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Articles > Archive - IT jobs call for more than technical skills
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Archive - IT jobs call for more than technical skills

By Alice Adams, Employment Correspondent, Houston Chronicle

     In recent years, the IT scene was what some market observers called "laid back."  

     Technical professionals worked in small offices or a series of cubicles.  Stodgy coat-and-tie office dress codes made way for flip-flops, shorts and T-shirts.  Game rooms and nap rooms offered a variety of ways to blow off steam and an occasional impromptu game of Nerfball or Frisbee was common.

     High in demand were programming wunderkinds, some of whom had not stayed in high school long enough, kids who had the magical knack to build Web sites, write code and design programs.

     Fast forward to 2001 and an emerging new cultures within the IT community.  Dress codes are moving toward less casual attire.  Gone are the Frisbees and the Nerfballs.  Some may term it "the coming of age of IT."  As one downsized IT professional told his recruiter, "This time I want a real job," and another client company pleaded, "This time, send us some gray hairs."

     The high school computer geniuses are finding it difficult to be assimilated into the corporate world without business backgrounds or college diplomas.  Moreover, they don't have the structured methodology of working in a technology environment.  Said one marketwatcher, "They were a perfect fit for the world, but need polish for the traditional corporate culture."

     As the frenetic pace of hiring in Houston IT firms has corrected to steadier trends, corporations are now being more judicious, not only in their hiring practices, but in the culture they are attempting to reconstruct.

     Some describe it as the bubble bursting-a serious cultural shift.

     "There's a learning curve that needs to take place at both ends of the spectrum.  For companies, the significant challenge has always been to retain employees.  Clearly, in the IT industry employees are the most valuable asset," said Bob Cohen of the Information Technology Association of America.  "However, lessons have been learned from the recent experience and companies have found that there are a lot of attractive benefits that can be offered to employees through lifestyle oriented activities.  On the other hand, a lot of people coming into the IT industry may find that they do have to make certain adjustments when they move into the more traditional companies-in terms of fitting into corporate culture."  

     Carltech's Joe Burris said he was seeing more demand for soft skills from Houston?s IT sector.  

     "Soft skills and business experience are in high demand," he said.  "Businesses are wanting people with savvy as well as technical expertise, much more than in the past."

     James Del Monte of JDA Professional Services agrees.

     "Soft skills have become more and more critical in today's marketplace, which is now calling for people with more problem solving and analytical skills and more management experience."

     Emerging from this trend emphasizing soft skills is the use of third party business analysts to help define business processes and software development.

     What skills are in highest demand?  Del Monte said he was hearing that there is a high demand for good communication skills and a good understanding of business processes.

     "Employers need people with technical expertise that can work across different company boundaries," he said.  "We're also seeing a demand for blended technical and departmental skills, such as accounting.  Generally, people with a systems background actually understand the business processes versus just being focused on function."

     The growing demand for soft skills have made it incumbent on technical training programs to now offer a variety of business courses, ranging from communication and presentation skills to team building delegation and organizational development.  In the Interim, it has been difficult for some businesses to find IT candidates with skills that have emerged as a demand over the last two to three years.

     As an example, e-businesses want technical people who can think like business people so they will know how to implement technical solutions to business processes that need updating.

     "In IT right now, the demand is for someone who has business skills versus the person asking, "What can I do with this network?" or "What can I do with this program?" The emphasis today is on what can I do with technology to enable this business to grow," Del Monte said.

     Local recruiters also report they're spending a lot more time helping candidates with their resumes and their interviewing skills. Why? For the past five years, technology professionals have not had to compete for jobs.  Today's market has become extremely competitive.  The times where candidates just had to basically show up for interviews is over.  Today, candidates have to put together resumes and then "sell" themselves during the interview.

     "Many of our candidates have never been in a situation where they've had to do this before," Del Monte said.  "Today it makes the difference between getting the job or not."      

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