5 Soft Skills Every IT Pro Needs - InformationWeek

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5/14/2015
07:06 AM
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.

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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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shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 7:20:41 AM
Re: Time management
@whoopty, I agree with you. Time management is an important aspect for any industry. I believe that why ii has been considered as one of constraints in managing projects.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 7:11:04 AM
Human Skills
This is an interesting article David. Thanks for sharing this. I think human skills also an important aspect. They will be working with a team all the time and should be able to understand difference between people and machines.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2015 | 2:52:07 AM
Re: 5 Soft Skills Every IT Pro Needs
You won't find an argument from me that any of these are important skills. Dave's intro did a good job of setting up how and why the current IT landscape has shifted to make this a priority. I'd add that marrying your technical skills with these soft skills is an important art unto itself - you need to be able to translate technical jargon in real time, you need to be able to already be thinking of possible technical solutions to problems even when non-technologists are talking, without being overly IT-centric. There's a lot to chew on there. Mr. Gimbel's comments about the skills themselves seem to dig to varying depth. Maybe some anecdotes from hiring managers would have added more here - something like what TerryB has shared in the comments, which was very relatable.

Communication is essential - but, as you said, that leaves some room for what exactly that means in an IT context (though I did like the exercise idea). No tips are given as to how to present yourself as having good prioritization or patience, or how to identify it in others. They certainly are important, though. I know IT pros of the easily frustrated type, and it doesn't have to be with users - sometimes, it is the technology. Once you're in the 'I can't even look at this thing anymore' mood, the quality of your work for the rest of the day suffers. Communication goes out the window. Workers who can resist this are certainly underappreciated. I like his idea on flexibility - initiative, too, but again, where it ties into technology is left out. A combination of these skills would certainly make for an IT marathon man, but I'd call this a starting point towards further reading for both hirers and hirees.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2015 | 6:14:06 PM
Re: Time management
IT pros aren't the only people who could benefit from communication skills. Pretty much everyone should know how to speak diplomatically.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2015 | 1:58:33 PM
Re: Time management
I agree, the ability to prioritize is a key skill that with the influx of work and the trend to do more with less of a workforce, it's only going to get worse.  My second would have to be communication/patience.  In my field, there are often lots of folks who aren't as tech savvy as others, and sometimes we forget the benefit of slowing down, ensuring everyone understands exactly what the project/topic is, and to get the proper buy-in.  There is a lot of missed communication or waste of time if you have to keep going back because details were missed or guidelines/desired outcomes aren't properly communicated.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2015 | 1:38:23 PM
Re: Time management
I can certainly vouch for the prioritization skill although not clear how a recruiter would possibly figure out if person was good at it or not. I hired a person to take care of infrastructure side of IT, from workstations to networks to antivirus. Overall, he was good hire, he lasted 10 years here. His technical skills were terrific and he essentially had the other 4 skills Dave lists in article. But the one skill I could never get him to obtain was triage/prioritization. He wanted to work on what he was working on, regardless of it's importance in grand scheme of things. Something could come up which might require 5 minutes of his time but he would queue it behind his other work, at least until user started screaming so loud he reacted. That eventually became his primary prioritization scheme, how high in rank was the requesting person or how loud is person complaining that their request has not been executed.

I repeatedly tried to mentor him that you have to reevaluate work constantly, just like a doctor in ER. You might be setting a broken leg but if someone shows up in cardiac arrest, you deal with immediately. He could never acquire that skill, even sent me an article once where someone wrote multi tasking was impossible for a human. Author meant at any given second you can only do one thing, not that you can't suspend one activity, do something else, then come back to previous task. But he wanted that as evidence that if you start something you must finish it, otherwise you aren't being efficient.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2015 | 12:09:27 PM
What Time Is IT ?
"...Some workers are more or less capable of working under certain conditions and times"


I think this is an important aspect, I don't think I am as effective at 3am as I might be at 1am. So employers would be wise to take these things into account, when positions like this need to be filled.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
5/14/2015 | 8:17:56 AM
Re: Time management
Even those who set our own schedules need to aim for deadlines for particular projects and manage the planning efficiently. 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2015 | 7:53:35 AM
Time management
Time management and prioritsation are the biggest ones for me. Because I spend a lot of time working by myself, I often only have my own goals to work to. While they can occasionally be pretty extreme, I have to fight against letting myself have an easy time as that's no way to get better at what I do. 
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