Have you ever envisioned a career as an IT manager? Let’s examine the role and what it takes to become one.
“IT manager” is a rather nebulous term. In broad strokes, however, it’s someone who’s in charge of an organization’s entire IT system, from the hardware (i.e., the PCs that employees use every day) to the cloud platforms powering the company’s services and operations. The job touches on several key tech areas, including (but not limited to) cybersecurity, network engineering, and more.
At a small organization, an IT manager might manage just a handful of people. At a larger one, an IT manager might sit atop an org structure of hundreds of people; in such cases, the IT manager usually has a number of managers reporting to them (and their actual job title is something like CTO). At both large and small organizations, IT managers are often tasked with helping determine IT policies; leadership depends on their expertise to develop effective and cyber-safe systems.
Even if you’re an IT manager at a large organization and not doing the daily hands-on work, you still have to know how to do the work. Your direct reports will likely come to you with questions; if somebody is out sick or you’re understaffed, you may need to step in yourself. Because of that, keeping your technical skills up-to-date is always essential in this role.
Pro tip: There’s a big career choice here: Do you want to be doing hands-on work, do you want to be managing people, or both? If you love doing hands-on work, you probably won’t want to take on an IT manager position at a large corporation.
How do you become an IT manager?
Before you can become an IT manager, you need to spend time working in IT and building your well-rounded skillset. Here are some of the many skills you’ll want to perfect:
- Installing and upgrading operating systems
- Managing the automatic updates
- Controlling login access to computers
- Installing VPN software, including the client VPN apps on the computers, and the main VPN system in the network
- Understanding network technology
- Configuring network hardware
- Using management and monitoring software so you can log events and know what’s happening in the network
- Managing networks in the cloud and provisioning servers as well as serverless technologies
General IT skills:
- Implementing governance policies, which means making sure the entire system solves the needs of the corporation
- Implementing security policies, such as what computers and devices can connect to the network.
- Setting up issue software so users can submit trouble tickets and requests
- Managing hardware inventory
The above list isn’t exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of the necessary skills. You will also want to be able to perform as much of the above as possible remotely. Keep in mind that, while many management jobs can be done entirely on a remote basis, many IT managers must be on-site to access certain hardware and meet with stakeholders.
Skills you need for an IT manager position
After you’ve honed all the above IT skills, you’ll want to also learn IT management skills (i.e., soft skills), which include effective communication, teamwork, and listening/empathy. At this level, you will not only be managing people, but you may be involved in important corporate decisions—and even if you aren’t involved in such decisions, you will be tasked with implementing such decisions. Here are some examples:
- Moving certain parts of the system to the cloud. If you’re involved in the decision, you might also be tasked with deciding how much of the system to move to the cloud.
- Making sure computers are set up properly and distributed to the correct people.
- Managing computer inventory.
- Overseeing the implementation of large IT projects, such as installing a new software package on every employee’s computer (and providing a way to do so smoothly). If you’re involved in the decision, you might be tasked with determining which software application is best suited for the job.
- Working with vendors, such as companies supplying your computers, other hardware, and software. You may be the person who interacts with a vendor, and you might even be the one who has to discuss rates and payments. If you’re involved in the decisions, you also might be tasked with finding the vendors and deciding who is best for what you need.
Then you’ll be tasked with both managing and hiring people for your team. This will include skills such as:
People management skills: You want to be a fair manager who your employees will be willing to work for.
Reporting to your boss: You will be the boss’s view into the IT organization.
Dealing with problems and errors: For example, when an employee makes a mistake, you need to move quickly, especially if cybersecurity is involved. Then you’ll need to provide your boss with a report of what happened, why, and how you’ll prevent it from happening in the future—all without throwing your employee under the bus.
Managing project assignments: You’ll quickly learn who on your team is good at what, and who is best for which project. But sometimes the right person for a project might be tied up with a different project. As a manager, you need to figure out how to shuffle your people around so all the work gets done correctly and in a timely manner.
Interviewing and onboarding: As the IT manager, you’ll be the one interviewing people for your team. This will likely also include reviewing resumes that HR provides to you. And after people are hired, you’ll be tasked with onboarding them and helping them get up to speed.
Mentoring: You’re the one who has the experience and who the younger and junior-level people will come to for help. Mentoring is an important skill, as you want to make sure such employees learn their skills properly without you simply doing it for them.
Training: As you’re mentoring your employees, you might need to send them to a training program to learn more skills. These can be short online courses, or bootcamps, or even college courses. You’ll also likely need to make suggestions to your bosses on what training plans are needed for continuing education and onboarding. Remember, no companies are identical, and even experienced IT technicians joining your organization will need training on your particular systems and ways of doing things.
As you work your way up in IT, don’t be afraid to ask your current IT manager for tips and suggestions along the way. Lots of people in tech have no interest in becoming a manager; if you mention to your boss that you’re interested in management, they will likely be glad to help teach you what they know. (And they might be aspiring to move up to a leadership position, perhaps a vice president or CTO, in which case they’ll need somebody they trust to eventually fill their role.)
As with any tech position, IT management demands lifelong learning. Practice the skills we listed here—and plan to keep learning more.