What Skills Will IT Staff Need Most in the Future?

Technologists need a blend of hard and soft skills to climb the corporate ladder.

September 20, 2010

As we look to the future, what skills will information technology (IT) professionals need to succeed?

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineI’m not a futurist. But 25 years of experience gives me a history of skills that were necessary in the 20th century and a perspective on what skills will be necessary in the 21st century.

Skills are often grouped into “hard” and “soft” skills. Hard skills are specific and teachable abilities. For the IT developer, learning and developing Web-based skills will be increasingly important.

Beyond core languages, learning one or all of the big three development systems (.NET, Java, and PHP) will be essential. Organizations are looking to streamline costs and transfer costs to more efficient channels, such as remote channels. This means that more product and process innovations will be done via the Web.

Learning and knowing Web development tools, HTML, and Javascript will help you and your credit union succeed. Understanding and being able to create Web services will be vitally important, even if you’re not writing Web applications.

Mobile development has become increasingly important. So add mobile development to your skill set.

Soft skills

Soft skills, sometimes known as “people skills,” are personal attributes that enhance an individual's interactions, job performance, and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which tend to be specific to a certain type of task or activity, soft skills are broadly applicable.

I believe there are three skills that separate good IT staff from the great: problem-solving, collaboration, and critical-thinking skills. I have worked with people possessing these skills and they’ve been successful at any IT level, from programming to senior management.

The visibility of IT within and outside the organization continues to be important. More developers and IT leaders are being brought into nondevelopment meetings to provide their insights and consultative guidance.

IT people who have the desire to move from geek (we’ll always need them) to a management role must be able to increase their soft skills in listening, learning, communicating, and collaborating.

In “Leaders Make the Future,” author Bob Johansen describes new skills leaders should embrace. Three stand out, in my view, namely:

1. Maker instinct: The ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.
2. Immersive learning ability: The ability to learn in unfamiliar environments. Setting time aside to continuously learn is critical.
3. Rapid prototyping: The ability to create quick, early versions of innovation with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Some have referred to this as “small bets.”

Lastly, a word for the chief information officer/chief technology officer (which includes myself): Ask for opportunities and assignments outside IT. The knowledge gained by working in different business functions will only help you and your organization.

If that isn’t possible, spend time job shadowing and taking a genuine interest in others' work. It will only add to your knowledge and credibility as a business partner.

RUDY PEREIRA is senior vice president/technology for $7.3 billion asset Alliant Credit Union in Chicago and chair of the CUNA Technology Council. Contact him at 773-462-2147.