6 must-have IT skills
Even in the hyperspecialized world of information technology, certain tech skills are essential across the board. Learn these six to gain an edge.
The skills required for technology jobs vary widely from one position to another, but are some technical skills worth acquiring, no matter what your area of expertise?
Absolutely. That’s clear from a review of Monster job ads for various technical positions. Listings for network engineers sometimes call for HTML skills. Help-desk jobs may require documentation skills. Programmers often need to know how networks operate. And just about any tech job may require proficiency in Microsoft Office.
Employers want techies who demonstrate versatility, says Matt Colarusso, branch manager of national recruiting and strategic accounts at IT staffing service Sapphire Technologies. “They're looking for a more well-rounded individual," he explains.
With that in mind, here are six must-have tech skills:
The quality assurance (QA) process is central to developing software and systems. While QA can be a job in and of itself, many organizations rely on developers, support professionals and others to handle QA. If you don’t know anything about it, you’re shortchanging your career prospects. “I think it’s important for every techie to have a sound QA background,” Colarusso says.
Producing documentation isn’t just for technical writers. Support professionals, coders and other IT workers must often document their processes and products for other technology pros, customers and nontechie colleagues. Techies with sharp documentation skills have an edge.
“The database is at the foundation of most software projects,” says Sergio Faissol, director of engineering at AdviceAmerica, a financial planning software company. Therefore, the more you learn about databases, the more you’ll be able to contribute to projects with databases at their center. Support professionals often field calls from nontechnical users about databases, while developers must often design software to work with databases.
Everything is connected, so if you don’t know the basics of networking -- and if you can’t even set up (and troubleshoot) your own Wi-Fi network -- then you need to familiarize yourself with networking essentials. Lacking knowledge about networks can be a red flag to potential employers. Colarusso says hiring managers have complained to him about programmers who know everything about coding but nothing about networks.
True, you may not be called upon to craft your company’s Web presence, but you never know when your department may need to create and post a Web page. Basic HTML is so easy to learn that not knowing it may raise eyebrows at Web-savvy tech shops.
You don’t know how to import an Excel worksheet? That can be trouble. “I find way too many techies don't have a broad enough knowledge of Microsoft Office," Colarusso says. Office is so pervasive that it makes sense to learn enough so that it’s not a barrier in the workplace, he says. After all, you never know when you’ll need to write technical specifications in Word or prepare a presentation in PowerPoint. “That’s really the most basic of basic skills,” he says.
The Bonus Skill
There’s one intangible that employers increasingly look for: Passion. That means conveying your excitement about the broad technology landscape and that you can see beyond your own sphere of the IT world, as well as your flexibility, desire and ability to explore new fields of technical knowledge when needed.
“Are you passionate about technology?” asks Jon Henshaw, Internet strategist for software firm Sitening. “If you don’t use RSS to track 20-plus techie blog/news sources, we worry about your dedication to Web development.”
Likewise, Henshaw’s company seeks techies who can do multiple things well. “If you only program in one language and you aren’t interested in other languages and/or frameworks, apply somewhere else,” he says.