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Soft is hard, hard is easy


So you want to be a CTO or CIO someday? Have you ever wondered what it takes to climb that IT career ladder successfully? Maybe I have an answer for you.

I recently listened to a panel of CEOs talk about the work force of the future, and among the various bits of wisdom (or just plain old wishful thinking), one panelist remarked that the mantra of a successful CTO is “soft is hard, hard is easy.”

No, this isn’t some arcane riddle that you can waste time trying to figure out between provisioning some more LUNs or patching another batch of servers. It means that successful, upward-moving IT professionals need to master some aspects of the organization that just aren’t taught in any IT curriculum.

There’s no question that an IT career takes knowledge – a LOT of knowledge. Schooling only gets your foot in the door, and the learning never stops as new technologies and products are assimilated into the business. Then there’s the full schedule of challenging projects that wedge an IT pro firmly between a tight budget and a tight timeline. It can seem like you’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

But in the overall scheme of things, answers to all of those technological challenges are well within reach. There are tangible solutions to all of the hardware and application problems that you face as a technician, an administrator or a manager. It’s hard, but it’s also the easiest part of your career — hard is easy.

You see, it’s the array of other subtle “softer” challenges that can stunt your climb up the corporate ladder. Success usually comes down to a mastery of people, processes and politics.

Managing people can be more demanding than any new technology deployment. This is particularly true when it comes to managing today’s younger workers — a demographic whose proclivity for learning is matched only by their fierce disdain for traditional management structures. Identifying, developing and retaining those quality employees are not simple tricks.

Processes play an enormous role in business operations, and the ability to develop and refine processes while maintaining the support of important stakeholders within the organization can make or break a business.

Of course, the endless struggles and agendas of corporate politics remain a harsh reality – you’re not the only one trying to make it to the top.

Skills with people, processes and politics are all “soft skills,” often existing in tandem with professional capital, like your reputation and your credibility. These are also the most difficult skills to possess for IT folks that are noted for their organized, systematic and logical minds — soft is hard.

With economic conditions slowly improving, and companies looking to increase their investment in technology, IT professionals may soon see more opportunities for advancement. If you have your eye on a corner office, take stock of your skillset and remember that it might not be the hard stuff that’s holding you back. Soft is hard, hard is easy. *

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