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Eight Takeaways from Talking to an IT Systems Engineer


When was the last time you talked to systems engineer at a major IT company about what your students need to know?

The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) manages a video series entitled “A Day in the Life” in which IT technicians and executives offer students their perspectives on the IT workplace. The hope is that hearing directly from a successful IT worker (rather than their professor) in a video interview may deliver a stronger, lasting impact on students.

Today’s “A Day in the Life” interview subject is Oliver Reiter, a Systems Engineer at Palo Alto Networks. His job is to help design and support cybersecurity solutions – in a pre-sales capacity – to support customer needs.

Below are 12 quotes from Oliver’s interview that might make an impact on IT students when considering the reality of entering the IT workforce. Click here to watch Oliver’s interview in full. The YouTube description offers a “table of contents” index with timestamps if you’re interested in specific questions.

It’s a real interesting blend of sales and engineering.  It’s a unique kind of a role.  Sometimes it’s a lot more sales than it is engineering, but you have to have that engineering background and that technical background to be able to articulate the technical aspects of a product or a solution in a way that makes sense from a business perspective… You kind of live in both worlds.

My degree was in history, actually.  I have a bachelor’s degree in history.  But after getting that degree I went back to a technical college very much like Collin College and got certified and trained in Microsoft Systems Engineering.

I used that certification as my first entry-level, foot-in-the-door job as a support engineer at a pretty nice company.  And it was a lot of fun… It was really fast-paced.  You’re working with a lot of different customers every day, you see a lot of different ways people do business and how IT actually affects people’s everyday lives.

When I first started in IT, I was really focused on the technical skills and making sure I knew the technology.  But I quickly learned and realized that soft skills – outside of what you know and the technology that you’ve learned – are really important. 

Soft skills to me would fall into two areas.  One would be around personal development and things like ongoing learning.  But most of the soft skills to me just involve relationships.  How you connect with people, how you communicate with people, how you work in a team.  Those are the sort of things that ultimately get projects done.

That’s another soft skill that I’ve learned: being able to adapt.  Being able to understand that there is more than one way to solve the problem.  Sometimes you have to be creative and figure out what’s Plan B or Plan C.

The most challenging thing?  I can think of a day where a really big state organization hit a big roadblock in implementing one of our products.  And it looked like it was a big show-stopper.  I had a lot of visibility up to the CIO level. Luckily, we were able to figure out another way around the problem in a way that was still a good solution for them.  It was a couple of days where it was really intense because we were under a tight deadline.  Those sorts of challenges happen all the time, especially in technology.

You have to carve out time to read a lot.  Read industry journals.  Read the blogs.  Follow people on LinkedIn that are in the career that you want to be in and read what they’re posting.  That wasn’t around when I was in school.  But that’s a huge advantage.  If you’re looking to do something, follow the people on LinkedIn that do what you want to do, see what they’re talking about. 

A big thank you to Oliver for lending us his time to sit down for the interview.



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