How to Accelerate Your IT Career in 2018
My guess: you’ve resolved to learn at least one new technical skill this year.
After all, we IT professionals are constantly skilling up, for a variety of reasons:
- For entry-level IT pros, learning a hot new technical skill offers a route off the help desk, and into a more substantial role.
- For the true techies out there, learning these new hard skills represents one of the primary reasons you entered IT in the first place.
- But for many of you, there’s only one reason you constantly train in next-generation technical skills—you want to avoid obsolescence.
This last reason speaks to the unfortunate reality no one likes to bring up: every year, many IT professionals invest substantial resources just to avoid being left behind, knowing full well they will have to repeat this investment again in just a few years.
This is a tough position to find yourself in—investing in training without producing an ROI beyond avoiding obsolescence. Unfortunately, this “skilling up to stay in place” position is one that many IT professionals seem to have accepted as the reality of working within the field they love.
I’m writing this short welcome to the new year to offer you an alternative perspective…
In 2018, you don’t need to just “skill up to stay in place”.
By investing in the right skills, you can do more than hold position. By investing in the right skills, you can achieve significant career growth, regardless of your current role.
But to do so, you might first internalize a simple, but often overlooked, insight:
IT Success Requires More Than Just Investing in Technical Skills
Now, I’m not suggesting technical skills aren’t important, or that you don’t need to maintain an up-to-date understanding of the technological core of your job.
We can all agree that our technical skills form the foundation of the work we do.
I’m simply suggesting that, in our rush to always master the newest technical skill, we can develop a certain tunnel vision.
We begin to see these technical skills as the first word, the last word, and every word in between, when it comes to our success as IT professionals.
But really, technical skills form just one of three skillsets you require to succeed as an IT professional.
These three skillsets are:
- Your Technical Skills
Typically refer to the hard day-to-day skills of hands-on IT work.
- Your Functional Skills
Typically refer to the unique skills and know-how related to serving the distinct requirements of the specific functional area you work with.
- Your Professional Skills
Typically refer to “soft” skills including, but not limited to, business management, customer interfacing, effective communications, and the like.
To succeed as an IT professional, all three skillsets matter.
- If you have no concept of the current technical environment, then you ain’t gonna make it in IT. Plain and simple. Everyone knows this.
- And if you can’t apply that technical understanding in a thoughtful manner to the unique needs of the functional group you serve, then your stakeholders will find someone who can. Most people understand this.
- But it’s this last set of skills, of Professional Skills, whose value continues to be the least understood or discussed. In short: they form the wrapper around your technical and functional skills that ensure their successful deployment.
Throughout my nearly 30 years in this industry, I’ve seen the development of these subtler Professional Skills make the biggest impact in the lives and careers of IT professionals who come to accept their importance.
And, most pertinent to our discussion, and your 2018 planning, these Professional Skills offer you the opportunity to maximize the impact of your training investments.
A. Professional skills never go obsolete
As Andrew Flowers explains in his article for Five-Thirty-Eight—titled The Best Jobs Now Require You to be a People Person—“A 2013 paper by two Oxford researchers projected that nearly half of U.S. jobs would be vulnerable to automation within 20 years.” However, Flowers points out, “Computers aren’t good at simulating human interaction”, and “social skills” offer professionals a “crucial advantage” over technological advancements that can make their hard skills obsolete.
B. Professional Skills can help you advance in every role
Technical and Functional skills tend to only offer value within very specific roles. Professional Skills are role-agnostic—everyone communicates, engages stakeholders, and applies critical thinking to their work. In addition, developing new Professional Skills appears to be the common requirement to advance along all IT career tracks—even highly technical tracks. Review Modis’ definitions of IT role requirements, and you’ll see—You don’t become senior engineer by coding more than anyone else. You become senior engineer by developing the ability to lead a team, interface with users, and manage stakeholders.
C. Professional skills allow you to advance faster than Technical Skills alone
There’s no question advanced Technical Skills can give you a leg up in your career, especially early in your career. But when you add advanced Professional Skills to your toolbox, you set yourself up for even faster career growth. Last year, Mandar Thakur, Senior Recruiter for WalMart’s technology division, discussed in Forbes what this combination of advanced Technical Skills and advanced Professional Skills can do for an IT professional.
Explaining what WalMart looks for in IT professionals, Mandar said:
“Fundamentally, we need people who are absolute data geeks – people who love data, and can slice it, dice it and make it do what they want it to do.
Having said that, there is one very important aspect we look for, which perhaps differentiates a data analyst from other technologists. It exponentially improves their career prospects if they can match this technical, data-geek knowledge with great communication and presentation skills.
Someone who has this combination of skills can rise to the top very quickly.”
In sum: On their own, Professional Skills offer a rarity in IT—a skillset that provides benefit within every role, and never goes obsolete. But combined with excellent hard skills, these Professional Skills provide a co-factor that can accelerate your career forward faster than hard skill proficiency alone.
One Last Thing
I have a simple ask for you.
If you found some food for thought in this short, introductory discussion of the importance of Professional Skills, then share this message—whether via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or even over casual conversation—with an IT professional you know who may benefit from thinking about their career development in more multifaceted terms than certs, certs, and more certs.
And for all of you who already “get it”, consider making a small commitment to yourself—that 2018 is the year you move away from simply “getting it”, and towards making Professional Skills training a meaningful area of your career development in 2018.
Marc Schiller is the founder and Managing Partner of Rain Partners. Schiller is a leading voice and thinker on IT leadership and management. His book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, broke new ground regarding the most significant management challenges facing IT leaders today—and how to address them.
Contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call:1.914.290.4575