Why Foundational Skills for IT Engineers Remain Critical in a Cloud-Native World

Fundamental engineering skills are crucial for IT engineers to succeed in modern IT jobs, regardless of the specific technologies they work with.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

July 24, 2023

4 Min Read
employee at a workstation

The technologies that IT operations teams support have expanded and changed tremendously over the past decade. In addition to mastering virtualization technology, for example, today's IT engineers must also know how to manage containers, Kubernetes, and cloud environments.

Yet, what arguably has not changed are the engineering skills that IT operations teams need to work effectively today. The best approach to succeeding in modern IT jobs is to focus on fundamental skills for engineering, rather than on learning specific technologies. Mastery of technologies might help, but the foundation for success is the foundational skills that have been central to IT engineering for decades.

What Are Fundamental Skills for Engineering in IT?

When I talk about "fundamental skills" for IT engineers, I'm referring to the core engineering abilities that apply to virtually any type of IT system — whether it's one you'd find running in a modern cloud-native environment or a legacy system deployed decades ago.

You could debate exactly what those skills entail, but a general list might look something like this:

  • Knowledge of how software is built and how code turns into applications.

  • An understanding of data storage concepts and approaches.

  • An understanding of computer networking fundamentals.

  • The ability to handle end-user requests and identify opportunities for improving the end-user experience.

  • An understanding of how the IT organization interfaces with other parts of the business, and of how to navigate relationships between IT and other departments.

  • Familiarity with cybersecurity challenges and best practices.

Related:7 Reasons to Pursue an IT Operations Engineering Career

The way that IT engineers actually apply these skills may vary widely from one context to the next. For example, managing storage on a bare-metal server (where you can store data using a simple file system) is very different from managing storage in a Kubernetes cluster (where you have to configure software-defined storage interfaces, create storage volumes, and attach them to containers). Likewise, managing cybersecurity risks for a legacy ERP system is quite different from securing a cloud-native application.

Yet so long as IT engineers possess the foundational knowledge necessary to work with storage resources, networks, end users, and so on, they can succeed in virtually every environment.

Back to Basics written in chalk


Have We Stopped Valuing Fundamental IT Skills?

What I've just said may seem obvious. There's clear value in learning basic IT skills that engineers can apply to a wide range of technologies, use cases, and business needs.

Related:Top 7 Programming Languages for IT Engineers to Learn

But if you look at the skills that companies say they want when they hire IT engineers, you'll find in many cases that they don't align with the foundational capabilities described above. Instead, hiring tends to be oriented to technology-specific skills, which are the opposite of general-purpose IT skills.

For example, when I searched for openings for "IT engineer" on jobs.com, the top results included ads that emphasized skills like "deep understanding of cloud technologies, architectures, and best practices," "experience designing and delivering applications using AWS," and the ability to "build, configure, and maintain data pipelines and data assets in ElasticSearch." Rare was the ad that encouraged IT engineers to apply if they had basic, broadly applicable IT skills but not skills specific to certain technologies.

That's too bad because the best IT engineers are likely to be those who have the broad foundational knowledge necessary to work with any technology, in any environment or organization. After all, the systems and tools that a business uses today may change tomorrow, and engineers who have mastered certain technologies, but not more basic IT skills, are not prepared to adapt.

So, here's to companies who focus on hiring IT engineers with the skills necessary to succeed in any role, not those who know how to manage the specific technologies a business relies on today but may cease to use in the future. Technology is changing quickly, but a good IT engineer has the knowledge necessary to keep pace regardless of which IT tools or trends may come and go.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher 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.

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