How to Be Successful in an IT Career: 7 Essential Skills

Jennifer Deming Burnham

What does it take to create a successful career in an IT field? What does it take for that success to endure for a 40-year career? We asked members of our Druva All-Star customer group — who have an average of 14 years working in IT in high-profile roles in global companies — about the requirements and skills that helped them become indispensable.

To thrive as an IT leader requires hard work and a wealth of hands-on, firefighting experience. But successful leaders also credit “soft skills” and the right mindset as vital for navigating the ever-changing dynamics of business and technology.

Below are 7 essential skills of long-tenured IT leaders. Take a scan down the list. Do you have what it takes for the long haul? What traits do you need to future-proof your career?

  1. Technical acumen. You do have to know what you’re talking about. Deep expertise with technical tools and protocols is the starting point for anyone successful in IT (or, we like to think, any other profession). “Required” skills run the gamut and include programming skills, multiple OS familiarity, cybersecurity, strong networking and firewall skills, and IT architectural skills. Several of these IT professionals stressed knowing more than one technology (e.g. comfortable in programming using anything from Fortran to batch scripts). The more technical acumen you have, the sharper your edge over your colleagues, which makes you more valuable.
  2. Hands-on Experience. Experience and technology exposure is the shiniest parts of your resume. Aim to become a “jack of all trades,” able to do a little bit of every aspect of IT. Do the work that’s in front of you. By diving in, you can gain new technical areas of expertise without formal training, and you’ll have a lot to teach others on your team.
  3. Always Be Learning. Whether it’s studying for CCNA certification, taking programming classes, or reading technology newsletters and blogs (like say, this one; did we mention you can subscribe?), the “indispensable” IT pros keep up with rapidly-changing technologies. Embrace the movement to the cloud. Get and maintain certifications. Go to conferences; read white papers, articles, and technical documentation; participate in online communities. Staying on top of current technologies involves a lot of reading, but the more you do so, the easier it becomes to be a quick study.
  4. Organizational IQ. Networking means something entirely different here. You may know your way around a router, but how about the company org chart? Organizational knowledge and savvy to influence across departments is an important element. Learn to network with other people in your organization and outside it. As one All-Star said, “Non-technical skills are what allow me to excel and succeed over my colleagues.”
  5. Empathy. Communication skills, initiative, drive, compassion, and empathy for end-user problems are skills that help your company the most. This means relating to people without alienating them or making them feel stupid. It means listening to customers, and always trying to go “above and beyond” what is expected of you — whether it’s for your boss or for a customer. Create delight and joy in whatever you build.
  6. Understand the business. A great IT leader translates between IT and business language, and has good project management skills to get the job done and to stay focused on business priorities. A bit of training as an economist doesn’t hurt either (at least, according to one IT leader).
  7. Project management. Effective leadership, people management, and teamwork skills can make all of the difference for someone in an IT role. And don’t forget to mentor others along with you! The connections you make across skill levels pays off over time.

Thank you to the All-Star members who responded to our questions about their secrets to IT career success.

For the rest of us, ask yourself these same questions. What superpower keeps you indispensable in your chosen role? Which of these do you most need to develop?