30 Skills Every IT Person Needs

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On MSN the other day, I noticed an article called "75 skills 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 have.

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. Learn how 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 future.

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 machines.

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 road.

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.

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