The importance of ongoing professional development for IT professionals

Whatever your IT background or skillset, your work as a technical manager or specialist will never be just about technology.

Sure, your expertise in IT is invaluable, but often, what really sets you apart in this industry is versatility. That means a truly 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’s 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’re 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 can prove 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 likely 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.

Systems/tools/technology

Love or hate it, technology is increasingly important, and likely plays a substantial role in your work. Learning to use different software, programmes and tools, and staying up to date with new developments will keep you current and competitive.

Particularly for the luddites among us, intensive or crash courses are often the best way to go in terms of getting a properly in-depth understanding of a computer system or tool.

And if you are technologically-inclined, consider the potential leg-up you could have by developing a niche in IT and management/leadership – something of a rarity.

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.

Basically, by understanding the nuts and bolts 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.

Process/continuous improvement methodologies

Financial results are produced by business processes, so if you understand how to measure or improve processes, it adds tremendous value to your clients.

A course in a methodology like Six Sigma will stand you in good stead.

Final thoughts

Supplementary courses are a great 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.

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