Five Core Skills Every IT Professional Should Have

Young woman with varied skills

Information technology has never moved faster. With the widespread adoption of virtualization, cloud computing, and the DevOps methodology, it's far too easy to let technical skills get old. If that happens, then you're on your way to making yourself obsolete in today's job market.


Today I'll share with you five core skills that I feel any IT professional needs to have in his or her proverbial toolbelt. I'm using the term "IT professional" to embrace anyone whose full-time job role exists within the realm of information technology. Here are some representative titles:


? Help desk support representative
? Technical support specialist
? Systems/network administrator
? Database administrator
? Web developer
? Systems architect
? Solutions architect


You'll note that I am mixing both the infrastructure/IT ops/IT pro roles with developer roles. This is intentional! You may have heard the tech buzzword "DevOps" — this movement seeks to help those on both sides of the IT organizational "fence" to communicate more effectively and thereby ship product faster and more reliably.


I'll also provide you with certification programs aimed at helping you to sharpen those very skills. Now don't get intimidated when you see my core skills list — it's nearly impossible to master every one.


Instead, I think you would be well advised to work to become conversant in each of these focus areas. At the very least, you should be able to discuss them intelligently in, say, a job interview. Then you can let your interest, aptitude, and opportunities lead you to delve further into one or more of them.


One more note: I have placed these skills in no particular order. In my humble opinion, all are equally important to 21st-century information technology.




Back in my day, when I walked uphill to work both ways, through the snow, we "racked and stacked" physical servers and cared for them as if they were pets. This paradigm has been all but obliterated with the advent of hypervisor virtualization and cloud computing.


In cloud computing, you pay for services "on demand," and let the cloud hosting provider take care of the heavy lifting. That includes providing for data redundancy, maintaining physical servers, and so forth.


More and more businesses see the manifold benefits of either extending their on-premises networks and services into the cloud, or entirely virtualizing their services into a public cloud.


The three major players in the public cloud arena are:


? Microsoft Azure
? Amazon Web Services (AWS)
? Google Cloud


One of the cool things about cloud computing is that there's something for everyone: networking, virtual machines, development platforms. Cloud computing simply makes deploying scalable and fault-tolerant solutions within easier reach for the small- to medium-sized business (SMB).


Speaking of Microsoft, Amazon and Google, let me give you links to some of their associated certification programs (check their web sites for info on additional cert titles):


? Microsoft: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) - Azure Solutions Architect
? Amazon: AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate
? Google Cloud: Google Cloud Systems Operations Professional




Nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find any business person without a smartphone glued to his or her head. These same professionals typically want to use their own mobile devices — be they laptops, tablets, or smartphones — in the workplace.


To that point, Mobile Device Management (MDM) has become a valuable IT pro job skill. On the developer side, mobile app development is hot stuff. In order to wrangle and administer mobile devices, you need to master the underlying operating systems. The three major mobile operating systems today are:


? Apple iOS
? Google Android
? Microsoft Windows Phone (although some speculate this is a dying OS)


Going further, you may ask yourself, "Okay, I know my way around mobile operating systems. But what tools do I use to actually create and enforce corporate policies on employee's mobile equipment?"


Great question! As of this writing, here are some of the biggest players in the MDM arena as of this writing:


? VMware AirWatch
? Apple Profile Manager
? IBM MaaS360
? Cisco Meraki Systems Manager
? Citrix XenMobile
? Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS)


Finally, let me hook you up with three recommended certification programs to help you kick-start your MDM skill set:


? CompTIA Mobility+
? AirWatch Enterprise Mobility Certifications
? GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GMOB)




Would you agree with my assertion that human nature itself tends towards procrastination? I humbly submit that any person, regardless of their association with IT, can benefit by implementing a project management or productivity framework into his or her life.


In IT, we tend to have multiple plates spinning simultaneously. To this end, wise businesses often hire professional IT project managers to ensure that projects stay on time, on budget, and actually complete successfully.


Software developers appear to have bought into IT project management methodology more than IT pros have. The Agile and Scrum software development methodologies (really, Scrum is simply an implementation of Agile) are super popular nowadays simply because they work when implemented properly.


Agile and Scrum are often conflated with DevOps methodology, although they aren't the same. In DevOps, software developers and infrastructure professionals work together to ensure continuous delivery of their IT service products.


Here are some other popular project management frameworks that translate well into IT. Note that most of these are not IT-specific in themselves:


? Traditional (waterfall)
? Kanban
? Six Sigma
? Rapid Application Development (RAD)


If your shop has already adopted a particular project management methodology, then you have your work cut out for you. If not, then you should perform research to determine which methodology makes the most sense to you and then pursue a certification.


Speaking of certs, here are some of the major project management programs:


? CompTIA Project+
? PRINCE2 Certifications
? Project Management Institute (PMI) Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
? PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)
? PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP)
? Scrum Alliance Certifications




Does the term "big data" mean anything to you? Nowadays businesses are eager to mine their data repositories — customer information, market research, and so on — to spot trends and to develop forecasts.


I have many friends earning big salaries doing business intelligence (BI) work: querying huge relational and non-relational (NoSQL) databases, and developing visualizations.


One reason why data analytics is such a marketable skill is that you need to have aptitude in at least three areas:


? Database administration
? Database development
? SQL query syntax
? Front-end Web development (XHTML, XML, CSS, JavaScript)


Most enterprise software vendors offer certifications to validate your BI skills. Here's a handful for you to consider:


? Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP)
? Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) � Business Intelligence
? EMC Data Science Associate (DSA)
? Cloudera BI Certifications




Engineer works on server room

I put information security (InfoSec) and governmental/industry regulatory compliance together in the same skill because they are so crucially interrelated. For example, a database administrator for a healthcare company needs to secure patient records to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) regulations.


There's Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) for accounting data, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for credit card security — the list goes on.


I've found many IT newcomers are drawn to IT security certifications because they think they'll get to play with all the "cool toys." This is an understandable notion, but we need to look further down the road.


All one has to do is read the news to be reminded how essential solid infosec skills are for any working IT professional. Here's a laundry list of some of the most popular infosec and compliance cert titles:


? CompTIA Security+
? EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
? GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (CISF)
? ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
? (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Tim Warner

Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.