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5/14/2015
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David Wagner
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5 Soft Skills Every IT Pro Needs

When it comes to being a great employee, an IT professional can no longer sit in isolation. It's time to develop some soft people skills to help your career. Here's what one recruiter looks for when evaluating tech talent.
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(Image: Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr)

(Image: Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr)

Whether you are an IT professional or a hiring manager looking for tech talent, you know that soft skills are becoming an increasing part of the IT job.

Consumerization of technology has changed the demands of a company's customers, and those of the people who work in it and rely of IT for their jobs. In turn, this process has changed the nature of what it means to be an IT pro. In order to get a better handle on soft skills and what they mean for IT, InformationWeek spoke to Tom Gimbel, founder of the respected recruiter LaSalle Network, to talk about the changing IT department.

"If you have a company that doesn't have a lot of customer interface, if you're just a technology company, and you want to have a bunch of technology people who are all head down, that's fine," Gimbel said in an interview. "Does that still exist? Yes, it does, but it is rare. Most larger organizations have internal and external customer needs. And with more customer-facing IT you need soft skills and empathy."

He also pointed to the changes in IT services procurement as a major aspect of the change as well.

"So many IT pros find themselves between two groups now. You might be between [the] end-user and the vendor," said Gimbel. Or you might find yourself negotiating between two parts of the business with different tech needs that touch the same application. This requires IT pros to navigate toward the right solution between multiple stakeholders, and it means a certain amount of nontechnical skills.

One thing Gimbel suggests to managers goes against the grain of much of the current IT hiring practices.

"If you can get IT folks with a good liberal arts education you are ahead of the game," he said. "Technology has to work, but it also has to interact with people. It isn't about how the technologist interacts with the technology, but how the end-user does."

Basically, what Gimbel is getting at is a set of soft skills to get you through your new responsibilities. He suggested five in particular that he feels every hiring manager should look for, and that every IT pro should therefore try to cultivate. Check out the list and tell us what skills you think are most important to your success right now.

[Did you miss any of the InformationWeek Conference in Las Vegas last month? Don't worry: We have you covered. Check out what our speakers had to say and see tweets from the show. Let's keep the conversation going.]

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 1:15:57 PM
Re: Time management
@TerryB- I can totally see your frustration, bu tI think we're seeing it isn't a "simple skill." If it was simple, we'd have so many people with it that it wouldn't be on the list. And you'd have been able to teach it to him. Interestingly enough, I'm writing an article about attnetion span that should be out today. It talks a lot about the good and bad side of task switching. Seems like he could have used it to learn some of the good sides.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 1:11:39 PM
Re: Time management
Yeah Dave, his previous job was at a bigger company where he provided support from tickets assigned to him. And not much variety on type of issues. When he took this job where he was sole provider of infrastructure services on a wide scale, he struggled to manage the work.

As an example, our Sales Mgr asked for something to cover up some wiring for his computer which stretched across his office floor. He let that sit for a month until guy asked again. The little things that can hardly be called IT work killed him. Technically, he would tackle problems from 30 year old tensile testers running on DOS computers to spinning up VMWare Win 2008 servers to network outages. But he eventually lost the confidence of his users from lack of timely response. And he wasn't just overworked, he'd be working on some R&D project while some small break/fix request just sat. Frustrated me as manager that I couldn't get thru to him on such a simple skill he needed to acquire.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 1:03:36 PM
Re: soft skills for IT people
@mpochan156- I want to work for you just so I can get awesome business cards. Can mine say "Destroyer of Worlds" on it? :)
mpochan156
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mpochan156,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2015 | 12:51:27 PM
Re: soft skills for IT people
I was VERY fortunate to find / hire / keep happy the KING, but he preferred the title "Master of the Universe" and that was what I had printed on his business cards. 

Great IT people / developers who can understand with some depth the BUSINESS domain are precious resources and should be treated as such. Feed and water regularly. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 12:28:12 PM
Re: What Time Is IT ?
@technocrati- I have yet to meet the person who is just as effective at 3AM. I worked a night shift job once. Hated it. Never was able to feel human. I think the only thing I enjoyed about that at all was the peace and quiet. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 12:26:29 PM
Re: Time management
@TerryB- Fascinating. Ultimately, I guess the only way to deal with that person is to put them in charge of like one really crucial thing at a time. but how many companies really work that way? I suspect the bigger the company the more easy that is to find-- a role where someone can just own one thing and do it really well.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 12:23:49 PM
Re: 5 Soft Skills Every IT Pro Needs
@zerox203- You can blame me for if Mr/ Gimbel's comments had "varying depth." I probed some more deeply than others because I thought certain ones would resonate more. I'm quite sure he could elaborate on any of them. 

I was especially interested in his concepts of communication and initiative. Thet felt very counterintuitive to me and I really wanted to get into those.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
5/15/2015 | 12:20:08 PM
Re: soft skills for IT people
@mpochan156- Oh, we don't have to get rid of them. We need nerds, too. For one, not everyone needs all five skills. If you can find the nerd programmer who never needs to meet people but can sow initiative and flexibility (but you hide when the customers come) that's cool, too.

Sometimes you also find the "King of the Nerds" who has the communication skills nerds lack but is the social butterfly that holds the Star trek convention together. :)


Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 12:05:58 PM
Re: Time management
@Thomas   Good point.  Something that really has to be practiced everyday regardless of job, in this highly sensitive world we live in today.
mpochan156
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mpochan156,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2015 | 10:31:57 AM
soft skills for IT people
I agree with the premise and points of the article. Many of the entrepreneurial successes in the software industry of the last 20 years had IT people with techno depth and great people skills ( and even great marketing skills). I would like to think we were one of them.

But I would hate to see the IT stereotype disappear of the bespectacled nerd with masking tape holding the frame together who you hide in the basement when the Customers visit.

And who will attend Star Trek conventions ? 

Ike, an entrepreneur

former CEO and co-founder of LeaseTek
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