Even within the industry, Information Technology is generally considered to cover two main streams; infrastructure and software development. After university or training, most graduates see their choice as between working with the infrastructure or working with software. Both avenues have the potential to lead to a life of total involvement in technology. Information Technology is a constantly changing field and as you know, it moves at an astounding rate. Improvements to the machines and networks go hand in hand with the creation of new software development platforms, languages and problem solving technologies. Both streams demand constant investment in time and study effort just to stay abreast of the field. There comes a point in most engineer’s or programmer’s career when the prospect of staring at a screen while coding or administering operating systems and databases no longer enthuses them. The only alternative would seem to be moving into a team leading or management role. However, managing people can be difficult and frustrating at the best of times. Additionally, commitment to a management role usually involves withdrawing from the technology race. Nevertheless, the choice for most professionals, in both streams, seems confined to either locking into technology or moving into team leading and management. It’s not surprising therefore that many engineers and developers reach a crossroads in their career at which point they question their future. If you consider yourself to be in such a position read on.
There is a third stream of IT professional that we describe, for want of a better word, as the Applicationists. This group comprises those IT professionals who work in Training, Applications Support, Business Analysis, Enterprise Architecture and a whole lot more. Applicationists are characterized by a common motivation – they view Information Technology as a tool that can be used by the business to make it more efficient and productive. While they may appreciate technical advances in software and hardware, their main interest is in how it can best be used to move the business forward. I often hear Applicationists differentiate themselves by stating that they believe the IT department’s role is to establish what the business wants, as opposed to telling the business what it needs. The common trait that we find in all Applicationists is the ability to interact and communicate well with people at all levels and across all areas of the business. Their combination of technical knowledge and communication skills make them excellent translators – from IT speak to Business speak and vice versa. Furthermore, when solving problems, natural Applicationists derive more satisfaction from making someone else’s job easier than they do from beating the fault.
While many Applicationists emerge from within the business, it is interesting to note that most enter the industry as engineers or developers and at some stage realize that their future depends on their ability to interact and communicate effectively with technology users. Not surprisingly, many Applicationists emerge from a few years working in a helpdesk. The constant interaction and regular communication with customers builds valuable skills in winning people round, relating to them in a language they understand, eliciting their true requirements and facilitating a solution. Those who wish to transition from engineering or development into Applicationist roles would do well to examine their interactive, communication and technical to business translation skills and take every opportunity available to develop them further. It’s never too late to learn and develop soft skills which will grow and improve with time.
Technical skills on the other hand, will eventually become obsolete.