IT Foundational Skills – Key Skills



An IT professional delivers creative and innovative solutions to customers and clients today whether it involves people, processes, and/or technologies. I have had the fortunate experience to be able to live through the beginnings of the PC to the cloud today.

The purpose of this post today is to focus on the key foundational skills required to be successful. What am I going to write will be debated but I still believe in the need to have a strong foundation first. If you have a strong foundation, then it is easy to build upon that foundation with training. When tools and technologies change, you will be able to quickly adapt to the ever-changing world.

How do you build a house today? The house always begins with a strong foundation and the house is built upon that strong foundation. Would you want to buy a house that is not built on a strong foundation? I don\’t think so.

Why would you want to skip the computing foundation then? I know some of you are anxious to get into the IT world and make money but you are doing yourself a disfavor if you try to skip the foundation. It will come back to bit you in the future. I will always suggest building the foundation first and then rapidly training in what you want to do in IT.

I have created a computing professional framework that spells out the key skills needed to be successful today. We will explore all the skills briefly but focus on the foundational skills. We will visit the other skills in a later article.


For the Genin / Apprentice Ninja skills, you need hardware, software, operating systems, coding, networking, and cybersecurity. You also need basic soft skills at the Genin / Apprenticeship Ninja level.

At the Chunin / Journey Ninja, you will need intermediate and advanced data skills, language/scripting, dev/ops process, and tools and technologies. At this level, Jonin / Journey Ninjas can lead missions and also teach lower-level ninjas.

What separates the Jonin from the Chunin is the recognition that Jonin / Master Ninjas are specialists in a particular area.

Soft Skills

I have been researching soft skills for over 20 years. In the mid-1990s, employers told me that students were lacking soft skills when they graduated. So, I have been awarded grants to research and understand these skills. From a community of practice perspective, new graduates need what I call the 6 C\’s – Creativity, Curiosity, Culture, Collaboration, Communication, and Community. A community of practice is a group of people who share a practice, communicate, collaborate, and learn together. Members of the community develop their own professional identity that they obtain through participating in the activities of the community.


For creativity, you need to be able to imagine and generate new ideas that have value for customers and clients.


For curiosity, you need to be inquisitive, to explore, to investigate, to learn, and to experiment.


For culture, you need to learn the customers, tools, values, beliefs, practices, and behaviors of the community.

Communication and Collaboration

For communication and collaboration, you need to be able to listen, dialogue, discuss, and work in teams.

We briefly reviewed each of the core soft skills. For more information and details on each of these soft skills, you can find them in a previous article.

All computing systems have input, processing, and output, and a feedback loop. It is important to open the hood of a system and fully understand the parts of the system and how they function.


Hardware Skills

For hardware skills, you don\’t need to know how to design and implement hardware but you need to understand the parts of a computer whether it is a desktop, laptop, or mobile device. That includes the basic computer architecture such as how one or more cores (microprocessors) and graphical processing units (GPUs) work together in a computing device today. You also need to understand monitors, keyboards, mice, storage, and other parts of a computer system. Once you understand the basics, almost all devices have a similar architecture to each other.

Software Skills

If you are going to work in an office environment, you need to be able to use word processors, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and simple databases at a minimum. There will be other applications you will need to learn whether they are on a computer or mobile device.

Operating Systems Skills

I am of the belief that people need to understand how operating systems work at both the command and GUI levels. Most work done by computing professionals is at the command line. Unfortunately, most people have never seen a command line but it is a critical skill to learn. Learning how the operating system architecture works, how to script in the operating system are also important skills to learn. You will have to interact with an OS on some level as a computing professional. I consider command-line skills critical at this level.

Coding Skills

Surprise, coding skills whether they are programming and/or scripting are back in vogue. With automation approaching rapidly, computing / IT professionals need to be able to code whether they will be a system administrator or a programmer today. I would argue that you need to learn an object-oriented language (Java / C#), a scripting language (Python) at a minimum. Once you know those well, you should be able to pick up a language you need to learn to do a job. I know a lot of languages because I understand the architecture of the languages and can pick them up quickly.

Networking Skills

Networking skills are very important to computing / IT professionals today. I would argue that both cyber and programmers need to know how traffic flows on the network. You need to know TCP/IP well because you will have to interact with it to program network applications or defend networks against intruders. A good understanding of network architecture is a must in today\’s environment.

Cybersecurity Skills

Cybersecurity skills are critical to everyone. We are all cyber defenders today. I would argue that basic cybersecurity concepts, practices, and tools need to be learned by all computing / IT professionals. The basic model of cybersecurity is the CIA triad – confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Each IT professional needs to know each of these areas well to understand the threats, vulnerabilities, and controls needed to be successful.


You would not build a house on a shoddy foundation why would you want to build your skills on a shoddy IT foundation. I was lucky enough to grow up at the beginning of the computer generation so I have mastered the foundation of IT. I am so thankful for my undergraduate days when I would ask why am I learning. Now I know why! I use the foundational skills I have learned just about every day.

Dr. M

Dr. M

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