If you want to make it big in tech, these are the skills you really need

IT skills are more important than ever, but in today's rapidly-changing industry, you'll need more than just coding talent.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor
Image: MoMo Productions/Getty

As work and the workplace go digital, employees with technical know-how find themselves at a distinct advantage when it comes to moving their careers forward – regardless of what industry they work in.

There are numerous factors at play here: the growth of automation, for example, means that machines and software are now able to replace routine, low-skilled tasks on factory floors and in the back office. The normalization of hybrid and remote working also means that the rules of work have changed, as have the tools and software employees interact with on a daily basis. To remain productive while working remotely or asynchronously with their colleagues, employees need a certain degree of tech-savviness, not to mention good problem-solving, organization and time management skills.

So what are the ingredients for success in the new world of work, and what skills should you work on?

Tech trumps

It's no secret that tech skills are in high demand. Across every industry, employers are desperate for professionals who can modernize their IT infrastructure, build new apps, and keep them protected against an ever-growing range of cybersecurity threats.

Software developers, for example, are consistently in the crosshairs of companies' hiring efforts. This has been the case for some time, but business needs created or accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic have put software skills at a premium for the past two years.

It's not just specialist skills that companies are seeking. According to a Europe-based survey of more 2,000 managers and 4,000 employees by Udacity and Ipsos, 59% of employers report a shortage of job-ready digital talent. Likewise, 2021 polling by the UK government found that 46% of businesses have struggled to recruit for roles that require data skills. With the job market currently seeing an influx of new, data-related roles, technically adept employees will be the ones who thrive in the rapidly evolving work economy.

But technical skills are not the only thing businesses need. Increasingly, employers are looking for candidates with the qualities and attributes that can bring teams together, make them more productive, and help companies navigate a work landscape that can change at a moment's notice: qualities that have proven indispensable in getting employers through the tumult of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Robert Half's 2022 Salary Guide, the soft skills that are in most demand by CIOs are resilience, communication, adaptability, project management and business acumen.

According to the recruitment specialist, tech workers, particularly at middle and senior levels, are now expected to be business partners, and as such they need to be able to clearly communicate their strategies, activities and the impact of those on the wider business. This means good communication skills and interpersonal skills are more valuable than ever – particularly for companies that have had to adopt or scale out digital solutions quickly in response to pandemic-era working.

SEE: The future of work: How everything changed and what's coming next

"There are businesses out there that are tech businesses now that perhaps weren't before," says Phil Boden, Robert Half's director of permanent placement services, technology. 

"There are people out there who have perhaps got really good business partnering skills or communication skills who stakeholders will be able to relate well to, and would fit well within the business, but perhaps don't have the technical capability. You just need a business to take a chance on you."

The nature of the technology industry has shifted dramatically in recent years, as have the nature of work and roles required within companies to make them successful.

"You have all the different jobs now in tech that are not just the obvious ones," says Rhona Carmichael, regional managing director for Scotland, UK North & Ireland at recruiter Harvey Nash Group, pointing to roles such as product managers, project managers, business analysts, and UI/UX testers. "There's a job in tech for everybody now, regardless of whether you're strongest at very analytical, technical skills or whether you're more of a communicator with great emotional intelligence."

New skills for a new work environment

Remote and hybrid working also creates new requirements from employees, who must demonstrate discipline and an ability to work effectively without direct supervision.

Carmichael notes that the success of new ways of working is largely contingent on whether employees put these skills into practice – skills like the ability to prioritize, self-manage and use initiative.

Soft skills are doubly important for managers and those in senior positions in the business, Carmichael adds, who must demonstrate strong communication, empathy and coaching acumen in order to make teams succeed.

"When we're talking to clients about the really senior roles, the technology piece is almost secondary," Carmichael tells ZDNet.

"Particularly because the war for talent is so fierce, that to attract a team of developers or cyber professionals or data professionals is a lot of hard work. And once you've attracted them, you want to motivate, inspire and retain them."

According to Robert Half, a proactive attitude will always score points for candidates who want to make themselves more attractive to employers.

A good way to demonstrate this talent is by investing time and effort into developing skills, whether technical or otherwise. This shows commitment to keeping skills up to date.

Of course, unlike 'hard' technical skills, which are readily teachable, soft skills are cultivated and developed over time – meaning they can't be mastered over the course of a few, one-hour training sessions.

SEE: Recruiting tech workers is getting harder. But there's another way to get the right skills

That's not to say that organizations aren't trying to find ways to help individuals and teams develop soft skills. In fact, Carmichael says employers are focusing more attention on this than ever.

Some of her CIO clients have even been bringing in psychologists to help their teams understand different personality types and how to create the best working relationships between individuals and teams and foster a harmonious workplace culture.

"It's about figuring out the space between the relationships, how do they make them all work," she explains.

"If we learnt anything from the pandemic, it's that you just never know what's around the corner. Businesses nowadays change at a much faster pace. Technologists have to be chameleons that can adapt to change and be quite creative at coming up with solutions, regardless of how many times the problem changes."

When it comes to progression, Boden says tech workers have more choice than ever. And the fierce demand for talent means workers shouldn't feel obliged to stick around if their personal or professional requirements aren't being met.

"Do you want to go down a leadership route, do you want to go down a management route, do you want to upskill other people?" he says. "Can you do that in the business that you're operating in currently, or do you need to go somewhere else to achieve that goal?"

Read more from this special report: Tech skills - Upgrade your job

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