IT Automation Jobs Require Cross-Platform Skills

As IT environments grow more complex, companies are increasingly looking to automate business processes across myriad platforms. That’s fueling a demand for engineers who can tie it all together.

bigstock-Big-Gears-1190902 (1)“Companies have been scheduling these processes manually or doing it through custom scripting, and inevitably they reach a tipping point where it becomes too much,” says Colin Beasty, marketing manager for automation vendor Advanced Systems Concepts. “[They’re looking for] a way to more easily build and automate these processes across different systems, different applications, different databases.”

That calls for a range of skills. An expert who focuses mostly on Unix, Linux or Microsoft, for example, can’t jump into a heterogeneous environment. So, Beasty says, “they’re looking for people who are more of a jack-of-all trades.” On the other hand, using job-scheduling software like ActiveBatch or other automation technology still requires some coding. That means skills in Python, Perl, PowerShell and other scripting languages are still in demand.

Often the people who take on automation jobs build integrations through command-line execution across platforms. And though more of Beasty’s customers are moving from mainframes to distributed computing, for now the landscape is a hodgepodge of solutions, IT professionals who are adept in both environments.

Who’s Using Automation

Whether or not a company is using automation is driven more by size than industry sector, Beasty says. Medium to large companies more likely to be active in the area. Automation is widely used in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and transportation. As the Internet allows more companies to operate 24/7, more of the automated processes take place in real time.

Advanced Systems Concepts predicts that automation trends for 2013 will include more use of predictive analytics to forecast and plan workflows across systems and platforms, increased provisioning of cloud and virtual systems, and the implementation of self-service automation so that users can get things done without involving the IT department.

Automating Everything

In a recent job posting, online shoe retailer Zappos described its need for a ystems automation engineer who can automate the coffee maker and then move on to everything else. Derek Fedel, the manager who wrote the ad, prefers to use the term “systems automation engineer” because “automation engineer” itself tends to be vague. “We put ‘systems’ because they’re kind of going to have their hand in everything,” he says. “Network automation, storage — everything.”

What’s “everything” mean? “This person will setting up basic management tasks, managing the servers and what-not, basic monitoring jobs, where previously we’d have people checking a screen to make sure everything’s good on a system, setting up new servers, automating all the processes that serve customers and our end users.”

He described the ideal candidate as someone who has been a systems administrator or engineer in retail, with a strong background in Python and who has written some automation tooling before. “We’ve had some applicants who have written some network automation for their current companies, and that’s really strong,” he said, adding, “Those candidates are few and far between.”

“We want people who just love putting the puzzle together and who just love the puzzle in general,” Fedel says.

Vast Potential in the Cloud

Though automation has been widely used in manufacturing and robotics, cloud computing is opening up a whole new range of possibilities, observes Ken Goldberg, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and editor-in-chief of the IEEE quarterly Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering.

“Traditionally, robots had a limited bandwidth, limited computing power,” Goldberg said in an interview. “But what if the cloud eliminates those limitations, produces unlimited bandwidth, unlimited computing power?”

“Automation and things like Big Data are really changing the landscape,” he adds. “Factors like the cloud, in my opinion, are primary.” One particular area worth keeping an eye one, Goldberg says, is the “Industrial Internet,” General Electrics’ term for connecting intelligent machines, advanced analytics and people at work to gain efficiency in sectors such as aviation, logistics and healthcare.

Salary Ranges

Across Industries, automation engineers made an average of $103,910 in 2012, an increase of $4,370, or 4.4 percent, over 2011, according to Automation.com. The breakdown for IT-related jobs:

  • Application Engineering — $89,200
  • Information Technology — $103,410
  • Software Engineering — $96,590
  • Networking/Communications Systems — $80,000
  • OEM Product/Systems Engineering — $76,250
  • Project Management — $111,220
  • Research and Development — $101,670
  • Technical/Application Support — $89,800
  • Quality Control, Evaluation and Testing — $87,140

Comments

  1. BY Bruce says:

    IT Automation Jobs can be rewarding.
    Salary scales are similar to doctors and lawyers.
    “They’re looking for people who are more of a jack-of-all trades.”
    This is the catch. Do more with less.

