The softer side of ICT

Mosima Selekisho, director at Talent AfricaIT professionals need to keep on learning and developing their skills, and soft skills are as much a part of this as the technical ones.

The demand for IT technical skills varies from organisation to organisation, but there is a common thread among them – a need for soft skills. “This isn’t new. For many years, companies have tried to bridge the communications gap between developers, or programmers, and end-users,” says Rick Parry, MD of AIGS. “Bear in mind that skills can be learned, while attitudes can’t. Managers need to look beyond technical competence and experience from employees, and look more closely at the way they think and behave.”

There is a mixture of skills needed to produce top-of-the-line products and run an effective business that involve both people and technology, he says. “People don’t always agree, and reaching a consensus can take some time. Technical staff who have good people skills, and can put their egos aside, can find a common ground to ensure there is a consensus on goals, outcomes and projects.”

Being able to communicate effectively, which involves reading, speaking and writing, will always be an invaluable skill, says Richard Firth, MD of MIP Holdings. “Thousands of really good ideas for IT projects have been shelved because they were poorly communicated. The ability to explain issues succinctly, walk people through solutions, and delegate tasks to the appropriate team is crucial.

“In business, we often see that experts isolate themselves to jealously guard their areas of expertise. Those who learn to be team players are worth their weight in gold. The value of knowledge sharing to any business is well known, however, too much of the knowledge within a company remains unshared. Good team players will facilitate knowledge sharing within their organisations and boosts their competitive advantage by leveraging the collective knowledge of all staff,” says Firth.

Linked to this point, says Parry, is teaching and mentoring. “Techies who have the ability to train users in the use of new applications are highly valuable. If they can work side-by-side with less technical users, giving them support and providing mentoring, even better. They can be used as a resource for internal IT, because true IT learning only happens on the job. Core to being a good mentor is the ability to listen, to be patient and have a willingness to share. These skills can be taught.”

Flexibility and the ability to see shades of grey are also valuable skills, Parry notes. “Too often, there is no right or wrong answer, but there is the need to accommodate everyone involved. Being able to grasp and articulate the issue, and communicate with stakeholders to solve it, are vital to limiting time wasted when projects suffer setbacks.”

Fast tracking
Presentation skills are also very useful for IT professionals. “These days, presentations are not only the purview of the business team. Working in technology means you might well need to speak to large groups of individuals, be it presenting an idea for a project, heading up a training session, or speaking of your team’s accomplishments to those higher up in the business. At other times, the IT department may be needed to assist with other departments’ presentations,” adds Parry.

IT professionals who want to succeed need to keep on learning, developing their skills and pushing themselves, and soft skills are as much a part of this as the more technical ones. “It’s impossible to relax, because technology and life never do. Having a desire to continually learn and understand not only how all the new technology works, but how you can work better with those around you will help fast-track your career.”

Some jobs offer more exciting projects, greater challenges and better perks than others. Some are better stepping stones when planning a career path that will lead to a top job down the line.

“Ambitious IT practitioners might have a management role in mind, others may want to be known as innovators, or as top of their game technically. Depending on the desired outcome, there are different ways to carve a path to that place, and different skills to focus upon. Just make sure the softer skills aren’t forgotten, or that climb to the top may take a whole lot longer,” concludes Parry.

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