In IT, it's all too easy to focus on technology, certifications and vendors to the exclusion of the human element. This undervalued component has become more important as the idea of the team has come into prominence; even technology and training often take a back seat to team fit nowadays. This means that project success and career development have become increasingly dependent on the ability to develop IT soft skills for the workplace.
Softs skills are central
The challenge of virtualization is no longer in the backroom; it has taken center stage with both infrastructure customers and upper management. Virtual admins have several different groups they need to talk to, and each audience has different needs, concerns and focuses.
Despite the vast number of tips and tricks that might be available online, the only practical method to develop soft skills in IT is to focus on offline social interaction. Though this can seem intimidating, choosing where you interact can make it easier. Local technology user groups are ideal. VMware User Group (VMUG), for instance, has chapters in every state and most countries. These events are typically free and are an ideal opportunity to learn and network with like-minded people on a variety of topics related to virtualization. These group events allow you to mix with peers, management, business owners and vendors in larger-format events designed for networking and education.
Find your peers
While the VMUG events are more formally organized, there are also casual events. Both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have user groups scheduled through Meetup, a website that helps people with similar interests gather together. These often occur at local businesses or restaurants and are designed to mix education and networking. At any of these events, the goal is to interact with and talk to other admins, as well as to share stories and learn from others' experiences. This is an ideal chance to broaden your knowledge in a safe and familiar peer group. The contacts you make at these events can not only help you with what you're facing today, they can also help you with your career path tomorrow. Beyond networking, you might also be able to find a mentor. These folks are often willing to provide career guidance, advice and other valuable information.
Focus on the needs of each audience
To apply these developing IT soft skills, keep in mind the different audiences you must target. The application owners have some knowledge of infrastructure, but the key focus for them is its impact on their applications. You need to present them with enough technical information for them to not feel out of the loop, but not so much that you lose them in the details. Focus on what's most valuable to them -- their applications. Structure your discussions and listening around this, keep them engaged and show them you have genuine concern for their pain points. To start, let them do the talking. Your first job is to take notes and listen, which gives you the chance to understand what they're going through.
When addressing management, stay out of the weeds on technical details unless prompted to do so. They want to understand the impact of what you're doing and mostly in regard to the bottom line. The numbers aspect tends to weigh heavily, and you need to quickly deliver that information. Often, this audience is looking at the big picture, so you need to be ready for that and, again, let them drive the conversation.
It's critical to develop IT soft skills for personal and professional success. In today's feverishly connected world, the simple acts of listening, holding a conversation and understanding are more important than ever before. If you don't have these skills, it's time to get them; if you already have them, it's time to brush up on them.
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