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What Makes for an Effective IT Person?

Author: Dr. Randall H. Lucius, PhD.

According to a recent article in Computerworld, the tide of the labor market has turned in favor of employers, particularly within IT. For recruiters, this means that a warm body is no longer good enough to fill an IT position. Employers need people that will perform and stay, rather than dash for the door at the first sign of trouble – or a heavy workload. But what makes for an effective IT person really depends on the job. There are a wider variety of successful profiles than most recruiters realize when it comes to the IT profession. Indeed, not all “techies” are alike.

IT Personalities: Similarities and Differences

As a profession, there are certain traits that tend to run across a variety of positions within the IT field, making it understandable why some feel that all “techies” have a similar personality. Fitability Systems measured the personalities of over 4000 IT professionals, including Programmers, Software Engineers, Support Specialists, Systems Analysts, Computer Operators and Network Administrators. The measurement tool used by Fitability is the “Fitability 5,” a validated instrument used by over 130,000 across the U.S., and measures the following:


Fitability ScaleWhat it measuresLowHigh
WorkHow does the person approach tasks and responsibilities?EasygoingIndustrious
SocialHow does the person express himself/herself and interact with others?PrivateOutgoing
TactHow important are others' opinions and feelings to the person?CriticalAgreeable
StressHow does the person respond to adversity or pressure?ResilientReactive
InterestsHow open is the individual to various interests and ideas?PracticalInquisitive

On the Work scale, the data gathered by Fitability show that most effective IT professionals score around the middle of the scale. Compared to the US population, they resemble the typical US worker. But this also means that most typical IT professionals score less than the 50th percentile, thus they tend to be more easygoing than industrious. This means they are less driven to achieve and may be disorderly and unorganized.

Effective Computer Operators, however, score much higher on this trait. They are more industrious and achievement oriented than the typical “techie,” scoring almost 10% higher than all other job types within IT. Computer Operators typically process business, scientific, engineering, and other types of data. These are somewhat lower level positions within the IT industry, yet effective individuals within these positions are more achievement oriented and organized than even effective individuals within all other IT job types.

The Social scale also shows some marked differences between job types within the IT profession. Most of the job types within IT tend to have individuals that are Private. They are reserved, focused inward, and don’t talk very much. This makes sense since these positions require people to be relatively isolated most of the day. But this is not the case for Network Administrators. Our research shows that most effective Network Administrators have a blend of Private and Outgoing styles, and the more Outgoing they are, the more effective they become.

A large part of a Network Administrator’s job involves supporting an organization's LAN, WAN, and/or Internet system. Supporting the system often involves interacting with users of that system. A person with good social skills will be better equipped to understand other people’s issues and to communicate in a clear manner. Thus the job requires a certain degree of social skills, and those that are more outgoing are typically more effective.

When it comes to Stress, most IT professionals are resilient. This means that they are fairly stable, not easily frustrated, and show good self-composure. The one job type that stands out from this norm is Computer Operators. These individuals, while showing an average amount of coping skills and emotional stability, are more reactive than most within IT.

Most effective IT professionals have a similar profile on the other two traits. They tend to be a bit more Critical than Agreeable, and more Inquisitive than Practical. IT individuals are not typically though of as very warm and compassionate – they tend to focus on the facts and stay objective, independent of others’ feelings. Their inquisitive nature lends them to be more innovative and creative than most – a good trait especially for a programmer trying to solve new problems and come up with innovative products.

Conclusions

Most effective workers within IT show an average amount of drive, tend to be private and a bit critical, can cope well with stress, and are a slightly curious lot that enjoy trying new things. Network Administrators and Computer Operators stand apart from this trend.

Computer Operators are more driven and also a bit more reactive than the typical IT employee. Whether the two feed one another or are part of an underlying root cause is uncertain, but they are clearly unique from the rest of the industry in these two aspects. Recruiters should be aware of these differences and appreciate the uniqueness of these individuals.

Network Administrators tend to require more social aptitude than is typical for other jobs within the IT industry. Their involvement with people and helping others with Network problems requires some general “people” skills that are not as important for other IT positions. When seeking out individuals for IT positions, keep this fact in mind.