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Key IT skills to make you current and capable in an ops role

With the rapid pace of IT, it's easy to lose your edge -- even for technologically curious ops professionals. Master a balance of the best IT and people skills to get ahead in modern operations.

The speed of IT is difficult for everyone to keep up with.

With cloud operations and IT automation tools and practices encroaching on all technology fronts, as well as compliance needs to be met, ops staff can find it challenging to stay current. But it's not just about the technology; career growth and development are big pieces of the puzzle. It takes a balance of these key IT skills for ops personnel to move forward.

Grasp compliance and workflow management

IT ops professionals must accept that compliance and workflow management are ongoing concerns and focuses. Just as balance is needed in your career, it is likewise important to how you implement compliance and control workflows, such as with IT service management (ITSM) via ITIL or another framework. You can't attain balance in service management if you don't develop IT skills around it.

In most environments, a pure ITSM implementation, such as textbook ITIL practices throughout the org, isn't possible, so develop a hybrid approach instead. Don't attempt to embrace every guideline in an ITSM framework. Rather, understand when it makes sense to bend the rules and when that would cause problems. An understanding of ITSM practices is required to apply the best ITSM tenets to your organization without hindering productivity. Since compliance and control are central to IT ops, ITSM and ITIL training should be near the top of your career training wish list.

Certification importance survey
Another aspect of career growth is found in certification courses, which are increasingly important as tools grow more complex.

Embrace IT automation and scripting

Automation and scripting are key IT skills to keep your career moving forward into areas such as DevOps, site reliability engineering and infrastructure as code. Learn to automate any task you have to do more than once. This practice removes repetition from your daily workload, creating bridges to new areas in your career. IT automation tools, such as Red Hat Ansible, don't require extensive training to pick up. Experience with them now will help set you up for the future.

Scripting is equally important for career growth in modern IT organizations. The common favorite is PowerShell, but it isn't the only option. Multiple vendors have command-line interfaces (CLIs). Some vendors use proprietary languages, but most offer premade PowerShell cmdlets, which give this language wide appeal. The more extensive the command library and complicated the scripting structure, the harder it will be for you to master this key IT skill. However, you don't have to be an expert if you know how to put together effective sequences of code and how to look up the right commands to handle a given task.

Open communication lines

The final key IT skill for career advancement isn't about IT at all -- although it will improve your technological work. It's something many people already assume they have: soft skills. There's no single definition for soft skills, and they cover a wide range from ways of working to interacting with others. For IT operations roles, focus on communication and coordination.

It is often said that IT folks are not the best communicators, but it's critical to learn. IT operations is a central hub wherein production owners, IT engineers and developers meet customers. Each group has different priorities, communication channels and challenges. IT ops must juggle them all, and it isn't easy, as each group has different priorities.

Even if everyone speaks the same language, they still speak different languages.

Even if everyone speaks the same language, they still speak different languages. Have a programmer talk with an end user, and it's easy to see a communication disconnect. IT ops personnel should aspire to play part translator and part referee.

The challenge is that soft skills are not as easy to practice as hard skills, and while training does exist, it's not always easy to set up, as people are expected to have innate abilities. Communication and teamwork training will not be a clear-cut path -- as easy as requesting a container tool demo, for example -- but it's worth the effort.

Coordination is just as important as communication. With so many different groups and needs attached to live production applications, IT ops pros must juggle requests but stay within published policies and procedures -- all while they keep the customer's best interests in mind. Better coordination requires a state of mind focused on how to control and manage your tasks. For example, limit the number of open items in your inbox from hundreds to less than 100, respond to email requests in less than 24 hours, and follow up with inquires after initial contact.

All of these skills help set IT operations professionals up for the future but are almost impossible to tackle all at once. Take on coordination improvement in smaller projects, and plan for at least a yearlong effort. Everyone wants to race to the finish line, but improvement takes time. If you're dedicated to cultivating a mix of relevant technical IT skills and interpersonal qualities, your users, other departments and management will see the difference.

This was last published in December 2018

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