Top Skills Your IT People Should Possess

    April 4, 2003

In this issue, we will take a look at the most desirable characteristics of your IT employees.

1). A willingness to learn IT is an ever evolving field. What was common practice six months or a year ago is not necessarily the best way to complete the task at hand now.

Encourage your staff to read. Most good IT people will rarely be caught without a book; or at least documentation that they have downloaded and are looking at on their computer. Try to allocate some time to your staff so that they can stay abreast of issues pertaining to their area(s) of expertise.

There are many sites that offer free advice and tutorials. Encourage your staff to look and learn. Encourage them to participate in forums related to their particular responsibilities. Ideally, you will even provide (older or deprecated) machines to them for testing in “sandbox” situations.

2). Good communications skills Simply because a person has the ability to perform the technical aspects of their position does not make them ideally suited for that position. Without good communications skills, even the most technologically skilled employees will not be able to efficiently support end users or assist in team projects.

Keep in mind that most end users are not stupid. When they call the help desk, they simply do not have the technical knowledge that they need to perform the task at hand. Someone who cannot communicate the solution to these users is not only not helping the user, but adding to the workload of the IT staff (because these users will still need to resolve the problem).

3). Patience Patience is a virtue; and that is probably more true in IT than any other field on the planet. I have seen more mistakes made by people who are in such a rush to get the job done that it gets done incorrectly and as a result has to be done again. Doing the same job twice is not just a waste of time, but an incredible waste of money.

The other side of this coin is, don’t pressure your staff so much that they are forced to rush. Rushing leads to mistakes and mistakes can contribute more to your costs than hardware and software combined. Downtime often costs businesses more money than any other single factor of doing business and downtime is usually the direct result of rushing.

IT people also need patience with those that they support. The most successful support personnel are those who can teach their end users rather than just fixing the problem. To do this, however, requires patience and good communication skills.

4). Genuine Interest Do your employees’ eyes light up when you ask them about a project that they are working on? They should. They should be eager to discuss the details of what they are doing. You should also express an interest in what they are doing. I don’t mean just from a supervisor’s perspective, either. Try to establish a rapport with your subordinates. It will make your life easier.

It has been my experience that there exist two types of IT people. The first group encompasses those that enjoy what they do and are always looking forward to a challenge. This is the ideal attitude in an employee.

The second group is made up of those that got into IT for the money or whatever. Either way, their heart is not in it. This type of employee will end up costing you in the long run.

Of course, this attitude may only exist because an employee is dissatisfied with certain aspects of their job. Talk to them, find out why they don’t seem to care. It may be something as simple as giving them new responsibilities, or it may be something “terminal”.

Regardless, don’t start firing employees because they seem disinterested in what they do, try to make them interested. That way, if it doesn’t work out you will at least feel justified in letting them go. You also will not present your other employees with the wrong image of yourself.

5). Resourcefulness This is probably one of the most important categories in this list. Resourceful employees are hard to come by, but are worth the time it takes to find them.

These are employees who do not need questions answered more than once. These are employees who know where to look to find the answers that they are looking for. These are the people who take the resources that they have to find a solution for the problem at hand.

6). Knowledge Let’s face it, this one is pretty much a given, but it does deserve to be mentioned. After all, what good is an IT staff that does not know what they are doing?

There are many ways to determine the knowledge of a potential employee. They may possess college degrees or certifications. This is a start, but I hardly recommend basing a hiring decision on that. It is too easy to get a certification or even a degree without having any applicable knowledge at all. These are useful for getting the candidate a first interview – no more, no less.

Some of the best webmasters I have ever met have never set foot in a college and they possess no certifications. What they do have are answers. During an interview, have an experienced person sit in to ask more technical questions.

Often times a portfolio will tell more about a potential IT employee than anything else. If you are hiring network engineers, have them bring infrastructure diagrams and ask them questions about them. For coders, take a look at some of their source code. Is it well formed and well documented or is it “spaghetti code”? Have web designers bring some web pages that they have designed. You can fit an enormous site on a single CD; have them do it.

7). Experience Experience ties in very closely to knowledge; after all, where else would the knowledge come from?

I would rather have an experienced coder working for me than 10 MCSDs fresh out of a boot camp. Not to say that a certification carries no weight, only that the weight it carries should be balanced against experience. A certification is supposed to provide proof of knowledge (although with the ‘brain dumps’ that are all over the Internet, they may provide more proof of memorization than knowledge).

There is no substitute for hands on experience. Think about it. You could read a thousand books about automobiles. You could know everything that there is to know about an automobile; that is, except for one thing. You are never going to know how to drive it until you actually do; and even then it takes practice to become good at it. IT is one of those fields that is very similar to automobiles, in this respect. You may have the knowledge, but with no experience you still have a lot to learn.

Conclusion. I hope that this article helps to shed some light on what can be a confusing and controversial topic. IT people are very different from those of most other professions, and, as a result, more is expected of them. Keep in mind that all of the certifications, knowledge, and experience are useless if the person in question has no people skills. If you are an IT person, I hope that this article has given you some ideas about how you can improve yourself, professionally.

Jay Fougere is the IT manager for the iEntry network. He also writes occasional articles. If you have any IT questions, please direct them to