Technology changes faster than anyone expects. Ten years ago, designing apps for a mobile phone was unheard of—today, app development is one of the top fields of study. The word “cloud” used to describe what you saw in the sky. Now, the cloud houses almost every single aspect of our daily lives.
If you work in the IT industry, you know how quickly technology—and those who don’t stay vigilant in keeping up with it—can become obsolete. In the blink of an eye, an IT professional’s knowledge and certifications are no longer viable. It takes adaptability to stay on top of the IT industry’s explosive growth and continue to move up in your career.
We spoke to several IT managers across the state, and one word stood out: adapt. For those who head up technology departments of any company, big or small, this is a necessary mindset. The complexity and breadth of IT management requires flexibility and constant learning. As an IT manager, the ability to communicate, solve conflicts and adapt to the ever-changing technology are prerequisites for success.
There are many ways to be an effective IT manager—but not every company requires the same set of skills. Dan Timpson, chief technology officer at DigiCert, relates the job to that of an orchestra conductor: To achieve success, there must be a good understanding of how the various parts of the team work. If a team works together, the desired result is reached and productivity increases. If it doesn’t? Cacophony.
The crucial ingredient is to be a communicator who understands both business and technology. Be willing to say no to things you may personally like, but that won’t help the team. Alternately, be aware that sometimes you have to say yes to ideas that didn’t come from you. Taking an employee’s idea to heart and implementing the strategy shows trust.
“You must be capable and flexible in your thinking and sense of management,” says Deal Daly, vice president of information technology and WebOps at Ancestry. “You have to be able to adapt and adopt to new technologies. People can’t be fearful or resistant to new ideas.”
To be effective, you have to be an open-minded generalist. Daly says most companies aren’t interested in people that are particular in their technology. Generalists allow more change; they aren’t afraid of opening up to newer technologies that are convergent to each other.
Skills must be expanded and disciplined to make management successful. Software, management strategies and even the technology language has a life cycle of only a few years. IT managers must always be looking to bring in new ideas and leapfrog themselves.
It’s all about Culture
One of the most important aspects of an IT manager’s job is the ability to understand the business strategy and the company’s goals, according to Daly. Understanding where the company is coming from and where it wants to go can also help you recognize the culture it wants to implement. Does it have a deep legacy? Are team members getting along? Establishing the right culture can help you and your team grow.
“The first thing you need to do is understand what your company’s goals are and how and when they want to achieve [them]. This tells you how to position yourself as an IT manager,” says Daly. “It’s easy to get lost by jumping into something you may not understand, especially when it comes to what the business is doing, where they are going and how fast they want to get there.”
Consider the technology industry in general. Many companies have a culture with foosball and ping-pong tables. They have giant company parties and giveaways. Employees are given access to giant cafeterias that cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. This may be a great company culture for some—but for others, the laid-back style might be all wrong. Understanding your company’s business strategy will underscore what sort of culture will be best for your specific team.
As a cultural leader, managers set the stage on how everyone and everything is going to work together. Managers need to be transparent and treat everyone with the respect they deserve. Overall, successful IT professionals need to think about what they can do to make people feel good, especially when going through tough technological transitions. This can cause disruption in companies that have had the same plan for years and haven’t embraced any new styles.
In an ever-growing and changing industry, education is everything. Timpson says for an IT manager to be effective, he or she has to have mastered a depth of knowledge to the component level across the spectrum of IT. For IT managers, education isn’t about getting a degree—it should be a career-length pursuit. Timpson attributes much of his success to his education. It’s not “learning for learning’s sake” so much as simply staying current, and hopefully on the forefront of trends.
This further underscores the idea that generalists are welcome. The constant evolution of technology and the need for continual learning makes this industry intriguing and tangible. There are new challenges that IT specialists see every day. In IT, there are always new languages and stacks to learn.
“IT managers must keep up with technology trends so they can evaluate the technology forecast. This allows them to invest in the right technology for the present and future,” Timpson says.
Due to the constant evolution of technology, Timpson says it is important for everyone to adapt and constantly learn new skills.
“Ultimately, in IT management you are judged by your ability to execute and get things done in a way that provides value to the company,” he says.Effective managers are deeply disciplined in their work and studies. Daly says there is no specific skill set he looks for when hiring. Places like Ancestry have hired electrical engineers, computer science graduates, even MBA students as IT managers. There is no specific formula—success comes from the ability to migrate from one technology to another.
“Successful IT managers have to spend a certain amount of time each week learning new skills and trends,” Timpson says. “IT managers ought to be life-long learners and thinkers. They must be willing to take on new projects and divert time each week to more education. Growth encourages new perspectives.”
The fundamental mindset that you should never stop learning does a lot not only for your résumé, but for your ability to direct a team as well. Daly says when he’s looking for a quality manager, he looks beyond education, though that is important.
“I want someone who is a leader; both an architectural leader and a leader in infrastructure. We want someone who can come through our doors, bring in work, assess the work being done, and execute the work we need in the future.”
Staying on top of it all is more than just education, it’s allowing yourself to be a definitive leader in an ever-changing industry.
2012-2022 Employment Projections for Computer and Information Systems Managers
This occupation is expected to experience faster than average employment growth with a high volume of annual job openings. … Prospects should be favorable for this occupation. Many companies note that it is difficult to find qualified applicants for positions. Because innovation is fast paced in IT, opportunities should be best for those who have extensive work experience and knowledge of the newest technology. Compared to all occupations, wages for this occupation are very high.
- Current employment: 2,680
- Projected employment: 3,510
- Annual percent change: 3.1%
- Annual salary (inexperienced): $77,940
- Annual salary (median): $113,140
Source: Utah Department of Workforce Services