying in your organization, or simply learning for the sake of learning, you need to decide what you want to learn. These days, that can be a tough task with IT Pros drawn in so many directions. When I’m looking for new technologies to learn, I use some of the following criteria to assist my decision:

  • Is it something I’m really interested in learning?
  • Is it a major technology that will be a required skill, now or in the future, for an IT professional?
  • Do I know any experts in the technology space who can answer questions when they come up?

One of the things to keep in mind when setting a learning goal is your priorities. You need to look at all aspects of your life, and determine what fits. You may very well be truly interested in learning System Center Configuration Manager in your spare time, but you need to ensure you have the free time to make such a major endeavor possible.

After you’ve decided on a goal, it’s time to get to work. This can be daunting as well since there are so many resources out there that it can be difficult to determine where to look. I’m going to share with you some of my favorite resources so hopefully you find one or two that work for you.

  • TechNet.Microsoft.com - Every IT pro should be using TechNet. If not, you are missing out on a great resource. Microsoft has really invested in TechNet, making it a powerful and free tool for learning technologies in the Microsoft stack.
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) - This is a full-featured free learning portal developed by Microsoft to provide training on all technologies in the Microsoft stack. My favorite are the JumpStart events like the Windows 8.1 Deployment Jump Start. These are live courses led by industry experts on targeted topics that give you 1 or more days of training to get you "up and running" on a technology. The beauty of them is the ability to watch or re-watch the courses at a later time on your schedule if you can't make the live broadcasts. You can also create learning plans based around technologies you are interested in.
  • TechNet Virtual Labs - I have used this resource for years. TechNet provides 100's of lab scenarios with a virtualized lab environment. Everything is pre-configured so you simply following along with the lab documents. This is a great way to learn new skills without investing time or money into your own lab environment.
  • Build Your Own Lab Environment - The only way to master your craft is practice. To that end, I truly believe every IT pro should have a lab environment to hone their skills and test scenarios. This doesn't have to be a full rack of servers, though that would draw big-time geek cred. It can be a single system customized for running multiple virtual machines. I have a custom system I built for a reasonable price based on insight from Microsoft MVP Jeff Guillet. It fits almost all scenarios I run into or wish homework on.
  • Channel 9 - Part of MSDN, Channel 9 is where you can find recordings and Hands-On labs from Microsoft conferences such as TechEd. If you couldn't make it to a Microsoft-sponsored conference, there is a good chance you can catch all of the great sessions on Channel 9.
  • Pluralsight.com - While not a free resource, Pluralsight provides a robust inventory of IT pro, Developer, and Creative training for a monthly fee. All courses are broken into modules with clips averaging 3-5 minutes so you can digest as little or as much as you like. Disclaimer: I am a Pluralsight author so I'm a little biased. I do believe it's the best-of-breed for subscription online video training provider available. Other options include CBTnuggets.com or Lynda.com.
  • Petri IT Knowledgebase - This is one of the best websites out there for IT pro content. They bring in many industry experts and you are sure to find what you are looking for here.
  • Windows IT Pro - I've been reading Windows IT pro for years. It's well worth the subscription price for their digital magazine as well as members-only content.
  • KeithMayer.com - This blog by Microsoft Senior Technical Evangelist Keith Mayer is a wealth of learning resources for IT pros. Honestly, I have no idea how Keith generates so much great content. Does he sleep? Has he cloned himself? Make sure to check out the Early Expert study groups on a number of different IT pro topics.
  • Ask PFE Plat - This is probably not as well-known as some of the resources above. I've gotten a wealth of information from Ask Premier Field Engineer (PFE) Platform. This blog is devoted to articles written by Microsoft Premier Field Engineers. Check out the posts from Microsoft Premier Field Engineer Mark Morowczynski on all things Active Directory.
  • Hey Scripting Guy! - Every IT pro needs to know PowerShell. If you are still on the fence, read my call to action here. One of the best resources out there are the Scripting Guys. They provide a wealth of knowledge and usable information in the PowerShell realm.

Hopefully, this list provides you some great resources to help you keep your skills up to date, and make you a better IT professional.

Additional resources

About the author

Michael Bender photo Michael Bender is a two-time Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, Microsoft Certified Professional, and VMware Certified Professional. He has been working in IT since 1998 as a systems engineer and technical trainer. He is the current president and a founding member of iamkrewe.org (aka The Krewe), a worldwide community for IT Pros and developers. Michael is also a published author at pluralsight.com, presenter, and blogger at I.T.'s All Geek to Mike. Follow him on twitter @MichaelBender.