Over the course of the last 10 years, my experience with IT professionals has ranged from architect-level VMware expert all the way to office administrator. During that time, I’ve learned that a simple break/fix repair engineer can offer valuable skills and talents that an architect-level person may be missing. IT skillsets erode over time, people become complacent, or they simply believe that their position may be “above” completing a simple task.

This article focuses on the variety of IT skillsets that are necessary to be a successful IT professional. In many small businesses, even into the middle-market, technical staff are expected to know a little bit about everything and to be able to solve problems on their own. In larger enterprise environments, you may have teams dedicated strictly to specific technology platforms, such as storage, messaging, or desktop configuration management. Some folks prefer the inch-deep and mile-wide approach, while others want to be very specialized in two or three technologies. Either way, maintaining a basic set of skills beyond specified technologies is a benefit not only to yourself, but to your organization, as well.

Project Management

The ability to work through your own projects, as well as those involving others, is extremely valuable. At the start of every project, no matter how big or small, clear objectives and scope should be established. In addition, creating a work breakdown structure with phases and tasks can enable you to stay on track and communicate timelines to others, as necessary.

Larger organizations typically have their own internal project management office (PMO), but it’s good to remember that not all project managers are technical project managers, in that they often don’t understand why or how something should get done, only what needs to get done and when.

Tips:

  • Anticipate project setbacks
  • Include key stakeholders only where necessary
  • Don’t micromanage resources into the ground

Communication

Communication is one of those soft skills necessary for any position, but one that I believe is critical within the IT realm. Following the three C’s of communication, whether verbal or written, will not only save you time, but also eliminate potential frustration from the other side of the conversation: cohesive, coherent, and concise. Articulate your communication with those three C’s, and you’ll be golden.

As an IT person, have you ever had a vendor constantly call/email your boss or boss’s boss? Sometimes, they can convince a decision maker to make an investment in their technology without your recommendation. These vendor salespeople are trained communicators. You can avoid these situations by clearly communicating your recommendations to management. The ability to explain why you need a shiny new Cisco UCS chassis and blades with business logic, along with how that need matches up with the business’ strategy, including the risks of not doing it and potential productivity increases is crucial.

Good communication is often an effective way to avoid Shadow IT in an organization.

Tips:

  • Be concise, coherent, and cohesive
  • Know when a verbal conversation is better than electronic
  • Be proactive

Troubleshooting

The amount of time wasted going down troubleshooting rabbit holes is astounding. Too many times, technical people believe they know the solution to the problem right away; it happens to all of us. Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask yourself if this is an isolated incident, measure the magnitude of the problem, consider what changed recently, and determine what communications need to take place, and to whom. If you are troubleshooting a user-based issue, always ask the user to reproduce the problem.

Be systematic about the approach and as precise as possible. Many of us have been through enough fire drills to know that when something goes wrong, you shouldn’t panic. Panicking may result in even worse damage, due to the unforeseen ripple effects of a work-around that was attempted.

In the OSI model, layer 7 and 8 are often where we get our first interaction with the employee(s)/user(s), and where we might be tempted to make a judgment call on which layer should be explored next. Starting at layer 1 and asking if something is plugged in or if lights are on may seem demeaning, but is often a necessary evil. Using correct language and approach is extremely important, along with knowing your audience.

OSI model

OSI model important to remember

  • Learn the OSI model, always remember it
  • Don’t panic
  • Asking, “Could you show me the problem?” goes a long way sometimes

Humility

The ability to be humble about your profession is huge. Asking for feedback or focusing on what others need is often noticed throughout organizations. As technology professionals, sometimes we are seen as the group that sits back in dark offices, don’t like to talk to people, and would like to spend the day taking apart a laptop with 100 screws in it. Most of the time, that actually isn’t the case!

Our job is to help enable others to do their jobs with technology that is reliable, available, efficient and fast. However, a lot of employees who have consistent issues or problems will decide to just deal with them rather than bringing the problem up via a support ticket/case. To ensure that others have what they need and are taken care of, walk around and ask people if they are having any issues or what the IT department could do better.

Remember that none of us are perfect. Be open and transparent when mistakes happen. Share where things went wrong and how they will be corrected in the future. Clear communication helps earn trust from the organization and your team in general.

However, as the Chicago Tribune writes, “Keeping your head down and doing great work is not enough.” You should engage in a balance of self-promotion and helping raise the confidence and abilities of others.

Tips:

  • Occasionally give in during disagreements, even when you may be right. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.
  • Understand that everyone has shortcomings.
  • Reach out to other employees and have them teach you something about what they do, and vice versa.

While there are almost an unlimited number of ways to be successful in technology, it’s important to focus on some of the soft skills that are universal. We can all do a better job of learning wireshark, DNS, VMware DRS, automation, or scripting, but the fact of the matter is that technology changes rapidly, especially with the emergence of cloud technologies, but good project management, communication, troubleshooting and team player skills are always important. Adjust to the trends. Provide value beyond technical knowledge and great things will happen for you.

If you would like to learn how we can help your technology team be more effective for the organization, please visit our website. You can also contact RSM’s technology and management consulting professionals at 800.274.3978 or email us.

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