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Defining the role every tech org needs

Amy Larson

Forward-thinking technology leaders continually assess the roles they have and don’t have in their organizations. But even the most cutting-edge may overlook one critical role that’s emerging: technology skills director. This role will be a game-changer for organizations.

Many organizations have L&D departments under HR that build upskilling programs for the entire company. But when it comes to skill development for technology teams, L&D is no longer the primary driver of these programs.

So, who is driving technology skill development? Respondents to a 2019 Pluralsight survey said that managers, directors and VPs of tech teams are involved in championing skill programs for technologists 70% of the time, compared to L&D being involved only 45% of the time. And 21% of respondents said they had a dedicated technology skills role leading the charge.

What’s the org structure?

L&D is a critical partner for the technology skill development leader, but it can’t be a replacement for this role. A technology skills director will sit within an IT department, most often reporting to the CIO or another senior technology leader, and be closely aligned with the L&D org.

The role exists outside L&D because the needs of technology orgs are unique. They face an accelerated pace of change, incredible competition for talent, and complexity of roles and skills across different functions. No other department feels the pains of these challenges like IT. Think about an initiative like cloud transformation, for instance. A cloud architect role alone requires skills that encompass programming languages, networking, data storage fundamentals, security foundations, cloud-specific patterns and technologies, communication and more, and that’s hardly the only role a team needs to execute a multi-cloud strategy. And as cloud providers innovate, the roles and skills of an organization need to evolve too.

This is why a dedicated technology skills leader is critical. They need to constantly work with technology leaders to answer questions like:

  • What skill gaps exist on your team today?
  • What roles do you need to fill to meet your goals?
  • What are your main technology objectives this year?
  • What changes are you making to your tech stack that would require new skills?

Who makes a great candidate for this role?

It helps if the person who fills this role shares common language with the CIO. This could be an L&D practitioner who’s spent years supporting engineering teams and thus has become enmeshed in the complexities of the tech world. But it will more often be someone who has managed technology teams directly, giving them an acute understanding of the challenges they face and what it takes to succeed.

Beyond experience, here are other capabilities you should look for in this role:

  • A deep understanding of technology, tools and processes
  • A track record of building trust and relationships with leaders
  • Expertise in collaboratively creating detailed program plans around outcomes
  • Strong written and in-person communication skills
  • Excellent problem-solving abilities with the ability to understand the needs of others
  • Comfort in acting as a facilitator and serving as the face of a program
  • Ability to analyze data, draw conclusions and make recommendations

What do they do?

In short, the technology skills director ensures that technical teams have the right skills at the right time and that the company has an ongoing source of tech talent. To do this, they have to index skills, upskill teams and measure skill development.

To see how this role plays out, let’s take a look at three common programs we see among our customers.

Onboarding and career mobility

Every engineering team has its nuances—different tech stacks and development techniques. A tech skills director knows that success in a role starts on day one, which is why they build their own onboarding programs beyond what HR delivers. Onboarding is a time to educate new hires on the way teams work—getting them familiar with the languages, frameworks, tools and processes the organization uses—and also benchmarking their skills in the areas that are relevant to their role. They also need an introduction to the skill development tools they’ll have as they prepare to take on projects and expectations as to which skills they should be developing.

The technology skills director ensures that technical teams have the right skills at the right time.

Once new hires are ramped, they need to know what career mobility looks like. A technology skills director should define what novice, proficient and expert skills look like by role and role level. They should guide technologists on which skills to develop by giving them tools that assess their proficiency and provide learning recommendations. 

Upskilling technical and non-technical talent
A technology team is never done hiring, and constantly recruiting from the outside is costly in both time and money. Technology skills directors build programs to upskill and reskill internal talent. One of our customers, a technology learning and development director at a leading financial services company, put it this way: “Tech skills are incredibly important because the rate of change in technology is unprecedented, and we cannot go out and recruit all of the people that we need.”

To help solve this challenge, many of our customers have built months-long programs that take hourly, non-technical employees and upskill them into technical roles. These programs usually involve in-person classes, weekly assignments, mentorship and a skills platform that provides a breadth of learning content and skill progression data to assess job readiness at the end of the program. 

For example, one retail giant runs an immersive skills boot camp, led by a director of technology enablement who reports up through the technology org, combining classroom learning with access to our skills platform. The program has created a self-sustaining pipeline of skilled associates to fill the tech roles they need to maintain a competitive edge long into the future.

Companies that consistently run programs like these do two things: They provide employees with an incredible opportunity to level up their careers at no cost to the individuals, which is a boon to company culture, and they’re able to identify and elevate internal talent that will best fit the needs of their technology teams.

Technology skills directors are also responsible for upskilling existing tech talent into new roles as business needs shift, i.e., moving an enterprise architect into a cloud architect role. They should provide technologists with resources to build skill adjacencies and practice applying new skills in real-world scenarios. 

Conducting skill inventories to align roles to digital initiatives

To unlock hidden talent and reskill opportunities within existing tech teams, technology skill development managers conduct skills inventories across the org. Many CIOs are surprised to learn that a junior developer has advanced machine learning knowledge or that a .NET developer is also an expert in Angular.

Modern tech orgs have realized that manually entering skills information into a spreadsheet doesn’t cut it, and they’re turning to tools that provide skill assessments and skill and role analytics by team member. Having accurate data allows the technology skills director to then align skills to the CIO’s top initiatives, making skills gaps visible and empowering leaders to put the right people on the right projects.

This level of insight into skills allows a tech skills leader to provide the right upskilling opportunities to future-proof an organization. A global IT services company we work with says strategic skill development allows them to replace the capabilities of their people without replacing their people. The company has a talent development group director whose job is to position the importance of skill development and provide all 28,000 employees with the opportunity to reskill as the tech landscape shifts.

Our customers use several variations of the technology skills director title to define this role, but the job requirements and responsibilities are the same:

  • Director of Technology Skills Analysis & Development
  • Director of Learning for Technology
  • Director, Technology Development
  • Director, Engineering Practices
  • Director of Technology Enablement

The impact

If an organization fully embraces what this role can create, technology teams will go from strategic partners to drivers of innovation. Every organization today needs a technology skills strategy, and a technology skills director to lead it.

Anita Grantham oversees the entire employee journey at Pluralsight, from recruiting and acquisition to employee growth and retention. Whether she’s negotiating better benefits or helping design workspaces to better serve Pluralsight’s teams, Anita loves creating an environment where people can do their best work.