Leadership & Business

The importance of ongoing professional development for IT professionals

QA's Learning Programme Director, Jill Shepherd, looks at the key skills that every IT professional would benefit from developing or brushing up on.

Whatever your IT background or skillset, your work as a technical manager or specialist will always be about technology and never be just about technology. Lately, people have started talking about perishable and durable skills. Perishable skills tend to be those that are technical and so become outdated as the technology moves on. Durable skills tend to be human skills and soft skills.

You need to be in control of your ongoing professional development. Sure, your expertise in IT is invaluable, but often, what really sets you apart in this industry is versatility. That means a tremendously successful IT professional will possess a range of diverse skills, including those not directly related to IT. Among other things, an IT professional should be business-savvy, adept with technology, a strong communicator and a good leader.

Yes, it is a lot. That's why it's important to refresh your skills and develop new ones through ongoing professional development.

Luckily, professional development courses are plentiful. And if you work in a large company, courses may be offered internally, by your workplace. Failing that, many employers regard professional development as important enough that they are willing to pay for an employee's extra courses or training.

Not sure what to take? The following are key skills that every IT professional would benefit from developing or brushing up on:

Leadership and Management

For most of us, understanding how to effectively work with others and manage a team isn't second nature. Luckily, courses in leadership and management are abundant and extremely handy to an IT professional.

For one thing, it's quite common in the sector for individuals to be promoted into managerial roles without leadership training. Taking matters into your own hands and acquiring some formal training in team-leading, delegation, motivation, influence, coaching etc. will serve you as you progress in your field.

Further, IT professionals need to be able to effectively manage people, to maintain IT excellence without having to do all the work yourself.

I recommend courses that focus on personality type and working style, like the Myers Briggs personality assessment indicator or the Strength Deployment Inventory™.

In IT you will have customers in different areas of business who will likely be less detail-oriented than you (because IT professionals tend to be!) and you need to learn to present information in a way they can understand.

Understanding personality theory and, for management especially, knowing how to recognise and draw out people's strengths can both earn you respect and ensure greater efficiency for your team.

Managing Technical Teams

Increasingly we work in teams. These tend to have some sort of technical bent if you are a technical specialist. Moving upwards in your career can require you to manage technical teams. Knowing how to motivate, how to coach along with some business and financial acumen is a way to make that role work for you and your company

Sales, marketing, operations

The clients you serve as an IT professional will inevitably be diverse, so staying up on all facets of business will prepare you to help any client in any industry.

By understanding the details of things like sales, marketing, manufacturing and the supply chain, you'll be able to provide better overall support.

Consider, then, taking a course on sales management, market research or supply and demand strategy.

Project Management and Agile practises

To broaden yourself go agile and or go Project Manage. Different change projects will require different approaches. Being versatile can mean knowing when and how to manage a project and when and how to manage an agile team where you fail fast.

Our QA perspective

Supplementary courses are a fantastic way to complement your existing skills or learn new ones.

If you don't have much spare time, or if your employer isn't willing to foot the bill for training, you can always check out online resources like webinars and industry conferences. Or, pick up books on relevant skills and squeeze in some extracurricular reading.

While all of this extra learning and professional development might seem like arduous extra work in the short term, the perspective and qualifications you will gain could very well get you more business in the long run.

So go forth and learn!

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