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Technology’s impact on how we work has necessitated a new type of leader: one who can bridge the gap between tech know-how and business acumen.

CompTIA president and CEO Todd Thibodeaux shares his vision of new technology leaders who are as comfortable with the soft skills as the hard ones, and how those leaders can be developed. Photo by Caleb Fox

Todd Thibodeaux heads CompTIA, one of the IT industry’s top trade associations and provider of training and certification programs for industry professionals. As the leader of such an influential group, he has a front-row seat to the emergence of transformative new technologies and how they impact IT organizations.

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Sync spoke with Thibodeaux about recent developments in cloud computing, mobility, and social media; what these technologies mean for IT departments; and the skills and attributes that IT workers of the future must possess. “The last five years have been some of the most innovative in the history of the industry,” he says. “But the opportunities that are likely to come in the next ten years will make the past five look like we were in the Stone Age.”

Initially, a lot of IT professionals were a little apprehensive about the cloud because it would put infrastructure out of their reach. They were concerned that it would impact their long-term job prospects. They were wondering if they would have the same level of control. IT professionals tend to be kind of control freaks in some situations.

Sync: How are cloud computing and mobility, two major transformative technologies, changing the mission of IT departments?

Thibodeaux: There was also a sense of loss of control with bring your own device to work in the beginning. People were connecting all kinds of devices that were not secured the way IT departments had done with notebooks and desktops. A good example is when a large security provider implemented a Wi-Fi network. When they did their first scan of the network, they found 40,000 devices connected, but they only had 10,000 employees. Companies have adjusted, and some of those concerns about loss of control have been allayed.

Sync: How do mobility and the cloud change IT’s day-to-day responsibilities?

Thibodeaux: Mobility has changed things by allowing many more entry points to applications and knowledge stores. It has allowed a greater array of workers to be out in the field doing things that they weren’t able to do before. Companies are adopting tablets and smartphones as their primary means of computing.

The cloud has been really interesting because people have had to learn a lot more about application support. The IT professional has been known for hardware support, but in the cloud environment, where the hardware is not with you, a lot of your job is application support. IT workers now have to do more to make sure their provider is doing backups and having the right kinds of systems in place.

Amplified Presence

In May 2014, CompTIA acquired TechAmerica, a tech industry association with public sector expertise and a member base of large technology companies. “The acquisition unites complementary segments of information and communications technology (ICT) under one umbrella to enhance voice, reach, and influence,” says Todd Thibodeaux, CompTIA president and CEO. Advantages of the acquisition include:

  • CompTIA now provides service for the entire ICT sector, including small IT service providers, software developers, equipment manufacturers, and communications service providers.
  • Members can take advantage of new business networking and intelligence opportunities, as well as tap expanded public sector programs.
  • Under CompTIA’s open-access model, an additional 7,000 individual registered users can benefit from research and content.

Sync: What will the typical IT organization look like in ten years?

Thibodeaux: Companies will be supporting a lot more distributed workforces. I suspect that we will continue to see the decentralization of employees, whether people are working remotely or being in small groups and in smaller offices. IT professionals are going to have to learn a lot more about some of the equipment that people are using. Most corporate files will migrate to the cloud over the next ten years. There won’t be a need for local storage.

IT departments will also have to learn a lot more about how applications work underneath the surface. The IT professional who doesn’t acquaint himself thoroughly with programming basics is going to be at a real disadvantage. Understanding how HTML works, understanding even a language like Java or C or Python or Ruby—that’s going to be a big part of what an IT professional in the future is going to do.

Cybersecurity will be a much bigger part of IT’s mission because you’re going to have so many distributed systems that won’t be under your lock and key. I’m not sure that IT will be a smaller team. I think that the team will be less compartmentalized. You won’t have people who necessarily just do network support, who just do desktop support, who just do application support. The type of problems they are going to be asked to solve will be much more diverse and complex, like enabling connectivity among many more platforms.

Sync: This sounds like IT professionals will need a broader base of skills. Will IT departments have to take a new approach to recruiting and in-house training?

