When I ran an IT company, I found recruiting was one of the toughest jobs simply because if a candidate hadn’t worked in small business IT before and didn’t understand the rigours of needing to support multiple different clients with multiple different technologies and systems, they could often feel very overwhelmed in their first MSP job.
I once recruited a Level 2 Support Engineer who had only ever worked in internal IT roles in large IT departments. He appeared to have had quite a lot of networking experience and I thought based on that he would be quite competent in most small business situations.
Unfortunately, this simply wasn’t the case because for most problems he had a lot of support around him from other engineers and had never been in situations before he didn’t have a knowledge base document article or some other high level engineer to help him.
Furthermore, he actually didn’t know what he didn’t know. So when thrown into a situation in front of a client where he had to fix a UPS or get a server back up and running, he really didn’t even understand what the right questions were to ask in order to get the help he needed.
So, given that MSP work often demands a lot more from an IT engineer than most other internal support roles, why would anyone want to work in an MSP or IT company?
Let me give you three reasons.
1. The variety of work
An MSP has many different clients. These clients can range from 10 users to 200 users or even more and will often be from a range of different industries. This gives the IT support or systems engineer that works at an MSP a great variety of technologies to support. They will need to learn.
One client might use VMware, another client yet might use Hyper V, some clients will have a very specific line of business applications which the support engineers will need to support, others will have standard small business applications like Xero and MYOB which also they’ll need to develop support skills in. While some clients might have quite old technology to deal with like Windows Server 2003, most of the time, small to medium-sized businesses are actually quite good at installing the latest technology and keeping up to date with cloud and other innovations, where enterprise environments are still working one version behind in order to ensure stability and compliance so that they’re not at the bleeding edge of new technology.
If you work in a single IT department you can find that very often the core technologies and infrastructure that are installed won’t change for a period of three to five years which means that typically on a support desk, you’re going to be dealing with the same sorts problems day-in-day-out. Additionally, there won’t be any major upgrade projects to get involved in until the next upgrade cycle comes around. Which leads me into the next point.
MSPs and IT companies often deal with many more projects than an internal IT department would. This is because IT departments tend to outsource their projects to specialists within IT companies so that they know the project will be done properly to a reasonable standard. It means they don’t have to employ specialist skills within their own IT department which they would only need for the life of the project. They tend to use their internal resources for support and project assistance rather than for the specialists that design the solutions and lead the implementation of them.
For example, if you are going to be doing a migration to Office 365 including Skype for Business with voice, then that is going to be a one-off project for the internal IT department. Most of the time, they wouldn’t see the value in taking on this project on their own including the design and initial implementation because they don’t have the in-house skills to have done say 10 of these projects before. So it would be quite a ramp up for them skills-wise to understand what’s involved with that sort of a project.
Furthermore, Skype for business skills and other specialist product skillsets are rare. So it can often be more cost effective to get an external IT company in to architect the solution, do the base install of the servers and the integration with the existing infrastructure and cloud platforms and then train the internal IT department staff on how to do the basic movement of mailboxes and setting up of phones and those kinds of tasks front end tasks.
What this means for the internal IT department staff though is that they don’t really get the knowledge and the skills at the higher end of these projects. They only get involved with the basic grunt work of migrating mailboxes and the simple side of these projects not the solution design and implementation of them.
The problem for internal support staff is that they can get stuck in a rut of doing similar day to day support and project assistance work but never really gaining the sort of experience that the MSP engineers have or get exposed to on a weekly basis. This can stunt their career simply due to the lack of skills and lack of exposure to the different technologies that are being implemented in the market.
3. A culture of growth and learning
An IT company or MSP has IT as its core business. This is not the case for any other company. The IT department of a company is there to facilitate and support the core business but that’s all.
On that basis, the focus of the company will not be around creating the best possible and most skilled IT people that they can. The focus will be around the core business and what that business produces in terms of products and service and the IT department will be expected to support that. Therefore, things like certifications and training programs and on-the-job learning and mentoring by other technical engineers, will not be a key focus from most internal IT departments. They are generally not too worried about whether their engineers are certified by vendors or not mainly because the certifications don’t help the company in any meaningful way.
However, in an IT company or MSP the more certified engineers they have the closer they get to the vendor which can give them major benefits like discounted pricing on product if you’re a Cisco vendor or if you’re a Microsoft vendor, potential access to higher levels of partnership which give rise to more marketing dollars and greater referrals from Microsoft themselves.
Clearly, these are not incentives that are of interest to internal IT departments most of the time. While some IT departments will back their engineers to become certified in certain areas, most of the time they’ll only be interested in the areas and the vendors for which they currently own products in their company, where they can see a direct benefit to a specific vendor certification. Whereas for most IT companies they’ll be happy with pretty much any IT certification for any major vendor because at some point they’ll be coming across that technology in their client base if they’re not actively using it in their client base already.
So you can see that there are three key benefits to working in an MSP or IT company. Don’t get me wrong it’s not for the faint-hearted. They are typically very high paced, sometimes chaotic environments where supporting multiple clients with differing technologies and perhaps quite demanding needs can make the support environment quite difficult.
Furthermore, when it comes to projects there’s always going to be pressure on delivering the project on time and within the quoted budget because there won’t be a lot of scope to change the deliverables once the quoted project has been approved. Notwithstanding those issues if you’re an IT person and you really want to progress your IT career then look carefully at working for an MSP or IT company because that’s where you’ll gain the most skills in the quickest amount of time. You’ll get exposed to the broadest range of technology that can really kickstart your career and put you on a path of moving to a high-level Senior Systems Engineer or Enterprise Architect in the shortest possible time.