Building the Perfect IT Person

The ultimate technology worker doesn't exist, but that hasn't stopped CIOs from looking for him. What's the perfect genetic blend needed to make a go of IT today? Here are the traits to start.

Technology certifications matter. Or maybe they dont. Pay is up for IT workers, but many havent recovered the wages that typified the late 90s. There arent enough computer science majors in the United States, but the jobs held by the ones we do have here could be outsourced. Corporations want M.B.A. technology managers, but there are shortages of specialized technology skills. Meanwhile, the image of the profession is in the dumps.

Those rip-and-read headlines culled from over the last month paint a confusing picture. Pick a survey—for example, an Aug. 2 compensation study released by Foote Partners, an IT research company in New Canaan, Conn. Wait a few days, and theres bound to be another take on the technology work force that will pop up to counter it.

Why the confusion? Technology and business are changing as they grapple with outsourcing and lick their wounds from the tech boom. IT jobs can easily be outsourced. The truth is that IT is just not valued that highly by the people in charge—rather, its still being viewed as a cost center by many companies that focus more on business.

With all this structural change, the vision of what an IT professional is supposed to be should be following suit. "The old model of IT doesnt work anymore," said Steve Novak, CIO at Kirkland & Ellis, a Chicago-based law firm.

While that model is still being sorted out, Novak, along with other CIOs interviewed by eWEEK, is on the lookout for the holy grail—a designer IT person who can adapt and thrive in changing environments and still remain valuable. Meanwhile, its in the best interest of the IT worker to embody those traits that will woo the likes of Novak.

So whats the perfect genetic blend necessary to build a designer IT person? Would you know where to start? To be sure, the ultimate IT worker doesnt exist; he or she is a figment of CIOs collective imagination. He or she is a blend of desirable traits that managers would select if they could cook up test-tube workers. Nevertheless, these traits are on the radar when candidates are interviewed for an open position and are equally weighted with IT preoccupations such as certifications and experience.

eWEEK spoke to a slew of CIOs and asked them to concoct the designer IT worker. The common thread: Traits are more enduring than specific skills. The good news: None of the following traits is impossible to attain. But, if youd prefer sitting in a dark room and resetting passwords to learning your companys business inside out and communicating with others in the organization, it may be a challenge. Thats because the designer IT person …

... Enjoys light

Technology workers are expected to be able to work outside their comfort zone without stuffing their hands in their pockets and mumbling about rack servers or rolling their eyes when asked to reset a forgotten password. More than a techie, he or she is a meta-techie, having a strong technical base coupled with the ability to explain to nontechies why technology is important. "Even a technologist at the end of the day gets stuff done through people. Computers cant do this for you," said Gerald Shields, CIO and senior vice president of Aflac, an insurance company in Columbus, Ga.

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In sum: Walking around the workplace and talking to brethren is in. The conversationally challenged, jargon-using guy is out as companies grow increasingly impatient with that model. "You need to be able to communicate at all levels. You need to be able to hold a productive conversation with the first-level technician as well as the business owner, both in terms they understand," said Novak. "You can no longer go to that closet, shut the door and work. You have to be able to interact and communicate with everyone."

Novak attributes the change in personality expectations to a change in business models where technology no longer is a free-standing department. "The old model of IT was hierarchical. Now, its more Web-style, where all levels interact with all levels. You dont implement systems today that are free-standing, like a mainframe, and your department doesnt function independently," said Novak.

Next Page: Mix with the masses.