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Making it in IT: IT Skills That Get You Hired

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

About a month ago, editorial director Barry Gerber forwarded me a link to an Information Week story about a set of seven IT skills that its author presents as essential add-ons to any IT professional’s “tool belt,” as she put it. In this week’s blog I present her picks and add a few of my own, while also mulling over a rationale to help you pick and choose amongst them.

As somebody who’s on the hook for regular blog content, I’ve learned to appreciate the general utility of stories that, like this week’s blog focus, report on less time- and event-sensitive information. When there’s nothing else to write about, you can always turn to any of a number of evergreen topics and “Bam!” you’ve knocked off this week’s post, column, or other recurring writing duty. That’s why I’m always relieved whenever any of the Tom’s editorial staff sends me an email that says “take a look at this” or “maybe you’d like to write about this” as regards this blog. This time, I’m also getting something of a monkey off my back, because Tom's IT Pro's editorial director Barry Gerber asked me to take a look at this Information Week story by Deb Donston-Miller entitled 7 IT Skills Help You Get Hired more than a month ago, and I’m just now finding the “round tuit” necessary to check this one off my to-do list.

The basic premise of the story is a familiar one -- namely, an annotated list of topics, technologies, and skills that IT professionals should read, heed, and possibly even dig into and master, to help boost their career prospects and profiles. And in looking Ms. Donston-Miller’s list over, I must say I can find very little to find fault with, so here goes.

1. Big Data Analytics

If the number of mentions and the amount of computer trade press coverage is any indication , big data is indeed a big deal. And with companies like SAS, IBM, Oracle, EMC, and others all now offering big data certifications of one kind or another, there are lots of interesting ways to start digging into this burgeoning area of computing and data analysis.

2. Mobile Management

In this brave new world of BYOD computing, IT professionals must work with mobile devices and platforms ready or not and even like it or not. This means understanding mobile security, remote access for mobile devices, working with a broad range of sanctioned and unsanctioned mobile apps, and more. For most IT pros this means working with one or more mobile device management (MDM) platforms, as well as digging into mobile application management (MAM) tools.

3. App Savvy

More mobility is spurring an explosion in the use of mobile apps, with an unlimited appetite for more and more of them. At a minimum, IT folks must understand how to manage apps for end users, and perhaps even get involved in building or tweaking new apps for specialized uses. There’s lots of work here, which means as much opportunity as headaches for IT pros in the future. Those who learn how to integrate popular mobile app front ends with important enterprise back ends (such as ERM, databases, Hadoop, and so forth) will be well-positioned to blaze new paths of glory at work.

4. Social Skills

No, we’re not talking chit-chat and wheeling and dealing here: this is about working with social media tools and platforms. IT professionals need to understand what these platforms can do, how they work, and learn how to mitigate and manage their security profiles. In addition to all the major platforms – such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so forth – this also means keeping an eye out for up-and-coming platforms as well (Donston-Miller mentions Vines in this context). In particular, IT pros need to learn how to find the “sweet spot” where social media and business goals and objectives intersect, and provide useful news and information to followers without descending into crass commercialism or advertorials.

5. Marketing

Donston-Miller makes the interesting case here that marketing is a soft skill and that, even in IT operations that remain cost centers, consumers of IT services – especially upper management, and departmental managers – must be the focus of marketing efforts from IT to justify their continuing funding (and existence). There’s also the notion that supporting social media inevitably means supporting marketing messages and promotions. I can buy this to some extent, but know plenty of hard-core IT types who will respond “Not my thing” to this suggestion.

6. Policy Development

Donston-Miller is talking user policies where she says “IT pros shouldn’t be the sole authors of acceptable use policy, but they should certainly be at the proverbial table as that policy is hashed out and written.” I guess is goes without saying that those same IT pros will most often be called upon to invoke and enforce such policies, when and as those actions become necessary. I’m not sure this is going to be much of a hit with IT pros, either, but I agree with her that this stuff is more important than it seems.

7. Security

Everybody knows that IT pros are on the frontlines here, and Donston-Miller makes the point that a proactive stance nearly always beats a reactive one. This truly remains a hot spot for IT, one where certifications abound, and job opportunities along with them.

What’s missing from this list you might wonder? I’m surprised that we don’t see something from the cloud/virtualization/VDI patch here, given that it’s becoming the nexus for IT implementations and deployments for companies and organizations of all sizes and scales. This also embraces lots of other important supporting specialties from high-speed networking and infrastructure, to Carrier Ethernet, to storage and content management. All of these areas are also important, and all worth pondering and learning more about.

I’m a little puzzled by the intent of the story, too. While it’s inarguable that all of the items she suggests have some value to IT professionals, the mix is wide and diverse enough that I don’t see any IT pro’s toolbelt with more than two or three of these items attached. To try to tackle more would be spreading oneself too thin, methinks.

My recommendation in chewing upon stories like this one is to remember that you have to find a set of professional competencies where your own interests, current and future employability, and actual work (a job, that is) all intersect. It’s a great idea to let your interests guide you into one or more of these areas, but you must also find a way to put your skills and knowledge to work. Without the real world experience to really understand these things, they can’t but remain “thought experiments.” So find your weird, and then practice, practice, practice it if you want to ride your interests into meaningful and remunerative work.

Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the , who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

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