Table of Contents
1. What Is IT Operations?
2. How IT Operations Skills Have Changed
3. The Top 10 In-demand IT Operations Skills
4. How IT Operations Skills Benefit the Business
5. IT Operations Skills Questions Answered
IT operations is one of the oldest disciplines in the realm of IT. For decades, businesses have relied on ITOps to deliver and support the core IT systems that they rely on to function.
But the world of IT has evolved, and IT operations skills have evolved with it. Some ITOps skills that were once critical are less important today. At the same time, new types of key ITOps skills have emerged, and others have assumed newfound importance.
This article explains which IT operations skills are most important to businesses today. In so doing, it provides guidance to business leaders formulating plans for organizing IT operations teams. It also offers an overview of how engineers can prime themselves for success in a modern ITOps career.
What Is IT Operations?
IT operations is the function within a business that is responsible for planning, implementing, and managing IT systems and resources. IT operations extends to many different domains within IT, including administration of servers and PCs, management of networks, delivering support to end users, and beyond.
Related: IT Operations vs. DevOps: What's the Difference?
Because almost every business today uses IT systems extensively, virtually every business needs some form of IT operations team staffed by engineers who have the requisite skills to ensure that IT systems operate as required.
How IT Operations Skills Have Changed
Again, IT operations departments have existed for decades. But IT has evolved in many ways over the decades, due to changes such as the following:
- The adoption of virtualization technology for running servers.
- The advent of software-defined networking and storage.
- The migration of workloads to the cloud.
- The widespread adoption of distributed computing platforms, like Kubernetes, and microservices architectures.
For these reasons and more, the ITOps skills that matter most today are different in many respects from those that were the most important 10 or 20 years ago.
Related: 5 Must-Have IT Management Skills That Go Beyond Technical Expertise
The Top 10 In-demand IT Operations Skills
To elaborate on that point, here's a look at ten in-demand ITOps skills today, along with an explanation of what makes each skill so important.
1. Data processing
Fifteen or 20 years ago, virtually all of the data that a business relied on was stored in conventional databases, like MySQL, or in file systems. Today, however, businesses make heavy use of large-scale big data and data analytics technologies such as Hadoop, Spark, and Kafka, to name just a few.
As a result, IT operations engineers who have the skills to work with these data technologies are essential for ensuring that businesses can leverage their data resources effectively. Data administration skills were always an important part of ITOps, but they're more important today than ever.
Software-defined networking, which makes it possible to build abstract, virtual networks on top of physical network infrastructure, has exponentially increased the complexity of modern networks.
IT operations teams must now be able to support much more complex networks. They need the skills necessary to understand new types of network protocols, like the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). They need to be able to work with cloud-native firewalls, virtual private clouds, and other types of software-defined network tools and constructs. These types of skills were simply less important in the days when networks were less complex.
3. Systems administration
The systems that ITOps teams manage today have also grown significantly in complexity. Modern ITOps engineers need to be able to manage large-scale, distributed environments, such as Kubernetes clusters. They also need, in many cases, to be able to work across multiple types of operating systems, hypervisor platforms, container runtime technologies, and more. And they may need to administer workloads in the cloud in addition to traditional on-premises servers.
4. Cloud administration
Although in some cases system administrators are expected to bring cloud administration skills to the table, in other cases IT operations teams dedicate specific roles to cloud administrators.
This makes sense given that a majority of workloads today run in the cloud, so the abilities to understand complex cloud architectures, work with cloud-specific tools like Identity and Access Management (IAM) frameworks, and troubleshoot cloud performance issues are essential skills for modern ITOps engineers.
Every year sets new records for the frequency and intensity of cybersecurity attacks. For ITOps teams, this means that security skills are paramount. Although IT operations engineers aren't usually expected to be solely responsible for security, they do need at least basic security skills, such as the ability to configure infrastructure according to the principle of least-privilege and to help manage incident response operations when a security issue arises.
