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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.