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
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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.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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