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Study things like Puppet, OpenStack, VMware vSphere, Hyper-V (along with SCVMM), KVM (part of OpenStack) etc. Be aware of app platforms (e-mail, SQL, etc) but don't make them your career as hosted/cloud based services are a serious threat to onsite stuff (privacy issues aside).
Find all the key blogs for each of these things I've mentioned, and read them often. Follow the authors of these blogs on Twitter if you really want to keep up to date.
Oh, and LEARN TO RECOGNIZE WHEN STUFF IS CHANGING and adjust your skills accordingly.
Remember your users/customers have needs, and your job is to give them what is best for them regardless of your own bias. Despite what vendors tell you, no solution is best for everyone.
Meanwhile my wife (teacher) has her entire class dragged down because she has to spend so much time with those who need additional assistance. Those kids end up getting more assistance, but not as much as they truly need, while the other kids fall behind.
Don't get me wrong, I get the idea of inclusion, but I disagree with others having to noticeably suffer (in terms of education) as a result.
Learn basic Exchange/SQL setup/admin on your own first in a home lab. Realize that the difference between single-server/site Exchange (really no single server anymore with 2010 due to DAG) is wholly different that multi-site/server/large DAG setups BUT the basics are very helpful. If you want to go nuts, setup a multisite AD environment in your home lab and setup Exchange in both sites. Separate as many of the Exchange roles as you can to learn more about how they talk to another another within/between sites. Read MSFT forums concerning Exchange troubleshooting to see what kinds of problems people are having.
Offer to help out for free on after-hours/weekend work involving Exchange (or whatever else).
Just remember that Microsoft is pushing Office 365 heavily, especially for mail. Onsite e-mail will become rarer and rarer unless a business explicitly needs it (TCO for any enterprise class e-mail solution can get expensive). With Exchange no longer doing single instance storage you either need lots of DAS on your server or lots of array space, both of which can get costly.
Suggestions: OpenStack (open source virtualization), Puppet or Chef (automation), and VMware if possible. VMware is the most useful of those, but the other three are only getting bigger.
Few other (small) nice odds and ends
Should I be paying taxes on what those items would cost me if I had to pay for them? I think not. I accept that those items cost my company money, which is results in a slightly smaller paycheck. Don't ding me twice by lowering my pay AND making me pay taxes for the value of these items.
In addition, if you can reaffirm on existing debt for those items which you need to keep (car, house).
My problem? People who got into debt for stupid things. No sympathy for them, all kinds of sympathy for those who have medical bills, family tragedy, etc.
For everyone else, a degree is important (well, legitimate skills are important regardless). I work for a tech company in the Fortune 150 and our software engineers work on everything from UI to our products down to the kernels. We have awesome intern programs as well as programs that rotate you in different jobs (3-5) over your first 3 or so years of employment. You won't get any of those positions without a degree. It's still possible to get in here without one, but you better have an impressive background and hopefully some connections on the inside.
Mistakes are costly, so companies have to be cautious. Even if you are willing to accept a salary that is lower to get in the door, your benefits package has a fixed cost. As large as my employer is (>50K employees globally), my benefits still cost them nearly 20K a year.
My Masters didn't strictly apply to the job I held today, but it got me in at a higher position level and salary. Even if the skills don't directly apply, the 18 months of writing papers has been invaluable in helping me write docs for work. In my case the degree both helped me at my job and got me more money than I would have otherwise been offered.
Some of our best software engineers have no degree, but they are really good at what they do.
I stick with a $80 lifetime upgrade TomTom for navigation and tablets/hones/portable DVD players for kid/wife entertainment.
1) Using different methods to determine when a SSD will fail, and proactively sparing it out
2) Inline dedupe at the cache level to reduce writes before they even hit the disks, extending disk life (example: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/27/xtremio_projectx_unveiled/)
3) MLC drives, which are supposed to be "enterprise" grade. Theory is if you can find creative ways to reduce writes (such as the last line) this negates the expense of MLC drives. Large storage vendors who got into flash early typically used MLC, but expect SLC to become more accepted (cost being one big reason, improved reliability another).
Just remember, when flash drives die they really die. Due to the way files are stored you can't just ship the drive off somewhere and get files recovered. This isn't a bad thing, but something people need to keep in mind.
As far as laptops/desktops go, beware of things that increase writes. Full disk encryption is good, but if the file is encrypted after it is written you've doubled you writes without even thinking about it. That is just one example of things that can cause flash drives to fail a little earlier than you expected. I've seen MLC flash drives that are used for array caching (hot data blocks written to flash for better response, data constantly being promoted/demoted to these drives) hit their write limit in 9 months. Not die, hit their write limit.
2) If you work on something big, or accomplish something significant, additional other bonuses. I've been there since last July and have gotten two of these, ranging between 4% and 10% of my base salary. The 10% bonus takes 4 years to fully vest, but that is reasonable.
3) Workout facility onsite.
4) I have an office, not a cubicle. You have no idea what this means to me, especially since I am usually writing documents for 1/3rd of my time (I build solutions, test them, and write-up my test results and reference architectures) and like my privacy.
5) So long as I am not seeing customers, there is pretty much no dress code (within reason, I wore shorts and a t-shirt from ~April till just last week). This is wonderful because honestly, unless we have clients coming in to meet with my team (rare, since we aren't in sales) I don't need to be dressed up at all.
6) Solid benefits. This means reasonable deductibles that won't kill me if someone has ongoing health issues/medications that are outside of their control. This is huge as well because crappy benefits can cost my family $3K-5K/year, and I take that stuff into account when looking at the base salary of an offer.
7) My boss feels that if you have to work more than 40 hours a week on an ongoing basis, he is likely not doing his job correctly. He works with you to set reasonable quarterly objectives, which he of course fully expects you to meet.
8) Training. We work with unreleased/just released stuff all the time (and write about it), so this is critical.
Yes I am paid well, but items 3-8 on this list are enough to give me serious pause before even entertaining another job offer. I could care less about cake days, or massages. Workout facilities, an office, and a lax dress code help keep the stress down. Good pay and benefits means that I'm not worrying about money, which is important. I don't need to drive a Ferrari, but my family vacations and the occasional hobby are important to me.