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February 3, 2021 | Matt Pacheco

8 IT Professional Career Development Tips (in a Managed Services World)

Kong Yang, Nutanix’s Head of Service Provider Marketing, is a big believer in the need to mentor up-and-coming IT talent. We recently interviewed him to get his advice on how IT professionals can navigate today’s challenging IT job markets and further their careers. In this post, I’ll summarize some of the key takeaways from our conversation that really resonated with me. If you’d like to listen to our discussion in its entirety, you can access that on demand.

Tip #1 – Align yourself to the business’ goals

There was a time when IT was all about the nuts and bolts of keeping the business running. You could almost forget the IT department existed—at least until a server went down. Nowadays, however, many business leaders are looking to tech as a way to build a competitive advantage. IT professionals can use this to increase their value to the company.

Let’s say one of the business’ goals is to reduce CapEx expenditures. IT has plenty of opportunities to show leadership how that goal can best be met through new technologies and approaches. Of course, it can be scary to suggest something new.  For example, the business may be best served by migrating from an on-premises data center to the cloud. But what will that mean for the existing IT staff whose job it is to maintain their on-prem infrastructure?

I once heard a CEO say that the most valuable IT people in his organization were those who weren’t afraid to innovate themselves out of a job. I’m sure that’s true, but the IT professional needs to still look out for themselves as well. The rest of Kong’s tips can help you add value to your organization without derailing your career.

Tip #2 – Learn to love (or at least appreciate) sales

IT professionals often say they hate sales —and sometimes salespeople—but what they fail to appreciate is that sales is the business of business. Even not-for-profits need to engage in sales and marketing activities to some extent. If you’ve ever been to a fundraiser for a non-profit, you know there’s plenty of selling involved!

“The outcome of having no income is going out of business.”
Kong Yang, Nutanix

IT professionals that can help sales be better at what they do will find they have some of the best allies in the company on their side. In my experience, salespeople can be quite influential with company leadership when it comes time to approve budgets for specific initiatives.

Tip #3 – Develop foundational skills

Here, Kong suggested taking direction from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, who advises business people to think about what’s not going to change. Your internal customers are always going to want things like improved uptime, greater system responsiveness, and better service levels. Find a way to deliver the core services your customers want, and you increase your value to the company.

“When you identify those big ideas that are stable in time…they’re usually the customer needs.”
Jeff Bezos, from a keynote at re:MARS

Tip #4 – Develop your EQ (Emotional Quotient)

We all know it takes brains to be in IT, but IT professionals can make it pretty far in their careers without ever developing their emotional skills. It’s worth doing, though, because a high EQ can separate you from the rest of the pack. You become the go-to person who is not only technically competent but also reliable and a team player.

If that’s not reason enough, people with high EQs tend to handle stress better, and IT is one of the most stressful professions around.

Tip #5 – Develop your soft skills

According to Kong, soft skills are those skills that aren’t measured by the certifications you hold. EQ is certainly a soft skill, but so are things like empathy, perseverance, and love. Yes, love. According to Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, it’s the soft skills that will allow us to maintain our dominance over the machines.

“A machine does not have a heart, [a] machine does not have soul, and [a] machine does not have a belief. Human being have the souls, have the belief, have the value; we are creative, we are showing that we can control the machines.”
Jack Ma, Bloomberg Global Business Forum, September 20, 2017

Tip #6 – Practice

When it comes to developing soft skills, Kong suggested adding the acronym TLC to the IT dictionary. However, in this case, it doesn’t stand for “Tender Loving Care.” Instead it stands for Try, Learn, Communicate. The essence of Kong’s message was that many IT people aren’t going to pick up soft skills easily. They need to try them out, learn from the experience, and communicate with others about the importance of applying soft skills in IT.

We wouldn’t think twice about spending months, if not years, developing certain IT skills. Even then, in many IT disciplines, the learning never really stops. We should take the same approach to soft skills.

Tip #7 – Explore new paths

IT professionals need to be careful about identifying themselves too much with specific technologies. For example, there are still roles that require expertise in COBOL, but they are fewer and fewer. If your expertise is tied to a technology that won’t outlast your career, you probably need to broaden your focus. And let’s face it, with as fast as advancements are being made, unless you’re approaching retirement, most technologies fall into that category.

These paths need not be in IT, either. For instance, many IT professionals have discovered gratifying careers in sales and product marketing, and these two disciplines can benefit greatly from their technical expertise.

Tip #8 – Develop your network

While this was the final tip Kong shared, it really can be the most helpful thing an IT professional can do to further their career. A trusted network of people who understand what you’re trying to achieve – but aren’t people you report to or who report to you – can be a real asset. They can let you know which soft skills you need to work on most. They can be a sounding board for your ideas. They can help you explore new paths, sometimes even opening up doors you didn’t know existed.

Hear more insights from Nutanix

If one possible path for your career involves leadership, read Kong’s post in our BraveIT series on practicing leadership. Want to offload day to day tasks, while focusing your IT team on revenue-generating projects? Contact us to learn more.

At BraveIT 2020, Nutanix shared insights on enabling a remote workforce. Check out the full session below.

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