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Want to advance your career in tech? Focus on these three areas

Here's how to keep up and flourish in tech, according to Meerah Rajavel, CIO for Palo Alto Networks.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Technology is moving too fast for anyone -- including the most productive and adaptative technology professionals -- to keep up with everything. But there are some core competencies and mindsets that will help people be able to leverage the resources around them. 

In this Q&A, Meerah Rajavel, chief information officer for Citrix at the time of this interview (now CIO for Palo Alto Networks), shares her observations on what it takes to keep up with everything and flourish in this industry.  

What types of skills should today's IT professionals be working to develop?

Rajavel: Technology is ever-changing and moving faster than any one person can keep up with. At the end of the day, it all comes down to resilience and continuous learning. To engage and be productive in any role, tech professionals need to be open to new ideas and willing to take risks, fail fast and move on. In addition, they need to have good communication skills and be able to articulate how technology can be applied to solve business problems and alleviate customer pain.

How have IT skills requirements evolved with the rise of cloud computing and digital transformation?

Rajavel: Every company is now a software company. From mobile banking and virtual healthcare visits to self-driving cars and automated food prep and delivery services, software applications are embedded into nearly every aspect of the economy and our lives.

To be and remain relevant, technical professionals need to focus on three areas: cloud, security and programming and scripting languages. Certification with cloud platforms like Azure, AWS, and GCP are extremely relevant and in-demand today, and as hybrid work has become the new norm, certifications in digital workspace companies are also critically important, along with security-focused credentials like CISM, CCISP, and CISA.

Are there particular job roles or skills that will be supplanted by automation, AI, or low/no-code?

Rajavel: I don't believe there will be job replacements as a result of AI/ML. Instead, what you will see is job augmentation and rethinking that leads to the creation of new roles. For instance, the paradigm is shifting away from user-centric thinking toward human-plus-machine thinking. This brings in artificial intelligence, machine learning and analytics in addition to user experience in the workflow design process. That's a skill that's not widely available today.

Are there roles or skills that will become more prominent as lower-level tasks are supplanted?

Rajavel: Security remains a critical priority for CIOs. In the hybrid cloud, remote working, BYOD world we now live in, more resources are required to ensure that corporate networks and assets remain safe, and I think you'll see companies prioritize securing them.

On the non-tech side of IT, product thinking and strong program management and excellent communication skills will continue to be in demand as we look to solve complex problems with technology and need to work across functions to do so.

What's your advice for IT professionals seeking to move up the management ladder?

Rajavel: Every company today is on the journey to digital transformation. IT professionals seeking to move up the management ladder need to demonstrate a clear ability to align with their business counterparts and collectively approach things from an inside-out and outside-in, industry and company-wide perspective to accelerate it. 

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