The 4 Key Skills You Need to Get Ahead in IT




By Paul Gregory – Principal Technologist and Trainer at QA –




I have been training IT professionals for over 15 years. During this time, I have had the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading IT organizations and some of the best IT professionals in the UK.

Being in this unique position, I often find that I am asked by delegates - who are looking to better their skills in IT - for my opinion on what I think makes a good IT professional.  

As a trainer, of course, I am likely to say training! But there is more to IT than having all of the latest certifications and course attendance sheets. Here are my 4 golden rules for getting ahead in IT.


1)  The Obvious Lesson – Be On-The-Pulse

I guess the first lesson is the obvious one.  Everyone spouts the same mantra – but its true – monitor the up-and-coming IT trends and technologies, stay ahead of the game, and monitor the progress and changes of the constantly moving juggernaut that is IT technology.  

2)  The Hardest Lesson – Don’t Follow the Crowd

For me, this lesson is one of the hardest to follow.  As humans we do not like to be different we like to agree and follow. But in IT, it is important to form your own opinion and try things out for yourself rather than following the IT crowd.

Let’s look at an example of this type of behavior; some of the courses I teach at QA are on Windows 7, and I have found that a number of my delegates leave these courses saying ‘we should have looked at Vista’ – in fact in the last course I taught 30% of delegates fed this back.
Many people’s opinions of Vista have been formed by reading Internet blogs and listening to techie gossip.  However when people attend Windows 7 training and find features they really like they are often the ones introduced in Vista.  It is important not to rule technologies or approaches out without testing and evaluating them for yourself and the business you work for. You may find that a product which hasn’t worked for one business can make a real difference to you.

3)  A Lesson I Learnt the Hard Way…Manage your IT, Don’t Let It Manage You

During my first couple of years in IT I learnt a painful lesson. The workplace of the 80’s was very different compared to today and I was working for Unisys in 3rd Line Support, as well as managing a set of production Novell servers. 

One day, my boss (a guy called Chris Mullen, bald as a coot but a lovely guy) asked if I had any hardware requirements. Now, me, naive as I was at that age (around 20) living in the moment replied ‘No Thank You Boss’.  A few weeks went by, six at the most, and the server farm started to run low on disk space, so I trundled round to his desk to highlight that I needed some new hard disks. His face went bright red, and he looked at me sternly – he rubbed his hands over his head, and I am sure that had he had any, he would have started pulling his hair out. So, what was the cause of Chris’ distress? Well, in the 80’s, hard disks were pretty pricey - £1000’s for 100’s MB. My boss had asked me about hardware when he was forecasting his budgets for the next year. My new revelation had just thrown his new budget completely out of the water.  This experience meant that I learnt two lessons very quickly, lessons which I still recite today as I find other IT professionals making the same mistakes I did.

1)  Make sure you manage your IT, do not let the IT manage you

2)  Make informed decisions that will not negatively impact others

Both these lessons enable the business to feel the IT is being managed in a controlled and planned way.  IT then becomes an asset to the business and so do the individuals that make it happen.

4)  A Strange Lesson – Be Bi-Lingual, We Don’t All Speak the Same Language

IT people and business people do not speak the same language. We might sound like we do, the words we use may sound the same but the way we interpret each other can be way off. As an IT professional it is important to be able to communicate in terms that the business understands.  It is often the IT team’s role to communicate issues, and recommend solutions. If we are unable to communicate our business case in terms that the business understands, then we are fighting a losing battle.

An example of this? Well, I previously ran an IT services company and when discussing a client’s backup requirements, I was told they were ‘All backed up’ – but on pressing the customer for more information I found that in reality the customer was only doing full backups each night. By only backing up each night, the customer was not ‘all backed up’, they were risking 24 hours’ worth of data loss each day. And so we see that the business owner’s interpretation of their IT system was very different to the reality. 

As IT professionals we often have to make sure we question our business stakeholders and explain the implications of our recommendations.  Often the reality of decisions only unfold when it is too late and the business is then left unhappy.

My Final Piece of Advice…

So in summary, of course, core technology skills are hugely important in IT, without these you are unlikely to be taken seriously and you will not be able to perform your core role effectively.
However, they are not the only skills required to get to the top – there are some key business lessons and life skills which IT professionals will need to master to get ahead.  Most organizations now recognize that senior IT people need more than just great technical ability, they also need them to demonstrate business-focused skills.

It might mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but in my opinion, acquiring business skills will enable you to really get ahead in the world of IT.




With over 15 years’ experience delivering and authoring Microsoft Windows Server technology courses, Paul is one of the most experienced trainers in the industry.

A Microsoft Certified Trainer since 1995, Paul has worked both for and with some of the world’s leading IT Services organizations. Paul specialises in developing and delivering training courses on the Windows Operating system. He is a frequent visitor to Microsoft’s Global Headquarters in Seattle, attending early product workshops for some of Microsoft’s new products.

Paul has also delivered many leading edge training courses at the request of Microsoft (US) – he has been called upon in the past to train numerous Microsoft Partners from all over the world in technologies such as Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualisation, Management tools and Private Cloud.




Comments (3)
  1. BArt IT says:

    This is a great article Paul. Short, but as the most suitable approach to the topic. In my opinion, a lot of IT Pro should read it.

  2. says:

    This is a great article Paul. Short, but as the most suitable approach to the topic. In my opinion, a lot of IT Pro should read it.

  3. Paul Gregory says:

    Many thanks for you kind comment.  When I was asked to write something I decided to take a risk and go off-piste rather than stick to the  more conventional direction talking about cloud certification future products, etc.

    Thank you again,


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