IT Skills in the Trenches

I saw a great article on PCWorld the other day: 30 Skills Every IT Person Needs. I enjoy reading through lists like these, because it’s interesting to see what various people view as critical skills. There are a couple of these that particularly resonate with me.

2. Work the help desk.

As IT people (particularly managers) specialize in their given areas, there can be a gradual and often unintentional gravitation away from core, front-line support responsibilities. Certainly specialization tends to whittle away at some of the broad-based support skills as techies focus more on a particular area of interest. With specialization there can also be a loss of contact with the widest possible user base in an organization. Because of this I find it extremely valuable to keep working at some of the standard front-line issues. Whether it’s a printer problem or a permissions issue, this serves an important dual role. It helps me maintain an awareness of front line issues, and it keeps me in touch with the end-users, their needs and concerns. Of course this isn’t always possible, but I firmly believe that IT personnel should never allow themselves to become too far removed from the front lines. That first-hand knowledge and experience is just too valuable.

15. Work all night on a team project.

This is another item I believe to be particularly important for managers. We occasionally have projects (or situations) that I refer to as “all hands on deck” events. In these cases all department members – including student workers- pitch in with ideas, suggestions, planning, and hands-on work. As the PCWorld article mentions, these kinds of projects help build camaraderie among department members. Beyond that though, it reinforces the idea that managers should be personally involved in large, complicated projects. Rather than just adopting a “hold down the fort” or a Picard-esque “make it so” attitude as they walk out the door, the manager should set the expectation that late-night hours can be anyone’s responsibility. No one likes pulling an all-nighter, but the all-nighter CAN be a shared experience of success and accomplishment.