Key IT Skills for Your Career in 2021

Skills you might consider getting to boost your IT career include cloud computing, programming, understanding systems and networks, and more.
Person looking up what IT skills are necessary to get a job in IT

Working in IT can mean anything from resolving an employee’s wifi issues to programming an organization’s new cloud infrastructure. Because the work is so diverse, the skills you need to know to get a job in the IT field can vary widely depending on your role. Browse a few listings of jobs you’re interested to see which skills you should focus on acquiring.

IT jobs generally refer to work done in an organization’s IT department—typically jobs that help keep the organization’s computers running smoothly, like help desk technicians, network engineers, or system administrators. The term “IT” however is used by some as a catch-all phrase to refer to any work that includes using or developing computers and computer programs. This latter category might include software engineers or web developers. This guide includes skills that are generally applicable to both.

Just starting out? The Google IT Support Professional Certificate can introduce you to the basics of IT.

Key IT skills

1. Cloud computing

Listed as one of the most in-demand skills of 2021 by Global Knowledge, cloud computing skills include anything from building cloud infrastructure to maintaining them [1]. Working with cloud technology can open doors to positions like cloud developer, cloud administrator, and cloud architect. Knowledge of the following cloud platforms can be useful:

  • AWS

  • Google Cloud

  • Microsoft Azure

  • Oracle

2. Programming

Being able to program will be a must for those who want to develop software, web applications, and websites. It’ll also be useful for IT workers who want to automate tasks. The languages below are commonly requested of programmers and can be asked of IT professionals as well. You can get started by browsing programming language courses.

  • Python

  • C++

  • JavaScript

  • Ruby

  • PowerShell

3. Systems and networks

Making sure computer systems and networks are operating smoothly is central to the work of an IT team. Typical roles specializing in this skill set include system administrators and network administrators. System and network skills can also be useful for working in cloud administration or security as well. On a basic level, these skills include:

  • Administering diverse operating systems like Windows, Linux, or Mac

  • Installing and configuring computer hardware and software

  • Cloud administration and applications

  • Maintaining local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (WAN), storage area networks (SAN), and virtual private networks (VPNs)

  • Troubleshooting

  • Helping employees with technical issues

4. Security

Security should be foundational to any IT team. Starting out in a help desk, networking, or system administration role can introduce you to concepts that are helpful to know for security purposes. The following skills can help you qualify for IT security positions—like information security analyst—at the entry-level and beyond.

  • Familiarity with physical, network, and software security 

  • Installing firewalls and routers

  • Data encryption

  • Risk mitigation strategy and threat analysis

  • Knowledge of compliance regulations and standards like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and CCPA

  • Ethical hacking and penetration testing

Read more: 10 Popular Cybersecurity Certifications

5. Data analysis

Being able to analyze data will be useful for various IT tasks. Monitoring performance data can help teams find security threats, or see where inefficiencies exist in their operations. Jobs that work with data in the IT realm include database administrators and data engineers.

  • SQL

  • Statistics

  • Python

6. Machine learning

A skill useful for programmers and data professionals, machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, has become one of the most prominent skills to learn in the technology sphere. You can start learning basic skills through online machine learning coursework. Specific skills associated with machine learning can include:

  • Parametric and nonparametric algorithms

  • Kernels

  • Clustering

  • Deep learning techniques

7. DevOps

DevOps—a combination of “development” and “operations”—acts as a bridge between the software development and IT teams. Though a field unto itself, DevOps skills can help in both the IT and development aspects of running an organization. Working in DevOps often means becoming a DevOps engineer. You might need the following skills:

  • Understanding of continuous delivery theory

  • Container technologies like Docker or Kubernetes

  • Scripting languages like Python, Ruby, and C 

  • Familiarity with cloud operations

How to Gain IT Skills

Here are a few ways to learn the skills that can contribute to a successful career in IT:

  • Teach yourself: Many programming languages, data analysis techniques, and certain IT skills can be self-taught through online courses or home projects. You can find several courses on Coursera, including introductory classes to Python or cybersecurity.

  • Certifications: Certifications can be a solid way to ensure your abilities meet professional standards. You’ll generally have to study for and pass an exam. See what entry-level certification fits your interests.

  • Bootcamps: Generally lasting from several weeks or months, bootcamps are intensive courses that are designed to bring you specific skills in that time period. Though coding bootcamps are popular, bootcamps exist for topics like cybersecurity as well.

  • Degrees: Though perhaps more time-consuming than the other options, getting a degree in computer science or a related field can be a structured way to gain the technical skills needed to enter the computer world. Plus, going back to school is correlated with higher incomes.

Putting your skills into action: Resumes and interview

Once you have the skills you need to start applying for jobs, it’s time to list them where people can find them. Update your resume and LinkedIn with your new credentials—here’s some guidance on putting skills into your resume.

In interviews, come prepared with stories about how you’ve used your skills in the past. If you’ve only used your skills in a course or at home, that’s fine—just be ready to describe what you accomplished. Did you use Python to create graphs out of a data set, or configure devices to a new network? 

If you’re looking for a quick way to get more hands-on experience, browse Coursera’s guided projects for projects that you can complete in under two hours. They can also help you refresh old skills to prepare you for the interview.

Getting started

Changing careers or starting a new one can be an overwhelming task. But obtaining the skills can be a good place to begin. If you’re looking for a place to start learning the broad basics of IT work, consider looking at Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate—the first week is free.

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Article sources

1. Global Knowledge. "The most in-demand IT skills for 2021, https://www.globalknowledge.com/en-gb/resources/articles/the-most-in-demand-it-skills-for-2021." Accessed April 13, 2021.

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