No one can predict the future.

And yet it seems as if we all tend to worry about what the future will hold for us. As data professionals we are bombarded every day with new concepts and buzzwords like ‘cloud’, ‘big data’, ‘PaaS’, and ‘Snooki’. For many server and database admins these terms represent an unknown future, a future that they cannot picture themselves having a role in.

I am here to help you make sense of it all. I am going to lay out the foundation for you. Instead of fearing the change that is coming, I am going to outline for you the trends I have been observing for years. These are the trends that you need to recognize and use to your advantage.

These are the five trends that will affect your future as a data professional.

1. You Will Have More Stuff To Manage

How many of you reading this blog post are administering fewer systems today than you were three or five years ago? When I ask that question during my presentations I likely get one or two hands raised out of two hundred. Quite simply everyone is doing more these days. And here’s a dirty little secret that often doesn’t get mentioned: you have likely also started managing an additional database platform during that time (registration required to download the PDF). This is why we have so many ‘accidental DBAs’; admins who were a developer, or a power user, or a generalist that were assigned the responsibility of administering a new platform such as MySQL.

We are rarely asked to do less at work, only more. And the list keeps growing.

2. You Will Eventually Run Out of Hardware To Throw at the Problem

As the list of systems being managed keeps growing there will come a point where you decide to simply throw hardware at the problem. This is especially true when it is a cheaper option than spending time and resources trying to optimize existing code. But even throwing hardware around has its limitations when you talk about things like Big Data. Unless you work for the NSA, then the idea that your company is going to import over 100TB of data daily for research analysis is going to end in disaster. You may be able to throw enough hardware at the problem to get the project started, but within six months you will likely find yourself in need of another hardware upgrade and in the middle of a meeting being asked to explain why your company needs to spend even more money that originally projected.

3. You Will Learn To Love the Cloud

This is where you will start to look to the cloud in one form or another. You can find many flavors of cumulonimbus these days: PaaS, IaaS, SaaS. And it is likely that a combination of all three is what it will take for you to (1) reduce the number of systems you have to administer daily and (2) understand how much you really didn’t want to spend each and every weekend performing hardware upgrades. The cloud is here, it is not going away, and if you continue to dismiss it as something not real or practical you are going to find yourself left far, far behind. That may work for you if you are looking to retire in the next few years but for the rest of us that need to work another 30-40 years we are putting our heads in the clouds now.

4. Your Job Will Disappear

The other night my daughter told me matter-of-factly that “…one day I will have a job that nobody has ever even heard of before.” I told her “yes, yes you will.”

The job you have today is going to disappear. Whatever you call yourself right now, that title will change in the next five years. And there is a really good chance that your next job title doesn’t even exist yet. I’ve never heard of ‘Data Integrator’, ‘Global Systems Enterprise Architect’, or  ‘Chief Data Officer’ (AKA ‘Big Data Daddy’), but I can certainly imagine each of those jobs being fairly common in the near future.

Start thinking of yourself as a data professional. It is a generic enough title that allows you to slide in and out of whatever job role is in vogue at the time. If you are determined to stay in your current role as a database administrator/developers/whatever, then you will find you have fewer opportunities in the future.

5. You Will Start Talking Like a Lawyer, Possibly Matlock

With each passing year it becomes more apparent that security and compliance are topics relegated not just to the members of an internal audit team. You will need to develop an understanding of compliance or be doomed to fail an audit. You should probably hire a lawyer or become one. Bottom line: start understanding more about what your company needs to satisfy audit requirements so that as your data shifts you can help architect a model that keeps everyone out of the hoosegow.

There you go, the five trends that are going to do more to influence your career as a data professional than anything else. Each one also has something else embedded inside of it: learning. It is more important than ever before to be constantly learning and adapting. Gone are the days when you could show up at work and fulfill the same role for twenty years. These days you need to be learning all the time, embracing new ideas, and trying new things in order to keep your skills current and in demand.