Here at HackHouse, we are on a mission to make ethical hacking easy to learn for anyone wanting to transition to cyber security. A lot of my co-authors at HackHouse are going to focus on the technical aspects  and, while I do agree, having the right technical knowledge is a good thing to have. I wanted to start off with my first blog focusing on a non-technical aspect of everyone’s journey in IT.

“Non-technical stuff is boring,” I hear you cry, but without non-technical understanding and aptitude IT will be difficult for you to:

  1. Get your foot into the IT door
  2. To climb that corporate ladder
  3. To enjoy your IT career and make friends along the way.

This post is going to look at the softer side of work and focus on 4 soft skills that will make you an IT Rock Star. 

Soft Skills are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, social intelligence and emotional intelligence which are desirable in all professions. For IT these skills will take your career to the next level and will help you level up your career.

#1 Communication

Communication is something we all do on a daily basis, yet it is a skill that we often forget about. Being effective with your communications can accelerate your career and make you stand out of the crowd.

Working in IT will require you to talk to a lot of people, including your colleagues, supervisors and customers. Not being able to communicate with your team effectively can hamper your effectiveness on a day to day basis.

Bringing the elephant in the room into the mix, with COVID changing how the world and business now work (remote working etc), our communication medium has changed drastically. We have seen an increase in:

  • Emails
  • Phone Calls 
  • Virtual Meetings
  • Instant Messaging

While we have seen a reduction in face-to-face interactions and the social side of life. With this change of medium it has seen a shift in how we communicate and how effective we are.

Improving your communication skills can be a difficult to pinpoint but there are a number of ways you can tackle this:

  • Join local groups for hobbies so you can interact with like minded people
  • Volunteering
  • Guest write blog posts 
  • Join a Toastmasters group
  • Find a local meetup (covid permitting)

Also I have found the following cheat sheets to assist with improving your communication skills:

#2 Organisation and Time Management

I will be the first person to raise my hand and say “This is something I struggle with”. Being truthful, a lot of people struggle with this and not just in IT. The world is getting busier and busier and that means we are trying to squeeze as much out of a day as we can. Back-to-back meetings, more emails than we can shake a stick at, it drains your soul! 

I have tried every time management trick I can think of and still struggle with my day, and that is OK! Time management is something that is an ever-evolving beast and working in IT your day can change at the drop of a hat.

Let’s say you have prepared your To-Do list and are ready to tackle the day. About 20 minutes in, your manager asks you to drop everything and assist with a major incident … your to-do list is now redundant and you spend the next 2 working days fixing an issue.

Below are a few tips I have found that can help with organisation and time management of your day (not just in an IT role but in your life as well).

  • Inbox Zero – This is a rigorous approach to inbox management where you try and keep your Inbox to Zero. This technique means you make quick decisions on what emails you have, completing the quick win emails (less than 5 minutes work max), removing the non-essential emails and storing the more involved emails in an Action/To Do folder for more focused work.
  • Time Batching – I try to use my calendar to batch my time up into blocks of work. An example of this would be checking / sending emails. If I set an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening dedicated to inbox management (striving for Inbox Zero) it means I can dedicate the rest of the day focusing on meetings / important deliverables/tasks.
  • Note Keeping / Documentation – “A good IT engineer is as only as good as their notes”. If you don’t keep good notes in your career you are always going to be left behind. Open up a cloud-based note taking app and write up what you know. Working in IT you aren’t expected to remember everything you can do, but you are expected to be able to find the answer and if that is documented then that is half the battle.  

Organisation and Time Management depends on the person, like I said before I have tried a number of different tools and am currently using around 4 to help manage my work day and home life. Keeping these 2 areas of your life is 100% needed to help with your mental health, we don’t want you to be working 24/7!

Lastly, one of the best time management and organization tools you can use is … to leave your desk, go outside and take a walk. Stepping away from your laptop / computer to get some exercise and fresh air does wonders for your thinking and means, when you get back to your keyboard you are mentally refreshed.

#3 Creativity

When I say creativity, I am not expecting you to draw me a masterpiece or write me a song. Creativity in IT focuses on how you look at your IT career and the problem in front of you. 

An example could be around automation. Let’s say every week you are spending 8 hours of your working week completing some manual tasks. 8 hours (in some instances) can be 1 full working day. Over a month this is 32 (depending on the month) hours that you have completed this task. With automation you can work out easier ways of working where you can automate this task and reduce the time taken from 8 hours a week, to 2 hours a month. That would be a total saving of 30 hours a month you can then use to focus on other priorities or even self development and get that qualification you wanted.

For the example above, the creativity side of it is seeing there is an issue (spending 32 hours a month on a manual task) and then finding a way to reduce this to 2 hours a month. Without having that, I want to change how you work and find the answer. Also you may think this is kind of linked to Time Management, and you would be right to think that. To help manage your time you need to be creative in what you do on a day to day basis.

There are plenty of other ways you can be creative in your work/life.

  • You could invent the next iPhone …
  • You could join a GitHub project and help provide a solution to a problem
  • Writing blog posts and sharing your journey with other people

The list is endless, your creativity can help reduce costs for your business, help you save time or help someone in the world. Think big and don’t let anyone hold you back.

#4 Curiosity

For people wanting to or already in the cyber security space, being curious goes hand in hand with the job. 

Having foundation knowledge of how a system / software works enables you to push for exploits, finding bugs or developing other aspects that can overall improve what you are doing. 

In cyber security, for the red teamers amongst you, your curiosity will take you down a plethora of rabbit holes trying to find actionable holes and exploits that means you can get your first foot into the network / application. Once you have that foothold, your next step is to either escalate your privileges or pivot to the next vulnerable host(s).

For a blue teamer, your curiosity will be inspecting logs and reports on your internal systems. Seeing a log item pop up on your terminal and having that “this doesn’t feel right” feeling. Unraveling that message and seeing if it’s a hole that needs to be plugged or a false positive.

Learning to be curious is a skill we all have deep inside us. You will find that nearly everyone is curious about something, and that curiosity will push you further:

  • Athletes are curious how much they can push their body to shave a second off their time.
  • Hackers are curious how systems work
  • Leaders are curious about people’s perspectives in life. 

Being curious is a skill that will be more refined over time but feeding your curiosity early on means you will learn more quickly in your early career.

The best way to develop this skill is to find where your curiosity lies and ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more of a picture will be painted for you to know where you want to go on your journey.

Keep Pushing

The above 4 soft skills above will take time to nurture and grow. Some of you reading this might already be great with your organisational / time management skills or effective communicators but like any skill, they can be improved on.

Don’t feel disheartened if you struggle with the 4 above, there are a number of other soft skills that I haven’t covered in this post that you can seek out. Also not being good at something is a good thing, as it means you have space to grow. Seek out ways to improve yourself and focus on your weaknesses as that helps you develop as an IT rock star.

After reading this, if you do feel you are lacking in these soft skills don’t let this hold you back and stop applying for IT roles. Soft skills are built on experience and getting that first job or putting yourself out there in the world means you can start developing these skills.

IT jobs come in many shapes and sizes, and some will require you to use more soft skills than others.

Keep pushing yourself and keep growing!

Richard Blakemore

June 25, 2021

HackHouse.net Author