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Deep technical knowledge is out, broad skills are in

Feb 01, 20063 mins
Data Center

* Could you be a versatilist?

Last week, we discussed a report Gartner published last September titled “The IT Professional Outlook: Where will we go from here?” Gartner suggests that by 2010, the IT profession will be split into 4 domains of expertise: technology, information, process and relationship. In a nutshell, Gartner believes that it is not enough to be knowledgeable about a given technology; IT pros need to show business knowledge and skills as well.

This paves the way for the rise of what Gartner describes as “versatilists.” The research firm says that by 2011, 70% of leading-edge firms will seek and develop versatilists, while de-emphasizing specialists (those with deep technical skills). Versatilists have a diversified set of skills that enable them to play a wide range of roles, providing numerous experiences including technical aptitude, local knowledge, knowledge of industry processes and leadership abilities.

So how do you become a versatilist? Gartner suggests IT pros go outside their comfort zones and explore the other side of business. Try working for non-profit ventures, start-ups, government agencies and consumer IT service providers, says Gartner. The report also recommends two course of action that we’ve discussed previously in this newsletter: enroll in advanced degree programs to expand perspectives (see our series on IT pros going for MBAs here, here and here) and identify projects and assignments that increase professional value (this was one of the tips shared by C-level execs in a newsletter about how to expand beyond IT).

If the future of our careers depends on gaining business knowledge, should we still pursue technical certifications? Diane Morello, the Gartner analyst who wrote the report, says: “Certifications are useful for individuals but provide no long-term value for employers.” She says employers look at certifications when they need to hire people with knowledge about a product or technology, but as employers want people with knowledge of different disciplines, learning about management frameworks such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) would be more fruitful.

I’d like to hear your views on Gartner’s take of the future of the IT profession. Do you agree with any of the points discussed in last week and today’s newsletter? What are you doing to ensure your skills and experiences are valuable to employers going forward?

There’s still time to respond to a question I posed last week about what areas of IT should today’s students/IT newbies get into to be well positioned for the next 20 years? The responses could be used in a forthcoming Network World article celebrating the magazine’s 20th anniversary.

I look forward to hearing from you. And thanks to those who responded to the question last week. E-mail me at