CIOs discuss the most desirable IT skills in 2024

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From certifications and hard skills to leadership, IT leaders break down the most sought-after skills this year, and offer sound advice for the class of 2023.

In today’s professional landscape, a career in IT stands out as exceptionally desirable. The allure of navigating through an unpredictable and constantly evolving field has eclipsed the traditional appeal of a mundane nine-to-five desk job.

This sentiment is particularly resonant among GenZs, renowned for their tech-savviness and eagerness to contribute to dynamic organisations and cutting-edge technologies. CIO South Africa recently interviewed several IT leaders to uncover the most coveted IT skills, and the qualities they seek in prospective candidates.

Yunus Scheepers, group CIO Alula Technologies, explains that at the moment there is a significant interest in AI, especially Generative AI – a direct result of Microsoft’s and OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT and the Copilot stack.

“So, if you’re looking to further your studies,” Yunus says, “my recommendation would be to explore courses aligned to these technologies. In addition, it has also become very clear that in order to get maximum value from these technologies, you need good data and a quick (and secure) integration platform. The power of these solutions is to increase productivity, and that is achieved by synthesising a comprehensive (but simple) response from multiple sources of data/information,” he says.

He adds that data science and data analytics are good options whether the focus is AI (machine learning, neural networks etc.) or business data analytics. “There is a massive demand from companies trying to make sense of their terabytes of customer data, and people who love maths will love this stuff.”

On generative AI, Yunus says that technologies such as Copilot are getting more people eager to understand it, use it, and experience the value quickly and easily. “However, good change management, training and support are crucial – people with these skills will become very valuable in the near future,” he stresses.

“Gone are the days where you solely need a university degree to work in IT,” says Hamzah Asmall, GM for digitalisation at Al Baraka Bank.

Hamzah shares Yunus’s sentiments about understanding how to apply the tech that is currently being used, and people with those skills being key to the organisation – he’s a proponent of the certification route.

According to Hamzah, hard skills have really come to the forefront in order for people to be employable in the industry, hard skills that talk to most relevant technologies in the market.

Hamzah also makes special considerations to the class of 2023, who want to further their studies after matric, but are unable to do so due to lack of funding. He has a solution: “These young individuals can go and do short courses online with a training provider – over a couple of weeks – and write the Microsoft certifications online,” he advises.

“Once you have the certifications you are immediately employable. That’s because these Microsoft certifications are characterised as an industry-recognised set of certifications or credentials to say, ‘Yes, he or she knows about this technology and they can immediately add value to the business.’”

Talk to who you want to become one day

Hamzah says another quick way to secure employment in the IT industry is to talk to the people who are in the know, and work in the industry. “It makes sense to speak to somebody in the IT industry to understand what technologies are in demand, and then go off and do a certification and get something on your name very quickly,” he adds.

However, if you really want to get the attention of IT leaders such Hamzah, be different and stand out of the crowd. How? It’s simple, he says: “Build up a portfolio of work, especially if you want to get into software development – nothing impresses me more than seeing a graduate come across and right on the top of a CV, there’s a link to a website that they’ve published – that goes a long way,” he explains.

That alone, to Hamzah, is an indication that the young person is hungry to learn and has learned how to create, but most importantly apply what they’ve learned.

“In our environment, we look for people who have the ability to encourage change across the organisation and focus people to actually make it happen – this skill is leadership,” he says. “These leaders need support teams with project facilitation skills like project management, business system configuration skills, business analysis and design skills or practical enterprise architecture delivery skills, and performance improvement measurement skills.”

Working your way up

For Eugene van der Lingen, CIO at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), a house is only as strong as the foundation it’s built on.

“Obtaining a tertiary education is always a good thing – you never stop learning,” he says, encouraging young people to gather degrees, diplomas and certifications on specific technology. “These teach you how to work with the technology, and are great on your CV, and a degree goes a long way in the long run,” he explains.

Eugene believes that experience in most cases far outweighs what’s written on paper. For him, a candidate with 10 years of work experience will stand more than the qualifications they might have.

“Don’t be scared to start at the very bottom in order to get the experience and try your best to study as much as possible. Even while you are working, don’t study and then work and think it’s done – it continues because the IT industry changes all the time,” he concludes.

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