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New IT job requirements include soft skills, business acumen

In the constantly changing world of information technology, business acumen and soft skills have become as essential to finding and securing a job as technical skills.

Information technology will never be static. Instead, it's a shifting landscape shaped by new technologies. It should come as no surprise, then, that the IT job market is in a similar state of flux and that professionals must adapt in order to meet IT job requirements and stay relevant. Traditionally, this means regularly updating your technical skill set by taking specialized training courses, acquiring certifications, learning new programming languages, testing out new technologies and, in some cases, pursuing an advanced degree.

However, experts note that the market has begun to place greater value on nontraditional skills. Many companies now expect potential employees to have some level of experience in -- or at least a general understanding of -- the business side in addition to the usual IT job requirements.

When it comes to the job hunt, these expectations can prove daunting for novices and seasoned pros alike. The best way to get a competitive edge is to arm yourself with the right knowledge, training and attitude.

Taking care of business

Business-IT alignment isn't a new concept; it's long been understood that equilibrium between business objectives and IT requirements is crucial to the success of any enterprise. In the past, it was the responsibility of business executives and upper-level administrators to maintain this equilibrium. Nowadays, executives expect lower-level IT employees to get in on the game as well, and this shift has further broken the barriers between business and IT.

"The IT person is becoming less silo-focused," said Mike Matchett, senior analyst & consultant at the Taneja Group. "The theory is that IT folks will [have to] become more business-oriented and be able to focus more time on the application. They'll become more able to have a conversation with business folks."

I believe an organization with well-versed generalists can augment one another in a much stronger fashion than many subject matter experts.
Larry Smith, Jr.DevOps engineer at Verizon Telematics

If IT professionals are more aware of business objectives -- particularly long-term enterprise financial and customer service goals -- they'll be better equipped to optimize the applications and IT processes that support the business, Matchett said.

This perspective reflects the growing emphasis on DevOps in the IT industry. By acquiring firsthand knowledge, IT folks can create a bridge between developers and users, expediting the process of delivering valuable applications and services.

As a recent job applicant, Larry Smith, Jr., now a DevOps engineer at Verizon Telematics, found himself putting much of this job hunting advice to the test. As he transitioned from the role of virtualization engineer to DevOps engineer, he found the idea of specific job titles limiting, as they gave him a false sense of what his skills actually are.

"I believe an organization with well-versed generalists can augment one another in a much stronger fashion than many subject matter experts," Smith said.

Broadening your horizon outside of your IT silo helps foster a desire to learn and teach, benefitting both the employee and the enterprise in the long term, he said.

Soft skills and new technology influences

This philosophy of better understanding and communication isn't unique to the DevOps sphere. Another recent trend in the IT job market is the importance of soft skills. Soft skills, such as problem solving and the ability to work well with a team, have always been essential to the success of enterprises, and many IT companies now define exactly what soft skills they want in a potential employee. Amazon has a list of 14 Leadership Principles designed to ensure both a quality customer experience and to outline a path for an employee's upward mobility. This idea was born out of Amazon's need for natural leaders, said IT architect and consultant, Mike Pfeiffer.

"[It] doesn't necessarily mean that everybody is going to end up being a VP," Pfeiffer said, "but it does mean that the software or maybe the support engineer on the frontlines can -- if they come up with a cool idea -- file a patent."

Just because business and soft skills have become more important doesn't mean that technical skills have fallen to the wayside. With new technology shaping the data center, it goes to reason that containers, microservices and cloud computing are also shaping the job market and IT job requirements. Many of these technologies are leading to a greater abstraction from physical infrastructure, and "infrastructure people will have to start thinking more like developers" in order to keep up, Pfeiffer said.

Preparing for your future in IT

Training for the job of your dreams is as important now as ever, and vendors have made it easy to acquire the necessary skills to meet IT job requirements through certification. VMware has a number of certification tracks that cater to the candidate's skill level and field of interest, including the VMware Certified Professional and VMware Certified Associate certifications, and Microsoft has exams covering everything from entry-level IT to expert-level administrative skills.

Certifications certainly aren't the only way to boost your resume. Job applicants should keep an eye on emerging technical areas.

"[IT professionals should be] making sure they understand big data, making sure they understand machine learning and making sure they understand new technologies -- from containers to things like Spark, SQL databases, graph databases and so on," Matchett said. Hacking and programming skills are also essential to anyone looking to break into the industry, he said.

While the most obvious method for learning these technologies would be to enroll in a training course to even pursue upper-level education, it also helps to think outside the box. Social media is a powerful tool to establish connections within the industry and acquire knowledge. Workers of all skill levels should subscribe to a platform that makes updates easy to digest, such as an RSS feed, Pfeiffer said. Joining different groups on LinkedIn or Facebook and tracking hashtags on Twitter can also help you stay abreast of daily updates.

Find the job that's right for you

The key to finding a truly rewarding position is, according to Smith, to look for a company whose goals closely align with your personal goals, one that will push you outside your comfort zone and will continue to challenge your own personal skills.

This final point really resonates because, if there's one thing that's certain in IT, it's that if you slow down, you get left behind. The biggest mistake any IT professional can make is to assume she is done learning.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2016

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