– Richard Casselberry,
August 13, 2008
In this article:
Can you call yourself an accomplished information technology
employee? Find out by reading about the 30 IT skills you should
I noticed an article called
every man should master."
It included some skills I have and some I don't. For example, I can
tie a knot and hammer a nail, but frankly I can't recite a poem from
memory, and bow ties still confuse me.
It was an interesting read
and made me realize I could be more well-rounded than I am. To be
honest, we all could be.
So in the spirit of
personal growth, I developed a list of skills every IT person should
1. Be able to fix basic PC
issues. These can be how to map a printer, back up files, or add a
network card. You don't need to be an expert and understand how to
overclock a CPU or hack the registry, but if you work in IT, people
expect you to be able to do some things.
[ If you have IT staffers
who aren't up to snuff, fire them.
to do it right.
2. Work the help desk.
Everyone, from the CIO to the senior architect, should be able to
sit down at the help desk and answer the phones. Not only will you
gain a new appreciation for the folks on the phones, but you will
also teach them more about your process and avoid escalations in the
3. Do public speaking. At
least once, you should present a topic to your peers. It can be as
simple as a five-minute tutorial on how IM works, but being able to
explain something and being comfortable enough to talk in front of a
crowd is a skill you need to have. If you are nervous, partner with
someone who is good at it, or do a roundtable. This way, if you get
flustered, someone is there to cover for you.
4. Train someone. The best
way to learn is to teach.
5. Listen more than you
speak. I very rarely say something I didn't already know, but I
often hear other people say things and think, "Darn, I wish I knew
that last week."
6. Know basic networking.
Whether you are a network engineer, a help desk technician, a
business analyst, or a system administrator, you need to understand
how networks work and simple troubleshooting. You should understand
DNS and how to check it, as well as how to ping and trace-route
7. Know basic system
administration. Understand file permissions, access levels, and why
machines talk to the domain controllers. You don't need to be an
expert, but knowing the basics will avoid many headaches down the
8. Know how to take a
network trace. Everyone in IT should be able to fire up wireshark,
netmon, snoop, or some basic network capturing tool. You don't need
to understand everything in it, but you should be able to capture it
to send to a network engineer to examine.
9. Know the difference
between latency and bandwidth. Latency is the amount of time to get
a packet back and forth; bandwidth is the maximum amount of data a
link can carry. They are related, but different. A link with
high-bandwidth utilization can cause latency to go higher, but if
the link isn't full, adding more bandwidth can't reduce latency.
10. Script. Everyone should
be able to throw a script together to get quick results. That
doesn't mean you're a programmer. Real programmers put in error
messages, look for abnormal behavior, and document. You don't need
to do that, but you should be able to put something together to
remove lines, send e-mail, or copy files.
11. Back up. Before you do
anything, for your own sake, back it up.
12. Test backups. If you
haven't tested restoring it, it isn't really there. Trust me.
13. Document. None of the
rest of us wants to have to figure out what you did. Write it down
and put it in a location everyone can find. Even if it's obvious
what you did or why you did it, write it down.
14. Read "The Cuckoo's
Egg." I don't get a cut from Cliff Stoll (the author), but this is
probably the best security book there is -- not because it is so
technical, but because it isn't.
15. Work all night on a
team project. No one likes to do this, but it's part of IT. Working
through a hell project that requires an all-nighter to resolve
stinks, but it builds very useful camaraderie by the time it is
16. Run cable. It looks
easy, but it isn't. Plus, you will understand why installing a new
server doesn't really take five minutes -- unless, of course, you
just plug in both ends and let the cable fall all over the place.
Don't do that -- do it right. Label all the cables (yes, both ends),
and dress them nice and neat. This will save time when there's a
problem because you'll be able to see what goes where.
17. You should know some
energy rules of thumb. For example: A device consuming 3.5kW of
electricity requires a ton of cooling to compensate for the heat.
And I really do mean a ton, not merely "a lot." Note that 3.5kW is
roughly what 15 to 20 fairly new 1U and 2U servers consume. One ton
of cooling requires three 10-inch-round ducts to handle the air; 30
tons of air requires a duct measuring 80 by 20 inches. Thirty tons
of air is a considerable amount.
18. Manage at least one
project. This way, the next time the project manager asks you for a
status, you'll understand why. Ideally, you will have already sent
the status report because you knew it would be asked for.
19. Understand operating
costs versus capital projects. Operating costs are the costs to run
the business. Capital equipment is made of assets that can have
their cost spread over a time period -- say, 36 months. Operating
costs are sometimes better, sometimes worse. Know which one is
better -- it can make a difference between a yes and no.
20. Learn the business
processes. Being able to spot improvements in the way the business
is run is a great technique for gaining points. You don't need to
use fancy tools; just asking a few questions and using common sense
will serve you well.
21. Don't be afraid to
debate something you know is wrong. But also know when to stop
arguing. It's a fine line between having a good idea and being a
pain in the ass.
22. If you have to go to
your boss with a problem, make sure you have at least one solution.
23. There is no such thing
as a dumb question, so ask it ... once. Then write down the answer
so that you don't have to ask it again. If you ask the same person
the same question more than twice, you're an idiot (in their eyes).
24. Even if it takes you
twice as long to figure something out on your own versus asking
someone else, take the time to do it yourself. You'll remember it
longer. If it takes more than twice as long, ask.
25. Learn how to speak
without using acronyms.
26. IT managers: Listen to
your people. They know more than you. If not, get rid of them and
hire smarter people. If you think you are the smartest one, resign.
27. IT managers: If you
know the answer, ask the right questions for someone else to get the
solution; don't just give the answer. This is hard when you know
what will bring the system back up quickly and everyone in the
company is waiting for it, but it will pay off in the long run.
After all, you won't always be available.
28. IT managers: The first
time someone does something wrong, it's not a mistake -- it's a
learning experience. The next time, though, give them hell. And
remember: Every day is a chance for an employee to learn something
else. Make sure they learn something valuable versus learning
there's a better job out there.
29. IT managers: Always
give people more work than you think they can handle. People will
say you are unrealistic, but everyone needs something to complain
about anyway, so make it easy. Plus, there's nothing worse than
looking at the clock at 2 p.m. and thinking, "I've got nothing to
do, but can't leave." This way, your employees won't have that
30. IT managers: Square
pegs go in square holes. If someone works well in a team but not so
effectively on their own, keep them as part of a team.