How Important are Technical Skills for Managers?

Posted by Murshed Chowdhury on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 12:01 PM

By: Murshed Chowdhury

Technical SkillsAs specialists in placing Microsoft Technology Professionals, I am always asked by my clients as to how important is it for them to retain their hands-on skills, whether it is .Net, SQL, Windows Infrastructure or Sharepoint. My response has always been, and will continue to be, that it is essential to remain technical, no matter what level you achieve in the management hierarchy. Let me clarify what I mean by that. Being technical does not mean that you have to be involved in every aspect of the database, code or infrastructure. However, you do need to be knowledgeable of the latest trends within your area of expertise to some degree. What I saw in the latest recession was, managers who were making very good salaries when the market was doing well, were now willing to take  positions paying  as low as a quarter or a third of their previous salaries. When asked why, the response was almost resoundingly the same; “I became so removed from the technology that I all is do is manage, and my firm has laid off so many people that, my management skills are less warranted than before.”

It is imperative for you as a technologist to always remain abreast of the technologies you manage. Here are some essential reasons why:

  • You should be able to discuss the technologies with your team

  • That will better enable you to command their respect.

The complaint of many technologists as they seek a new job is that their manager is clueless about the technology and therefore they are not inspired by them.

You remain a vital player in the organization because you bring a strong management background combined with your technology knowledge. Essentially, you are very hard to replace. Upper management will think twice, since they not only lose a manager but also a great technologist as well. Their fear would be compounded by the facts that losing such a person would have a great impact in the team, and you would be that much more difficult to replace. This also helps during reviews and discussion around your bonus. Finally, from a recruiting standpoint; you are that much more marketable when you are looking to change positions. More and more prospective companies are looking for that blend of technology expertise and management. You will be ahead of the competition in what is still a very tight job market.

How do you do that? Here are 3 ways how you can make sure you don’t become that ivory tower IT manager:

  1. Read, read, read. As a technology manager, always read about the latest and greatest trends within your technology niche. The Microsoft Partner Network portal, or the Microsoft website itself, is a great tool for information on the evolving trends that affect your technology.

  2. Training, conferences, events. Enrolling in training classes, attending conferences or hosting and participating in events are great ways to stay abreast of your technology. It is a great way to network, meet others who can share market information with you and it can be a great way to see what is out there whether you are looking for yourself or scouting talent for your own team.

  3. Spend time with your team. One easy way managers can keep themselves ahead of the technology curve is by spending more time with their own team. Stay late or come in on a weekend and do an implementation or project with your direct reports. They are in the trenches and can provide you invaluable information as to what are the specific challenges they see with the technologies they are responsible for. This can be quality time with your team as they are you most vital asset for your own success. Managers who engage in this practice, report that they feel more camaraderie with their team and have a better understanding of the technologies they are trusted with.

In conclusion, I strongly urge all IT managers to make sure you stay true to your passion and retain that technical know how that got you to where you are. Even If you feel you might have lost some of that passion for the technology along the way, it still important for you to be cognizant of the latest trends. The most unique thing about technology is its ability to be innovative, disruptive and progressive. Microsoft is a pioneer in advancing technological advancement and growth and it only makes sense that those who champion their technologies would think and behave the same way.

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Topics: IT Leadership