    Depending on the size of the automation and physical IT
    infrastructure that supports it, will determine how stressful
    the job is. Automation IT and stress? Remember, you’re the
    “jack-of-all-trades” go to, design it, support it, fix it 24x7x365 guy.

    I’ve seen folks not even hitting 30 years old, get gray hair, doing this.
    One group doing this work had a high divorce rate while salaries were
    going through the roof. I wanted to get into that group, but after sitting
    next to these IT automation experts in office, I was asked to join and declined.
    A year had passed by and one IT Auto member had a heart attack in office.

  2. BY Craig says:

    The issue I have seen is the lack of willingness on the part of employers to train their employees. I have a degree in automation, and 34 years experience in IT. I have been a programmer, I have been an End User Support individual, I have also been a Network Engineer, with some system administration experience. I have had to self educate on everything. Even when Employers claim to cover educational expenses, I have found that this is just a marketing ploy to get the person that they want. Then when it comes to paying for the education they let you go so they won’t have to pay for it, or just deny to pay it in spite of what policy for the company states or your contractual agreements state. When hiring in employees companies want everything and even if an individual has 90% of what is in the job description they may refuse the candidate still hoping for the perfect candidate. I have seen jobs posted for more than a year waiting for the perfect candidate. Also the business community seems to have forgotten that they need to take care of their employees as well as employees do well for the company. The days of a job that someone can retire at have disappeared. Even when a company has employees that are doing their job better than anyone else can they do not hesitate to Outsource the individuals to save a dollar and sometimes it even costs them more to outsource but they do it anyway because it is what other companies have done. Outsourcing rarely makes sense in the short term due to loss of knowledge. Maybe I have just had bad experiences myself with the 8 different companies that I have worked for but I would have to think that this is prevalent throughout the industry.

  3. BY Gaurav Bhatnagar says:

    I’ve been into automation since last 2 years or so with a total experience of around 3 years.
    primarily i automate everything inside mainframes and have also done a few acts with vb scripts and excel sheet.
    Having worked on different technologies with mainframes, i know this is a hectic job when you have to dig the unexpected and carve a fossil out of it. But, i love it.

  4. BY Nishesh says:

    I have total 6+ years experience in Software testing. Currently in market Automation tools are one of expensive part of this industries. For example QuickTest pro and loadrunner are common automation tools for functional and performance testing. Both cost goes upto $45000. Now many company want go for automation they may prefer to Open source tools like selenium and Jmeter that can reduce cost upto 50% total cost of automation part.

    To keep ourself in this industry, It is required to learn all this open source and new tools like robotium.

    Thank you for nice content.

  5. BY John says:

    I’d have to agree w/ most of the comments about how exceedingly difficult the job market is for these skills. I’ve suggested to others to watch “Dan Rather Reports” episodes (recently shown on AXS w/ video/transcripts available online) entitled “No Thanks For Everything” & “Take This Job and Love It”. Definitely puts things in perspective.

    Attention need to be given to those 40-50+ who’ve been outsourced & laid off too many times until they’re broke w/ no chance (or personal finances) to re-train or “re-tool” for a second career.

  6. BY Gabby Nizri says:

    Susan, very important topic! If in the past requirements focused solely on technical expertise and you were only looking for scripting wizards and troubleshooting superheroes – then today your IT group needs a much wider set of abilities. You need IT Process Automation Engineers who are able to understand the needs and processes of the business, translate those needs into IT activities, and prioritize and implement them in the most productive way. IT automation moves the skill-set required from hands-on to architecture and management of processes, here are 5 of the top skill in my view. http://bit.ly/LS9cl0

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