Ahead of the Curve: Tomorrow’s Mandatory Skills

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IT professionals’ proficiencies and experiences are their greatest assets in the ever-accelerating world of technology. When a field is gaining speed faster than professionals’ job roles and responsibilities, however, they must follow marketplace demands and technological advancements to identify how they can stay ahead of the technology curve to remain apace.

In today’s global marketplace, the skills for IT professionals primarily are driven by the worldwide recognition that technology propels business results.

“One of the major shifts we are seeing for technology professionals, if they want to make themselves more marketable in the coming years, is the general knowledge of the way a business works — the business acumen,” said Pete Langlois, branch manager, Robert Half Technology Jacksonville.

At its most fundamental level, business acumen includes understanding an organization’s business model and financial goals. For IT professionals, however, they should also understand how to be strategic business partners to make better business decisions regarding how technology could improve customer service, as well as the overall performance of their organizations. This requires IT pros to drop some of the technical jargon, however, and exercise business terminology when communicating with others.

“There is an expectation today that tech professionals will be able to work well in organizations and understand how their projects and technologies are facilitating the success of the business,” said Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice Inc. “In the past, there was a divide between the technology group and the rest of the business. However, this divide is breaking down because technology hits every function within an organization. It’s imbedded in every part of the organization. You need to be able to interact well and successfully with the business. For tech professionals to move on in their careers and get the best assignments and projects, they need to have that knowledge of their business, as well as be able to talk the business talk.”

Art Lavender, Robert Half Technology Jacksonville division director, said the acknowledgment that technology drives business results has boosted the need for business analysts, as well.

“The business analyst role — the true liaison between the technology department and the different business units — is in high demand because they pinpoint how to leverage technology to create efficiencies within the organization and for external customers,” Lavender said.

Moreover, this realization also has driven many organizations to perform upgrades on their systems and networks. Melland said five IT fields have shown exceptional growth as a result.

“If you were to look at Dice.com today, the majority of growth is coming in five core areas: programming, database administration, project management, systems administration and networking,” he said. “It’s really those five areas we have seen the most growth over the last five years, and those five areas are where we are going to see growth in the future.”

For the database administration field, Melland said Oracle DBAs and Microsoft SQL Server DBAs are the highest in demand. Lavender agrees that Microsoft SQL Server administration is a hot area, but he also said .NET is another area showing extraordinary growth. In addition, Melland said many organizations are also migrating to open-source technologies, Linux in particular. “Linux is one of the fastest-growing skill sets in demand on our Web site today,” he said.

Customer relationship management also is an area gaining momentum, Melland said. “Customers are driving the demand for project managers, which has definitely increased in a huge way — whether those customers are based out of agencies or corporate entities,” he said.

Lavender said customer satisfaction isn’t the only reason, though. “Many companies are pushing more and more to become Web-focused and Web-based not only to drive the business to customers, but also to drive how their internal employees work within different applications, report problems and get things done,” Lavender said. “This shift causes changes for systems development, more on the systems administration side with applications such as IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic Server, etc.”

Although these are merely projections as to tomorrow’s mandatory skills, IT professionals at all levels of proficiency should keep their eyes ahead of the technology curve to ensure longevity in the unpredictable field of information technology. Because if they don’t closely monitor the curve, professionals might find themselves on the shoulder of the road, just like roadkill.

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