What skills will help you get ahead in tech?

By | September 19, 2016

The number of jobs in technology continues to grow with every passing year. There’s huge demand for specific skills that’s not being met. For example, right now there are one million cybersecurity job openings worldwide, according to Cisco. We tend to focus on the technical experience and accreditation that people can pick up, whether it’s a course on Microsoft Azure or more JIRA expertise, but there are other ways to get ahead in tech.

Tech pros obviously need specific expertise, or hard skills, to do an effective job. But when it comes to catching the eye of a CIO and securing a new position or promotion, there are a couple of other areas worth working on. A recent survey of more than 2,500 CIOs in 25 metropolitan areas by Robert Half Technology revealed that soft skills are highly sought after and a vital ingredient for career advancement.

Survey says soft skills are vital

CIOs were asked about what areas technology professionals could use the most improvement in. The top answer, with 28%, was communication skills, including written, interpersonal and face-to-face. That was followed by problem-solving skills on 21%, and work ethic on 18%.

When the same CIOs were asked about what skills were most important for career advancement, the results told a similar story. This time the top answer was problem-solving skills on 26%, but communications skills was a close second on 25%, and work ethic came in third again on 18%.

The message here is loud and clear – if you want that promotion, or you see yourself in a leadership role one day, then you had better work on your soft skills.

Communication skills

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Software developers and IT workers are often portrayed as socially inept. The stereotype is that they’re more at home with hardware than people. It’s important to dispel that perception if you want to boost your career chances. The ability to communicate well and effectively has obvious advantages in terms of work efficiency, but it’s also about building relationships and trust. Career advancement isn’t just about what you know. Rightly or wrongly, it’s also about who you know and how well you get on with them.

The good news is that it’s easy to work on your communication skills – you get opportunities every day. Strike up conversations with co-workers. Go to someone’s desk or pick up the phone, instead of sending an email. Take advantage of work-related social activities and attend networking events in your spare time.

Workshops and courses can provide concrete guidelines for improving your written or verbal communication skills. Even starting to think about body language, eye contact, and how to explain information clearly can help you make positive changes. Most importantly, remember to listen to the other person. Don’t get distracted. Always show that you’ve actually taken in what they’re telling you.

Problem-solving skills

Going to your boss with problems, gives the impression that you have no problem-solving skills. At the very least, you need to present potential solutions. But wherever possible you should go ahead and solve problems yourself. You don’t want to overstep your authority, but showing that you can find solutions and enact them will definitely boost your standing.

Problem-solving is another skill that you have daily opportunities to improve. It’s important to look beyond the symptoms and try to think about the root cause. Don’t get stuck in busy work fire-fighting the same issues over and over if there’s a way to stop them at the source. Try to define the problem, identify different ways to solve it and then test them out to find out what works.

Work ethic

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Showing a strong work ethic often comes down to attitude. If you finish one piece of work, you don’t have to wait to be assigned something new. Take responsibility and pitch in wherever you can add value. Think about how to improve processes and work efficiency.

It’s also important to be accountable for the work you do. Throwing blame around, or doing a specific task and feeling like you can throw it over the wall and forget it, is the wrong attitude. You should feel a sense of collective responsibility for the final quality of whatever you’re making and take an interest in it beyond your contribution.

Another way to build all of these skills and improve your chances of getting ahead is to find a mentor. Look for someone in your network who has reached the position you covet. Ask them to guide you and teach you what to work on.

Ultimately, technical ability is always going to be important. But you have to mix in strong interpersonal skills and a sense for the business side of things if you want to go as far as you possibly can.

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About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced freelance technology journalist covering mobile technology, software, and videogames for a wide variety of clients in print and online. He regularly contributes to Digital Trends, Tech Radar, and Android Authority, and he ghostwrites for CEOs in the technology space. After completing a Masters in Scottish History at Edinburgh University, he began his career as a games tester, progressing to lead tester, game designer, and finally producer, before leaving the industry to write full time. He is passionate about the potential for good software and hardware to improve our lives, and strongly believes that thorough testing is a vital prerequisite for greatness.