3 Reasons Why People Skills Are Important to Your IT Career

In the world of IT, I think it goes without saying that you need to have some technical skills in order to have a good career in the field. How many technical skills? Well, that depends on what position you are currently overseeing. However, a different type of skill set which is equally as important to have, but everyone seems to have forgotten about, are people skills. Let me give you three reasons why people skills are so important to your IT career.

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

First, management generally doesn’t like employees who can’t work with others. Yes, do understand that if an employee has exceptional technical skills, management will have to keep him/her for those highly technical tasks that only he/she can do. But the question would be, for how long? Depending on how difficult it is to work with this person, sooner or later management will always come up with the idea to “cross train” the rest of the team to ensure that more than one person can perform his/her difficult tasks. Now, I’m not saying that management will eventually fire this highly technical but difficult to work with person. Well, unless he or she is really difficult to work with, then yes, they will ultimately fire them.  Most of the time management will likely keep them around, however, the recognition will likely go to someone else, to a person who can learn to be technical and yet, is easy to work with.  And if this person is pleasant to work with, guess who is going to get the next promotion?

Second, great tasks are rarely accomplished alone. Promotions and salary aside, for those who actually like their jobs working in the IT field and want to accomplish something great, well, you can’t do it alone. If all the projects that you’ve done so far in your IT career were all done by yourself without any help from other people, perhaps you could dream bigger. Have you ever heard of a datacenter being built by one man, or a cloud service offering all managed by one very talented IT sys admin? Of course not. To accomplish something great, you need a good team to get it done.

Last but not least, for someone who has no people skills, he/she is for sure going to miss out. Miss out on what? Well, a whole lot – anything from technical information to information on how well or poorly the company is doing. If someone is not easy to work with, people around him are generally not going to volunteer information to “help” him out. That’s just human nature. If someone in the team just learned some latest and greatest, really cool way to manage the datacenter infrastructure, they for sure are not going to voluntarily share this information with the colleague who has no people skills. Unless the management were to mandate some kind of cross training, but even then, the information shared would likely be the bare minimum.

Besides technical information, people also know a lot about the state of the company. If you talk to just one person, you might not find out a whole lot, but if you talk with many people in the company, you can often put together how well or poorly the company is doing. For example, if you talk with a person in Sales, it is quite easy to find out how many deals the company has made this quarter. Or if you chat with the guy in Manufacturing, you’ll find out how many products your company has shipped. If you chat enough and with the right people, you’ll find out a whole lot about the company and gain a few good friends in the process. From these conversations, you might also find out some of the pain points people have regarding IT. If you are proactive about addressing these concerns, your end-user community will thank you and again give you a much better chance at your next promotion.

Allow me to give you an example to help  some of these concepts sink in. And trust me, once I point it out, I’m sure you’ll find some of these same folks working in your companies as well.

Several years ago, there was a highly technical sys admin that I had the displeasure of working with. This guy was not only difficult to work with, his attitude was just downright unacceptable. He talked to everyone as if they were below him and no one could measure up to his technical expertise. He thought he was smart to withhold critical technical information and refused to cross train anyone on the team in order to protect his own job security. I would have never hired this guy, but unfortunately for me, he was part of the team that I had inherited.

Well, it took me and our management team a few months to analyze and work out the situation. We understood that this individual was highly technical and quite valuable to the company, but ultimately due to his lack of respect for others and inability or unwillingness to work with others, we had to let him go. We actually had to hire two senior sys admins to replace this one guy and had to do a whole lot of reverse engineering to figure out the technical information that he had hid from us. But we did it. We fired the guy. And do you know how the rest of the team reacted? The entire team welcomed it. One guy even said to me, “It’s about time.” I know this example is a bit extreme, but it is a true story. What’s the moral of the story? Well, there are several. One, don’t count on your technical skills alone because there are always other technical folks out there who are just as good as you. Two, treat others with respect. Yes, work on your people skills and it will give you a better chance at your next promotion.

I hope you see how important people skills are to having a successful IT career. There are different aspects to people skills as well. How do you manage relationships with the people who report to you, people who are your peers and the people you report to? Come on back as I’ll be sharing more on these topics in the future.

-David H.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by Douglas:

    A big challenge for me is how to deal with such people in a manner that is pleasing to God.

  2. Comment by cheap jordan:

    Generally I do not learn post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thanks, very nice article.

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