IT soft skills are in as much demand as ever

Soft skills in IT are more important than ever. Here are several key areas where CIOs want to see soft skills from their managers and their new hires.

"On the average, it takes about three years to develop a new hire into a seasoned technology professional in our environment," said Anthony Dolan, an IT Director at Depository Trust Clearing Corporation (DTCC). "We look for students that come to us very well prepared - not only in technology, but in the "soft skills" that you need to be successful."

Virtually every CIO I speak with agrees. People and other "soft" skills are needed in IT.

I saw this early in my career, when I was given a shot at a project management position I wanted-but only because everyone else on staff had said "no." The project was sinking. It was already one million dollars over budget, and had a customer who was threatening to sue the company and throw the project manager off a building! I knew this might be my only chance to prove that I could manage a project, so I took a deep breath and said I would do it.

I immediately saw that most of the project deliverables had been badly overpromised and that what had been delivered wasn't working. The only thing I could think to do was to level with the end user on the "true" state of the project and rebuild from there. The project's "new" beginning was shaky-but it was still a beginning.

I learned from the experience how important open communications, visibility and trust were. And that even if you couldn't deliver an immediate IT solution-if you could at least deliver information that gave your user the ability to show his management that he understood what was going on and what it was going to take to complete the project, there was value.

Today, these human interaction and soft skills areas are as much in demand in IT as they were ten years ago. It is why, when I talk with CIOs, that they point to several key areas where they want to see soft skills from their managers and their new hires. These skills areas are:

The ability to read, write, listen and speak-Most of us see these as "givens" when it comes to workplace professionals and college graduates-but they aren't. Especially in the technical disciplines like IT, there is a tendency to assume people always know what you're talking about, or to speak in technical jargon. Neither practice works well with end users and customers-and even with other IT staff members. The ability to always remember the human elements of any project—If you are tasked with managing a project, it is not enough to manage task charts and milestones. There is always a tendency for your top performers to overextend themselves to where they are physically and mentally exhausted.  End users might tell you that they are "alright" with project plans and schedules, but their body langue might reveal frustration that is not expressed. A perceptive project manager "reads" these signals and takes appropriate actions. The ability to collaborate-People need to feel that they are part of a solution. IT'ers who are able to cross-communicate with each other, and to make those they interact with feel like they are part of the team are an invaluable asset to their CIOs. Down the line, they often become CIOs themselves. This is why IT'ers who aspire to become CIOs should take career development courses in areas like team building and interpersonal interactions. The ability to provide visibility-Whether you are a junior member on an IT work team or a project manager, great communication and total visibility of what you are working on enhances the work and trust of everyone around you.


Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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