I take a lot of pride in my work as an information technology professional. Not in just my technical abilities but also the other skills that I believe make myself a better-rounded person in my field. No longer can IT experts sit in a dark room looking at console screens or writing code alone – oblivious to the business and only focused on the technology. Every IT professional must possess non-technical skills as well – bridging the gap between IT and business.
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my career is to become very familiar with the industry you work in. Since I’ve been out of the Army, most of my IT experience has been in the financial services sector, working for a loan servicing company and three different banks. Banking IT has its challenges and presents unique scenarios compared to other industries with many federal and state laws and regulations to follow, plus the required training all staff has to go through.
One such example is that all banking employees must know what the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) is and why it’s important (especially for those of us working for a bank in the I-10 corridor). The BSA is legislation used to combat money laundering and tax evasion, and lately used to detect other types of fraudulent activities. You’re probably wondering, why does an IT professional at a bank need to know about anti-fraud measures done at a branch? I certainly have never worked as an auditor, BSA investigator, or in compliance. However, my knowledge with BSA and similar regulations and procedures gave me credibility beyond “the IT guy” and allowed me to better understand their business goals, challenges and vision.
Think about it this way, just as you would expect information security to be everyone’s responsibility and not just IT’s responsibility, so would reporting suspicious activity and knowing the proper way to do so. Things like this become everyone’s responsibility. Additionally it ensures that everyone has the right mindset to achieve a common business goal.
AN IT SEAT AT THE BUSINESS TABLE
What other benefits can you expect from being a well-rounded IT professional?
1. It helps to know at least some of the processes other teams in your organizations do. You certainly want to be part of the discussions when a department is looking at a new software product or suite. This is especially important to avoid “Shadow IT” practices. Last thing you want is for a business unit to acquire a software product without your knowledge and expect you to support it.
2. Knowing your industry helps to show you and your team bring value to the company rather than just being seen as another cost center. An IT department actively engaged and in line with company goals and values shows their value tremendously.
3. Finally you gain the confidence and respect of your non-IT peers. Many employees feel intimidated by IT for many reasons. Even with a more technically inclined workforce and with IT looked to as a business enabler, they still have to enforce standards and regulations . Bringing in the more human element through personal skills helps your fellow coworker in contributing to the success of the team than be “that guy”.
If draconian policies resort to your coworkers having to pass customers signs for help, you may want to reconsider.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Being a well-rounded IT professional is vastly more than being tech-savvy. It’s more than just knowing the industry you work in. A well-rounded IT professional has the technical ability, business acumen, and personal skills to help demonstrate the value information technology brings to any business. Regardless of your role in an IT department, it can help you tremendously in your career to build those additional skills.
Developing these skills takes time, patience, practice and one can even take training. It takes very good managers, even those who aren’t even your direct supervisor, to help hone in those skills. If you manage others, you should take the time to mentor junior staff to ensure that they develop beneficial skills alongside technical skills to help them do their job. If you’re just starting out, don’t be afraid to ask others. In fact, there are many resources on the internet to get advice. While some are critical of social media, I’ve found LinkedIn to be a good source of information. At Sparkhound, the majority of our staff, including myself have been trained on a number of these skills. Even someone such as myself who has been doing this for a long time can always learn something new.
As IT becomes more consumerized and the workforce becomes exposed more to the technology we take for granted, the days of never interacting with users is over. Everyone in the IT department from CIO to helpdesk tech will be expected to communicate with people in other parts of the business.