How to Become an IT Manager: 3 Things You Need to Succeed
You’ve worked hard to make a decent living in your entry-level IT job. But now you have a family, and bills are growing as quickly as your kids are. Groceries, extra-curricular activities and braces aren’t cheap—not to mention planning for college.
It might be time to advance in your career now that you aren’t the new kid anymore. For a seasoned IT pro like yourself, there are two possible journeys you can take to work your way up the corporate ladder.
One route is to become a specialist by mastering an advanced technical skill that’s in demand—such as data analytics. But if you are growing tired of sitting behind a desk with little human interaction and want to integrate your people skills into your daily work, a more appropriate option may be a move into management.
Becoming an IT manager will allow you to leverage your valuable experience to lead and develop a group of individuals. Not to mention, IT managers have a much-higher-than-average earning potential and jobs are expected to grow at the faster-than-average rate of 12 percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Interested? We gathered a combination of expert insight, government information and real-time market intelligence to determine the three things you need to propel your career in IT management: Skills, experience and education.
What IT management skills are needed to succeed?
IT management takes a lot more than technical expertise to thrive. To become an IT manager, you’ll need not only a foundation of practical knowledge, but also communication and leadership abilities too.
“IT managers need a variety of skills,” says Eva Doyle, leadership author and speaker. “They should understand enough about the technology they’re overseeing so that they recognize nonsense when it comes their way, but they don’t need to be the best engineer.” She adds that IT managers need political skills to showcase the value of their team to the rest of the company. Additionally, they need customer service skills to work with and manage client expectations, as well as financial skills to understand how to create and adhere to a budget.
Overall, the perfect IT manager will possess a healthy balance of hard and soft skills. We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine nearly 23,000 IT management job postings from the past year to identify some of the top skills employers are seeking.* Here’s what we found:
Hard skills in demand:
- SAP Implementation
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
Soft skills in demand:
- Project Management
- Information Systems
- Staff Management
- Supervisory Skills
How important is experience for IT managers?
Don’t expect to stroll into a management position as a fresh graduate with zero relevant work experience. As with many management positions, you will need experience working in the field first before you can supervise other employees and oversee the overall direction of their work. In fact, our analysis of IT management jobs show that 67 percent of employers prefer candidates to have at least six years of experience in the field.
Don’t have six years of experience quite yet? Don’t sweat it too much. For one, experience requirements aren’t typically set in stone—exceptions can be made for strong candidates. That said, you’ll still want to build your resume and obtain hands-on experience working in an IT role. Even entry-level tech jobs provide worthwhile experience that can be used to climb the corporate ladder in the future. Use your time in lower-level roles to pick the brains of management—let them know your career goals and ask what they did to reach their positions. It might seem intimidating, but keep in mind people generally enjoy mentoring and aiding in the professional development of their coworkers.
As you’re working to build your experience up, try to avoid falling into the trap of focusing solely on building your technical expertise. IT management roles are just as much about working with people as they are working with technology.
“If you’re going to be a manager, concentrate on associated skills that’ll help you in this field,” says Trave Harmon, CEO of Triton Technologies. “The client doesn’t need to know exactly the compression ratio of a file, but needs to know why it is being done. You’ll find projects go incredibly well when you break it down simply.”
How much education do IT managers need?
There are various levels of education that can help you land a job in technology; maybe you already have a degree, or maybe you don’t. You’ve gotten this far already and have acquired the necessary knowledge to succeed in your current position, but to stand out among the crowd, it may be necessary to advance your education as well.
Our analysis of IT management job postings revealed that 90 percent of employers prefer candidates to have at least a Bachelor’s degree. One common educational option for these professionals is a degree in IT Management.
A typical IT Management degree program will provide you with a blend of technical and business skills that will help you develop and manage IT solutions across multiple industries. Students will also develop a strong knowledge of the latest IT trends—such as cloud computing, virtualization and risk mitigation.
Here are a few examples of common IT management courses that will help prime you for success:
- Information Technology Systems Design
- IT Operations Management
- Risk Management and Business Continuity
- Management of Information Systems
- Information Technology Project Management
Learning this blend of skills will help you succeed with both the technical and interpersonal aspects of an IT management position.
Make your move
Skilled managers are a key component to any organization’s IT department. As you can see, landing a management role in information technology will certainly take time and effort—but don’t let that discourage you from reaching your career potential. Now that you know more about what it take to become an IT manager, it’s time for some self-evaluation. Do you check the boxes for what employers are looking for? Don’t let a lack of a college degree hold you back—check out Rasmussen College’s IT Management program page to learn more about the flexible ways they can help you take a big step toward advancing your information technology career.
*Burning-glass.com (analysis of 22,577 computer and information systems manager job postings,
Aug. 01, 2016 – Jul. 31, 2017)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in April 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.