6. Project management
As IT operations grow increasingly complex, the ability to manage IT operations projects grows increasingly important. If you have the skills necessary to help chart project timelines and resource requirements, as well as to ensure that project stakeholders do their jobs on time and as promised, you can contribute a crucial skill to modern ITOps.
7. Business analysis
To deliver maximum value, IT operations must align with business needs. ITOps teams need to understand which IT systems and features the business requires, how much money the business can invest in those systems, and how to update those systems over time to ensure that they continue to meet changing business needs.
To address these requirements, some IT operations teams deploy business analysts. Business analysts have the skills necessary to understand both IT and business requirements, and to help guide IT operations teams as they work to support the business.
8. Technical writing
Documenting the way systems work, tracking changes over time, and explaining complex IT systems to non-technical business users are all important for ensuring that IT operations teams are efficient and effective. Technical writers, who have the skills necessary both to understand IT concepts and to explain them in a way that is easy to digest, can address these requirements.
9. Software development
In most cases, software development is treated as a separate function from IT operations, and ITOps engineers are not expected to have extensive coding skills. Nonetheless, a basic ability to develop software is becoming an increasingly important ITOps skill because it can help IT operations engineers write scripts, manage code-based configurations, and create integrations between systems.
Low-code development platforms can help IT operations teams take even greater advantage of basic coding skills by maximizing their productivity while minimizing the amount of code they have to write.
10. Systems engineering
Systems engineering is a function within IT operations that helps ensure that systems are optimally designed and managed. Systems engineers have the skills necessary to assess IT systems and environments from a big-picture perspective, then determine how to optimize those systems to meet both technical and business requirements.
In a world where IT systems are growing constantly more complex, systems engineering helps IT operations teams stay on top of the complexity, while also reining in costs and keeping IT aligned with business needs.
How IT Operations Skills Benefit the Business
An IT operations team that brings all of the skills described above to the table provides the following benefits for the business:
- The technical expertise necessary to ensure that the business's IT systems allow it to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.
- Analytical skills, such as the ability to process large volumes of data, that help the business make better decisions and solve problems faster and more efficiently.
- The collaboration skills necessary to bring different stakeholders with different types of expertise together to achieve common business goals, such as completing projects that require input from technical, financial, and management teams.
- The planning skills required to execute large-scale, complex projects, and to make strategic decisions about how to allocate limited IT resources in ways that deliver maximum benefit to the business.
- The ability to improve IT operations — and, by extension, business operations — on a continuous basis by constantly finding new ways to optimize IT systems, and by ensuring that IT remains aligned with business needs as the latter evolve.
IT Operations Skills Questions Answered
Following are some commonly asked questions about modern ITOps skills.
How can I develop these skills?
There are two main ways to develop modern ITOps skills: formal training programs and on-the-job experience.
If you already work in IT or a related field, experimenting with in-demand IT technologies is a good way to skill up. But if you want a more structured approach — or if you're new to the IT field — you may benefit from a training program that focuses on a specific in-demand part of ITOps, such as cloud administration or data processing.
Which ITOps skills pay the most?
IT operations salaries vary widely, and the specific skills you bring to the table are only one aspect of how much you can earn in IT. (Other aspects include factors like your overall IT experience and your ability to collaborate with people in other roles.)
That said, focusing on ITOps skills that are in very high demand or that align with areas where businesses are likely to be making increased IT investments in coming years is a good way to maximize your earnings. Security and cloud administration are two IT operations skills areas that fit this bill.
How can I evaluate my IT operations skills?
If you want to validate your IT operations skills — either just so that you can confirm for yourself that you have expertise in a certain area or to prove it to an employer — you can earn a certificate. Organizations like CompTIA and ITIL offer various certifications related to IT operations skills.
Certifications are also available from many cloud providers, networking companies, and vendors associated with specific security or data analytics platforms.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.