I joined the data storage industry completely by chance. I needed a job, saw an ad in the local newspaper for a test engineer, and I got the job. The year was 1979, and the company was Telex Computer Products, a manufacturer of reel-to-reel tape drives for mainframe computers.
Today, some 35 years later, Telex is gone but I’m still working in the storage industry.
Back in 1979, there were probably 10 companies in the entire world that dealt exclusively with data storage products. Today, there are several hundred companies. I’ve seen data storage go from the cellar to the penthouse of IT during my time in the industry, as society became more and more dependent on data.
Data storage hardware and software has become immeasurably more sophisticated since the era of dumb store-and-retrieve devices I first became familiar with at Telex. Along the way came storage networks, storage virtualization, and storage in the cloud. Each of these generations brought more complexity and a greater need for talented individuals to design and support the products that customers wanted.
Software, of course, plays a larger role than ever, abstracting logical entities from physical storage devices and managing absurdly large storage volumes. The core data storage industry has also seen several ancillary sub-industries appear – segments such as storage management, data management, backup and archival, disaster recovery services, and legal compliance. All told, the storage industry today is an estimated $60 billion market. Engineers that choose to work in this highly competitive industry are greatly valued and [generally] paid handsomely.
Unlike my chance encounter with Telex, if you are an engineer interested in data storage, I recommend you take a much more focused approach to entering the industry. There are several steps you can take to open doors, documents skills and show determination to potential hiring managers. Specifically, here are four tips that I recommend:
- Study the industry
As I mentioned, there are hundreds of companies providing data storage products and services covering multiple segments of the industry. To give you an idea, here is a list of company links from Greg Shulz’s StorageIO website. Browse this list to determine which aspects of data storage you are most interested in. Look at websites of the companies in those segments – read their white papers and blogs to understand the value they bring to customers.
For a general overview of the storage industry, I also recommend my book, Evolution of the Storage Brain, which recounts the entire history of data storage and explains why various technologies emerged over time.
- Study the technology
Once you’ve determined your area of interest, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is a good source for storage technology education. SNIA has several subgroups covering many aspects of data storage technologies – and tutorials with varying levels of technical detail.
Besides my book, many other good books have been written about data storage technologies, although these tend to focus on specific aspects i.e. Tom Clark’s book on Storage Virtualization.
I recommend you browse this filtered book listing from Amazon to review and select from the most popular books on data storage to educate yourself.
- Acquire specific skills
Unfortunately, most universities do not offer specialized curriculum in data storage technologies. Fortunately, a few forward-thinking data storage companies offer assistance in developing the needed skills.
For example, NetApp offers product certification training at no charge if you are a student, faculty member or soon-to-be-discharged U.S. active duty service personnel. In addition, NetApp’s Academic Alliance program provides data storage educational material at no charge to secondary schools. As part of the alliance program, NetApp has provided course material and/or curriculum assistance to over 25 colleges and universities.
If you are interested in either of these programs, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get the information you need.
- Network with others in the industry
LinkedIn is a particularly good way to develop a professional network of data storage peers – even if you are not in the industry yet. There are several LinkedIn groups that deal specifically with data storage; in particular the Storage Experts and Data Storage Professionals groups. Monitor these groups and you’ll be able to ask questions, talk to experts, and view job postings.
If you are more of a face-to-face person, there are many storage industry meetings to attend. SNIA (mentioned above) hosts a variety of symposiums and conferences throughout the year, as well as participating with USENIX at the annual FAST conference. There are also a variety of local User Groups that meet and often discuss data storage topics, such as ASUG, VMUG, and IOUG. Attending these meetings are a good way to meet people and gain insight.
Of course, none of these tips can guarantee a job in the data storage industry, but they will surely increase your odds of success. Employers want to hire a dedicated, knowledgeable staff – and doing your homework ahead of time will give you a leg up on competing candidates!