Essential IT skills for every profession
This feature first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Many people who develop and use IT skills don’t pursue a career in technology. I have a foot in both the business and IT worlds, and I can promise that, whichever you choose, you will have interesting work ahead of you. As long as you are doing good things for the right reasons, you will be successful.
As the world becomes more and more tied to computers and information technology, however, there’s a strong chance that a degree of IT fluency will be required to keep non-IT careers in motion. It’s helpful to hone certain IT or IT-adjacent skills even as you prepare for a career in a non-IT field. With that in mind, let’s discuss some skills that, if utilized properly, will fortify any business career.
I am a voracious reader. I read to stay up on the latest technology — not just the headlines — pack in a lot of self-help titles, devour a ton of business books, and blitz the occasional detective novel. If you want to develop a solid footing in IT, then you need to make an effort to stay abreast of trends and topics in the technology world.
You don’t have to be an IT professional to read and study IT. Maintaining a healthy curiosity about things outside your comfort zone is good advice for any career. If you find enjoyment in learning new things and you genuinely want to understand how things work, then you will have a leg up no matter what your specialization is.
The best professionals in any field have an innate sense of curiosity about how things work underneath the hood. One example from the IT realm is hacking — knowing how to penetrate computer systems has countless applications, including the most direct one: Without a sense of curiosity, security experts aren’t likely to be creative about applying security controls to company processes.
The more you read about — and understand — technology, the better equipped you will be to benefit from software and products that enhance your own productivity, as well as the productivity of others. Any professional who knows how to make the most efficient use available resources will shine. And workers who are consistently interested in seeking out new resources often have an edge.
Such resourcefulness is especially handy for those with less technology experience, like career changers. You don’t have to always have the answer to a problem — you just need to know how to find it. Feed this curiosity and resourcefulness in yourself at all times. Feed it with books, and magazines, and technology news.
Good troubleshooting is essential to IT, but this is also a skill that can be applied anywhere. It can be difficult to teach basic troubleshooting but it starts, as noted above, by adhering the principle that it’s more important to know where to look for correct answers than to have every correct answer at your fingertips.
You can hone this skill with games and puzzles. Think about that for a second: When have you ever heard anyone tell you to play more games? If you like solving puzzles, then IT jobs are some of the best jobs around. Many tech people get their first taste of troubleshooting by messing around with a personal computer, printer, or phone that isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.
Understanding how to isolate and fix problems, however, is a talent that is valuable wherever you go. A lot of the technical skills you need for various business careers can be picked up through tinkering and trial and error. Even if you don’t use it every day on the job, problem-solving acumen can help you get started in almost any field of professional endeavor.
Along those same lines, few project managers are better at what they do than IT project managers. Juggling multiple projects and responsibilities tends to be a hallmark of the modern workplace, and being able to meet deadlines and hit benchmarks is critical.
Good project management involves the ability to make professional plans, set and reach goals, and work with colleagues to resolve project issues. A natural aptitude for project management will be welcome wherever you turn up and many aspects of project management are essentially just troubleshooting on a macro scale.
Device (and time) management
I cannot stress this enough: If you are a gadget person, then be a gadget person. Do not buy things for others to set up and run for you. If you want that new iPhone, then learn how to operate it. If you like the fancy color printer, then hook it up yourself. Having an understanding of technology devices and peripherals will be a huge boon to your personal development, and is certainly an IT skill that will help you out in a business career.
Having good organizational skills plays into this — an ability to lay out exactly what you want to do and keep everything in line with that goal and vison is invaluable. Being organized makes you more efficient and productive at work.
Many business careers are dynamic, giving you the opportunity to jump around to several different projects and tasks. Multitasking can be an important skill, but only if you can meticulously organize yourself.
The ability to keep track of things such as your schedule and daily tasks is essential and so, too, is being able to chunk and prioritize your daily responsibilities efficiently. The more you know and understand about devices and software management, the better able you will be to use productivity and collaboration tools to maximize your professional output.
Computer and network management
Diving a little deeper in what we just covered, understanding computer and network operations is a huge asset to a career in business. Work to develop a basic understanding of what computers and networks do, as well as how they interact with each other.
I disagree with anyone who says, “I drive a car, but I have no idea how it runs.” That is an awful way to live. It’s always better to proactively analyze your surroundings, because having an analytical mindset will gives you a major edge whenever you are expected to find logical solutions to persistent problems.
Anything you do to increase your awareness of computer and network nuts and bolts will strengthen your analytical mindset. You’ll improve your ability to solve problems, and even to identify them before they arise.
Some commonplace examples of analytical abilities include the ability to create — and read — pivot tables in a spreadsheet, identify trends over time, and identify key performance indicators. It’s also important to learn how to identify critical events and eliminate outliers from data sets.
This is probably the area where I devote the most time and effort to personal growth. It’s not an IT skill per se, but IT professionals often excel in this area. You can improve your ability to adapt by putting yourself in situations that push you out of your comfort zone. Whether or not you plan on it, almost any job you have will require you to change in order to become successful.
Employers in all professions are looking for evidence of adaptability whether or not they question you about it directly. Employees in a leadership role often have to manage unusual circumstances where there are no explicit instructions. They must learn how to rest upon their own judgment and have the confidence to make difficult decisions.
If you are a person who learns quickly, that is typically due in part to ability to adapt. You can further nurture your adaptability skills by trying new things and challenging your ability to solve problems in various circumstances.
I could write a book on IT, but even technology professionals interact with other people. Strictly speaking, every professional in every career needs to have soft skills, and IT doesn’t necessarily have more to teach you in this regard than you can learn elsewhere.
Having respect for others and an interest in helping others is the key to any business. Although IT isn’t traditionally thought of as a “helping” field like medicine or social work, a big part of almost every technology job involves helping people, whether you’re creating new technology that makes people’s lives easier or helping people figure out ways around technology hurdles.
IT is also often collaborative, and teamwork is one of the most vital of soft skills. For whatever amount of time you are involved in studying IT, you can benefit yourself immeasurably by learning to cooperate and collaborate with others.
I said it at the start of this article, but it’s worth saying again. No matter where you end up working, as long as you are doing good things for the right reasons, you will always be successful. Your IT education may not ever go farther than taking a class to learn to use common software like Microsoft Office. But if you devote some time to the IT skills we’ve discussed, then you’ll be more likely to achieve success in any profession.