Thibodeaux: I think they will definitely have to do more in-house training. With the changes we’ve seen over the last ten years—just look at Wi-Fi, mobility, and the cloud—you can’t put all that burden on the individual employee to stay abreast of those changes and systems. It’s just not reasonable. Otherwise [businesses] will be cycling through employees all the time. IT managers may start to find some people other than the traditional tech geeks that like to tear things down and put them back together. They might not be the best IT workers of the future. Sure, we’re going to need the tech geeks, but we’re also going to need people that can seamlessly move to Facebook and Foursquare, to capturing content and recording it, storing it, and sharing it. Some of the complexity of these systems, when you grow up with them, is second nature.

I think IT departments will be asked more and more to play a bigger role in business optimization—implementing social media effectively, putting the right systems in place for remote workers to work effectively.

Sync: Will soft skills like interpersonal communication be more important?

Thibodeaux: You have those existing workers that are baby boomers, even generation X and early gen Y, that came into it from that geeky background—they don’t necessarily have good networking skills and communication skills. They want to go into a situation and just kind of mentally push people to the side—just let me alone and let me fix this. The kids that are coming up might not have the technical skills but have better communication and interaction skills. What I hope happens is that some of the tech rubs off on the app-centric millennials, and some of the communication skills rub off on the older generations.

Project management skills are also going to be really important for the tech worker of the future: the ability to put together a group, do follow-up, and set timelines. They may be used to doing those things, but not necessarily in working with individuals from outside of their field. They may be asked to lead projects and not just be part of them.

Sync: What other challenges do you foresee?

Thibodeaux: We’re coming from a generation of people who are used to disposable products: “If the phone breaks, well, I’ll just go get another one.” Workers always want the next, newest thing. Every time a new iPhone comes out, are you going to budget to replace everybody’s phone? That’s a challenge for the IT department in setting expectations.

Setting process rules for what constitutes personal information on a device will also be a challenge. That will become more and more of a problem in the future. For example, if you remote-wipe phones, you might erase somebody’s pictures of their children.

“We’re going to need people that can seamlessly move to Facebook and Foursquare, to capturing content and recording it, storing it, and sharing it.”

Sync: Should IT professionals be more proactive in working with business units instead of waiting for problems to surface?

Thibodeaux: Absolutely. Everybody knows a lot more about IT than they used to. The IT department can’t operate as if they can corner the market of IT knowledge. There are probably some things they can learn from others. It’s impossible for an IT department to keep track of all the apps that are out there that might lend some productivity to an organization.

They should go out and talk to folks about some of the new things business units are trying to do, and then look for solutions proactively instead of waiting for problems to come to them in tickets. The tickets will still come, but that can’t be the only way that IT adds value, because the tickets are going to diminish.

Sync: How can IT staff become more proactive?

Thibodeaux: See if you can tag along to department staff meetings. Ask about the challenges they are facing. Ask them about the technology and apps that they’re using in their personal lives.

They should look at case studies about how other organizations are using technology—how they’ve implemented different systems. Benchmark how your organization is using mobility, the cloud, remote conferencing capabilities, etc. Instead of asking “What is the cheapest way to implement a particular solution?” ask “What’s the best way people are using it?”

Don’t make it just one person’s job to do these things. Make it everybody’s responsibility. Look at ways to improve something based on the needs you’ve heard from internal stakeholders and the best-practice benchmarks from external sources. Find an internal base group to adopt a new app or a new piece of productivity software, and take it from there.

Sync: How will security demands impact IT groups?

Thibodeaux: Security is likely to be the IT career of the future that is most compartmentalized. Its sole purpose will be to ensure integrity of systems. Whether that’s going to be the cloud, a local/hybrid cloud, mobile devices—security’s job will be to set standards to monitor. Security is a discipline unto itself.

Also, the traditional IT person is going to have to have much more cybersecurity awareness. And everybody in the organization is going to have to enhance their understanding of cybersecurity—what is good practice and what is not.