Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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June 19, 2014

The secret to a successful IT career? Build relationships, not just skills

When it comes to a successful career in IT, relationship skills are as important as technical skills, according to a recent national research study.

The study, “Bridge to Career Success,” surveyed successful IT professionals to identify strategies they’ve used to remain relevant and mobile in their fields.

NOVA Workforce Development, the Economic Advancement Research Institute, and San Jose State University’s Department of Anthropology conducted the research. The Creating IT Futures Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the global information communications and technology trade association, CompTIA, helped fund the study.

Researchers found that tech career success depends as much on a worker’s ability to navigate multiple and varying job opportunities as it does on the acquisition of technical skills.

The study offers insightful information for IT workforce development, in which companies and schools historically emphasize the acquiring of technical skills, such as learning new programming languages or software platforms, said Charles Eaton, CEO of Creating IT Futures.

“This research shows that worker mobility — that is, the ability for workers to navigate career opportunities within the framework of IT employment — has at least as much to do with an employee’s character attributes and professional relationships as it does his or her technical proficiency,” he said. “It suggests that if we truly want to equip individuals for long-term career growth in the field of IT, we should teach relationship skills as well as technical skills.”

“Bridge to Career Success” suggests that while technical skills are necessary for a career in IT, they are not sufficient for long-term employment that pays a sustainable wage.

Rather, the most successful IT career navigators hone several important characteristics that allow them to communicate information across groups within and outside an organization, such as customers, engineering teams and marketing departments. These IT career navigators — called “bridges” in the report — are invaluable to their organizations, which positions them to remain mobile, relevant, employed and satisfied.

“Bridges” tend to be strong in four areas: personal and professional networking; organizational reading; self-awareness; and relationship management and mentoring.

The research also highlighted a fundamental change in the IT workplace: Workers who keep their heads down and only know their tasks and their departments are more vulnerable to dislocation.

“The research found that ‘bridges’ possess a holistic understanding of their business environment and seek to add value within that context,” Eaton said. “They consider their company’s priorities and how they can help meet them.”

You can read the report in its entirety here. 

Already, the research is being applied in tangible ways. NOVA Workforce Development has teamed up with The Stride Center — a Creating IT Futures Foundation grantee — to support career navigation training for Stride students. The Stride Center, based in Oakland, CA, prepares students for entry-level IT jobs through training for CompTIA A+ and other certifications. NOVA and Stride received a federal grant to provide career navigation curriculum enhancements for students in two pilot classes.

NOVA also will use the report findings to create a career navigation "user’s guide" that is accessible to job seekers, students, parents and educators via an interactive website. The website will be available this summer.

NOVA — the North Valley Job Training Consortium — is based in Sunnyvale, CA, and is a federally chartered agency offering customer-focused workforce training and development services in Silicon Valley.

Massachusetts-based EARI is a non-partisan applied research institute focused on economic mobility and the 21st century world of work (www.eari.org).

San Jose State University’s anthropology department conducts extensive research around the relationship of technology and organization to work and skills.