The Most Important Non-Tech Skills Often Missing in IT


  • Service Provider

    We often talk about the skills needed for IT professionals and what is lacking. The first thing that people always mention is soft skills, like customer service, and of course this is important but mostly only if you are focused on IT being the helpdesk. Very few IT roles really require any significant form of customer service, any more than any job role does, and a company that wants every engineer, administrator, architect, scripter and other role to also be a qualified hotel concierge has an unrealistic expectation that will cost them significantly and really makes no sense. Having soft and personal skills is a positive, of course, but is it really something that we should seek throughout an IT organization - does it make sense to prioritize such a non-essential skill?

    This actually highlights he extreme danger of attempting to use a department like helpdesk as a "feeder" into the IT organization. Much like the obvious folly of a grocery store chain only promoting cashiers into IT or management, having one skill or role as a gateway to others means that one department is being "filtered" by the skills and successes of another. The person who excels best on helpdesk might make a terrible storage engineer and the worst helpdesk person might be your best storage engineer, for example. This is an industry wide problem.

    But there are skills that are needed throughout IT and are often missed. IT is a business function and all of IT needs to understand business. Business is an intersection of human management and math. This means, that in addition to technical skills and understanding, essentially all IT roles need an understanding of business factors.

    Big factors that I see bing missed in every day IT interactions (not from all people, these are just the ones I see as most common gaps that are rarely addressed):

    • Psychology: A large amount of issues that I see in IT come from a basic misunderstanding of human reactions, not of other people but from themselves. An inability to recognize and tackle emotional reactions, simple psychology tricks from vendors and so forth. IT is hard and understanding the human condition and being self aware is critical to good decision making processes.
    • Math: Specifically statistics. Very few IT roles do not need to use statistical understanding around nearly all decision making. But extremely few IT pros are trained in statistical math, even though it is a huge portion of their jobs once in a decision making role. Being able to apply statistics inherently to IT decision making is incredibly important.
    • Finance: An extension of math, but with a specific context, IT decision makers must consider the role of IT vis-a-vis financial impact in all decisions. This is what drives IT, without an understanding of the financial picture of the company, IT is forced to float without context and decisions and recommendations are, quite literally, arbitrary. Financial understanding is also the interface between IT and other departments.
    • Business: More than just finance, IT needs an understand of business and management basics, especially the specific business(es) that they are supporting. Identifying industry trends, market trends, competitive advantage and such cannot reasonably be done without a cross-discipline understanding of the opportunity domain.

    In theory, any IT university work should be covering these things long before any technical discussions begin. Traditional engineering does so, IT engineering has the benefit of this traditional knowledge and has no excuse for missing it. Many of these things are taught in high schools, if students know that they are important to take. These are not difficult to acquire skills, but are often not sought by those entering or working in IT and often lead to significant gaps in things even so basic as understanding IT's role within an organization.



  • I'm a firm believer that anyone who wants to get into IT also needs a background in the basics of business management. Of course I got that basic background training while still in high school, which was a very good thing because the little offered at college was a joke (yes, even the business management majors didn't think much of it.)



  • You need to get the business to understand that IT's role is also a business/money role as well. In non IT companies IT is seen more often as the enemy, an expense that is forced upon them. This view needs to change on both sides of the fence.


  • Service Provider

    @travisdh1 said in The Most Important Non-Tech Skills Often Missing in IT:

    I'm a firm believer that anyone who wants to get into IT also needs a background in the basics of business management. Of course I got that basic background training while still in high school, which was a very good thing because the little offered at college was a joke (yes, even the business management majors didn't think much of it.)

    Yes, I'm often shocked that even senior IT people have major gaps that I recognize as things that we had to learn in senior year economics class or junior year math. Simple concepts that you should have just getting through high school. And as they are skills you should be using every day in IT, they should be heavily reinforced.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Most Important Non-Tech Skills Often Missing in IT:

    You need to get the business to understand that IT's role is also a business/money role as well. In non IT companies IT is seen more often as the enemy, an expense that is forced upon them. This view needs to change on both sides of the fence.

    This is a chicken and egg problem. IT often lacks these skills so businesses get trained to think of IT as non-business. Then businesses treat IT this way so IT gets cut off from being treated like part of the business.

    Both sides of the fence need to change for sure. But business can't change until IT has the skills, tries to use them and is ready for the change. As much as businesses are at fault, I think only IT itself can initiate a change.



  • I constantly explain this to users, helpdesk people, and people looking to get into IT. I see people going to school for CIS or CS all the time so they can "get into IT". I have actually looked at people before and said "no, don't go to school for IT" and I get confused looks like I just blew their mind, and not in a good way. Explaining that IT is a tool used to meet business needs and that the technical aspect is, to be perfectly frank, confusing to most people.



  • Too many people become enthralled in learning the technology they want to work with and seem to forget the purpose for the technology in the first place. Active Directory is great, and knowing how to setup, troubleshoot, and administer it is fantastic. But what's the reason for it? Centralized management, which allows for greater control and efficiency in the business. It's a problem of being taught facts without understanding the context behind those facts, and that's a problem that affects the job industry as a whole, not just IT, although IT is usually the field where it's most dramatically seen. People going for finance or business management understand that their tasks are to suit the business needs, and the skills they bring to the table are to serve that purpose. But IT seems to go down this rabbit hole that the technology is king above all else, forgetting what the purpose of the technology is in the first place.



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