In IT and Data, You Need to Skill Up to Keep Up

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Skilling up becomes more important (and necessary) every day. Tech environments are more complex now than ever before, and they’re only going to become more complex as new technologies emerge and legacy tech remains.

Tech pros know they have to develop skills both inside and outside their traditional purview. In the recent IT Trends Report 2019, respondents revealed an appetite to prioritize systems and infrastructure skills in the coming year, rating software-defined networking, security, and data center as important for their career development in 2019 and beyond. And, as IT roles converge, the need to upskill becomes even greater.

With tech environments becoming more difficult to manage and IT roles converging, how can skilling up better position tech pros to succeed in the future? How should they go about upskilling?

Skilling Up – Back to the Future

Today, systems and infrastructure skills are cloud skills. These skills must transcend learning to code and move into scripting, managing systems with new interfaces, administering new commands, understanding the difference between “automatic” and “programmatic,” and more.

Back in the day, programmers had to understand the internals of the interface, operating system, and even hardware because their code demanded it. Yes, there were specialists, but everyone had the essentials mastered. In that bygone era, the tools needed to “survive” were simpler and, frankly, cruder, but the idea today is the same. Gone are the days (and to be honest, they were kind of a false start when they happened) of hyper-specialization, when an individual could just code. They have to be aware of, hooked into, and even responsible for the surrounding environment.

In a sense, with the overlap and convergence of IT roles, what’s old is new again. We’re moving back to the way IT professionals used to work. So, how do we manage this?

Who Are You and How Should You Skill Up?

Your role largely depends on what skills you most likely need to develop. Here are some high-level things to consider:

  • For traditional core operations folks (NetAdmins, SysAdmins, DBAs, etc.), develop a sense of code, or at least scripting. Start with introducing simple scripts into your routine tasks.
  • For traditional programmers, develop an awareness of and appreciation for the platform and the lifecycle of the infrastructure. What is the resource utilization on the machine you throw your code on?
  • Across the board, everyone must develop empathy for those who work in support. Working in combined/converged IT shops means everyone should work in support, have each other’s backs, work hard to remediate issues quickly, and work to avoid issues happening in the first place. This helps individuals in their skill development and career growth as well – empathy will lead to curiosity about other areas of IT and may translate into skill development.

What’s most important, however, is appreciating that the “you” in “you need to skill up” means no one is safe: Everyone must develop new skills. At the same time, nobody is expecting every individual developer to become a master at subnetting, VPN, operating systems, storage tuning, database optimization, etc., along with being a UI/UX genius, and being absolutely fluent in the five top languages. But as a part of the team, be aware someone in the group needs to have a handle on those things. If there’s a gap, you should consider stepping up and stepping into the role.

Make it (Inter)Personal

While developing certain tech skills is more specific based on current areas of expertise, it’s not just about IT skills. One set of skills is universally key to develop: interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills are commonly referred to as “soft skills,” which is an inaccurate description of what these skills encompass and their overall importance. Soft skills are not optional. They’re human skills – everyone needs to relate to other people and speak in a way they can relate to and understand. It’s key to use terms geared to the specific audience, whether they’re engineers or C-suite leaders. In fact, nearly half (46%) of respondents in the recent survey, Building Confidence for Tech Pros of Tomorrow, cited interpersonal skills as most critical for their continued career growth.

At the same time, though, what we referred to above (developing skills but not needing to be an expert) is also true when developing interpersonal skills. Although you don’t need to be an expert, you doneed to recognize human, non-cognitive, and interpersonal skills are key to communicating with others and must be prioritized. As an IT pro, you are involved with so many projects and initiatives with the capability to drive the business forward and make a difference across the organization you support, making it key to communicate effectively.

So how can you do this?

  • Find a mentor: Find someone on your team who can help you learn. No one knows these skills right off the bat; we were all taught by someone, so finding a mentor is crucial.
  • Learn to speak business-ese: Like any language, this will take time. Learning to speak the language of the boardroom, and therefore extending your influence, is important. Practice your presentation skills and ask for constructive feedback. Practice your communication skills and eventually try your hand at project management. You’ll learn by doing and working closely with your mentor along the way is key.
  • Use your tech skills to develop interpersonal skills: In a sense, this idea of practicing and getting feedback is the same idea as putting code through testing. Stress testing is a normal part of any IT professionals’ program, so bring it over to developing and honing interpersonal skills.

Conclusion

With increasingly complex tech environments and the convergence of IT roles, skilling up has never been more important. Everyone is different, and it’s necessary to develop skills to ensure your team has everything necessary to do their job effectively. Find a mentor to help with skill development, whether it’s tech skills or interpersonal skills. Being well-rounded is key to succeeding in today’s tech and business landscape, and understanding trades other than the one you specialized in will help advance your career. Skill up today or find yourself obsolete tomorrow (or possibly later today).

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