A cheat sheet of soft skills for those in IT


I’ve come to realise that IT isn’t all about coding, cables and computers… a lot of the time its about problem solving, interpersonal communication and politics. This is a non-exhaustive (although I hope to make it so, over time) list of the ‘soft skills’ I’ve recently thought to put together as I’ve taken on a manager/mentor role.

Prioritisation

Ensure you’re doing tasks in priority order; not just whatever comes in most recently or makes the most noise. Don’t start a new task unless it’s more important than those that you’re already doing – get them done first.

Search

OneNote. Google. Emails. Conversation history. Yammer. So many sources of information, make sure you’ve tried your best to find through those places before asking someone else, UNLESS they will know straight away and it’s not going to be disruptive to ask them. Most things are answerable in 10 minutes of Googling, and when they’re not that’s when Thinking Out Loud (see below) comes into play.

Take notes

Changing something? note it. Someone mentioned something to you? note it. Someone asked you to do something? ask for a ticket or an email; or create it for them and send it to them for confirmation. A change log is a great idea to keep as you are diagnosing or implementing; it allows you to keep known state, in case you need to revert or redo.

Estimate effort/time

When being assigned a task, think about how long it’s going to take, you won’t be able to prioritise correctly without this. You’ll then be able to set expectations with the other party about when you can have it done.

Set expectations / reply to tasks

Nobody expects a task to be done as soon as its sent through, but even if they don’t ask they are expecting to know when it might be done. Let them know as soon as you can when you expect to have it done. It also will force you to think about what’s involved and air mark time in your head to do it.

Clear the rubbish, then polish

If you’re upgrading something? Clear down the old. If you’re installing something new, take the opportunity to clear anything not required anymore. Do the cabling, documentation and software updates right here and now… don’t delay til later. What’s done correctly and cleanly now, is something that doesn’t have to be done again later. Spending the extra time now will likely save you later.

Finish a task to completion

There is no later. Anything delayed is something forgotten. Unless there is a clear reason for delaying something or it will be formally tracked, do the ‘Polish’ now.

Prevent recurring problems at the source

This keeps everyone happier and prevents time being used to re-do something; because it should’ve been done right first time. Don’t treat the symptom, treat the cause. Figure out why an issue or requests are occurring and take action at the stem. ‘Polish’ and ‘finish to completion’ contribute to preventing future tickets from being logged, too.

Don’t assume; ask more questions

When being requested to do something, play it back to them to confirm you know for sure what’s being requested. When assisting with a problem, don’t assume you know how they’re producing the problem; ask them. If the space is too large to know everything or to ask all the questions and you need to assume to progress, note it down (in the ticket!); make sure everyone is aware what assumptions you’ve made.

Worked recently but now isn’t? Something changed

Its very rare that things break without input; something must have changed OR something that should have changed hasn’t. Logs will help here.

Screenshots / log files

Don’t try progress with a problem until you’ve seen it in action; either with steps for reproduction, screenshot of it occurring or logs of it occurring. This is mandatory before any escalation. Search Google, OneNote, ticket system etc if the log or screenshot entries don’t make sense.

Reproduce

If it’s safe to do so (no data destruction or interruption of service), then try to reproduce the problem; if you can’t do it despite having specific instructions, this might mean there is something localised that your reproduction doesn’t account for. Investigate.

Users/staff are our customers

Face them when talking, give them your full attention or otherwise ask them to come back later. Treat them with respect and the benefit of the doubt; even if it’s their fault, it’s your job to fix it and it’ll be easier and faster if your interactions are positive. You’re in a service position, we’re at the whim of everyone.

Automate

Nobody likes boring tasks; so automate it. This one will require PowerShell (or some other useful scripting/coding language) and in-depth knowledge about whatever you’re automating, but there are loads of people who can help OR it may already exist on the internet!

Think out loud

Not certain about something? Want open feedback about an idea or thought? Post it publicly. Very clever people might have thought about it before. Don’t be embarrassed to admit you don’t know everything. Only fools think they are all-knowing and experts at everything. Demonstrate what you do know, but ask pointed questions about what you need to know. In fact, even better is if you’re super damn sure that you’re going to do the right thing, you may be blinded by your arrogance/sureness; confirm it with someone else.

Backup / screenshot / dump configuration

Sometimes more important than the change you’re making is knowing what the state was before you made the change, in case you need to revert. Make sure your notes include the current state, or take a backup, or dump the configuration or whatever is appropriate.

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