The Requisite Variety Of Skills For IT Professionals

Kevin P. Gallagher, Cleveland State University
Kate M. Kaiser, Marquette University
Judith C. Simon, University of Memphis
Cynthia M. Beath, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract

IT professionals are beset by ongoing changes in technology and business practices. Some commentators have suggested that, in order to stay competitive, IT professionals should retool themselves to gain competency in specific in-demand technical skills. This article argues that thriving in such a dynamic environment requires competency in a broad range of skills, including not only technical skills, but non-technical skills as well. Our research shows that IT departments in non-IT companies report that while both technical and non-technical skills are important, the skills most critical to retain in-house and most sought in new mid-level employees are non-technical skills such as project management, business domain knowledge and relationship skills. These skills are critical because they enable IT departments to work effectively with other departments, internal users, and external customers and suppliers. Non-technical skills leverage technical skills to augment the organization's overall effectiveness in designing and delivering solutions to meet an organization's challenges and opportunities. These findings depart from previous articles emphasizing technical skills as a basis for valuing IT workers and other research recommending business-oriented skills only for those managing IT workers, not for IT professionals themselves. Our findings lead us to the realization that in today's environment of continuous and fast-paced change, a mix of skills is essential for IT professionals. We believe that the Law of Requisite Variety can help explain the need for greater breadth of knowledge and skills among IT professionals. From cybernetics, the Law of Requisite Variety states that adapting to change requires a varied enough solution set to match the complexity of an environment. In this case, IT workers need a broad enough range of knowledge and skills to meet the demands of their increasingly dynamic and complex profession. Based on our research, we offer a framework outlining six skill categories. We believe that all six skill categories are critically important for the career development of IT professionals.