How Important Are Soft Skills In I.T. and Cybersecurity

THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE SKILLS IN I.T. AND CYBERSECURITY

Working in IT and in Cybersecurity allows me to get an exposure to any business I’m working with that no other field or profession is allowed to. In fact, I have access to the most important part of any business, Its information.

Businesses and governments need us to protect their information. Something you need to understand is that our job is not only to protect this information but to have processes and procedures on how to protect it.

In order to protect this information, we are required to have access to it one way or another. How you determine to access this information could decide your path as a professional because how you determine to access this information is more important than what tools you use to access it.

What I mean by access to information

When you think with a technical mindset you are thinking in terms of the software and hardware tools, or what system to use for access controls or what server to buy and configure to provide such access.

That’s not what I mean.

What I mean is that by approaching the people in the business and learning how the business works will provide you a different method for accessing the information.

For example, in my experience working in highly regulated industries, I know that having processes and procedures in place would save a company in case there is a business interruption. As a manager, my approach was more than just knowing what backup software to use in order to restore the system, or which servers to restore first according to the business requirements to keep operating. My job was to understand how the business operated and how to put all the pieces together so that the business recovery goes as seamless as possible.

I suggest that even though if you are not a manager, that you approach your job the same way I did and here is why.

Your approach to business will equal your approach to people

When you approach your job from a technical perspective you will be limited by the experience and knowledge you’ll get from this particular mindset. Yes, you’ll learn more about your area of expertise, but you won’t necessarily be able to grow in your career. The reason for this is that you as a human being are limiting yourself to interact with systems and processes by excluding other humans and that is not going to work for you in the long term.

Hiding behind a computer screen won’t work forever if you intend to keep a job and grow in your career.

Face-to-face Interaction with other humans while working is important for many reasons. It gives you the opportunity to learn what other people do in their jobs and their responsibilities. Understanding what other people do, and piecing together their jobs and responsibilities department by department, will help you understand the business you work for.

Why you should understand the business you work for

The process of understanding the business you work for will allow you to use a skill many underestimate. While you are interacting with other people and listening to them, more than talking to them will allow you to modify your mindset into one of growth and see things you never thought were there.

An example could be a specific problem that other employees told you that you could turn into an opportunity to fix and contribute to a business solution. It could be a specific business process or a challenge that someone is facing that you could contribute with. This type of opportunities gives you exposure to certain business processes that you’d like doing and help you grow in your career.

How to use this to your advantage for a salary increase

By doing what I just mentioned before, you will start to see things that others are missing which could contribute to improving a business process and if you know how to play the card, you can use this to increase your own salary and here is how.

Use your performance appraisals to your advantage

Every year, managers evaluate their employees by using a system known as performance appraisal (a.k.a. Employee Evaluation). Every company has their scoring system, but basically, they all work the same way. They all establish goals which are classified by the company by how they impact certain areas of the business. Every goal is measured according to a pre-established scoring system that every employee is aware of. For this example, let’s use a scoring system from 1 to 5 where 5 is the best score and 1 is the worst.

In most companies, just by completing a goal would‘ve given you a 3. A score of 1 or 2, would mean that you didn’t complete the goal, because of your own inaction. A score of 4 or 5 means that you exceeded expectations.

The way salaries are included in a corporate budget by department, is basically by knowing how much the company is currently paying plus a percentage that is distributed by department based on the sum of how all the employees from that department performed the previous year.

Every score from 3 to 5 means an increase in salary, but the percentage of increment on 5 is greater than the percentage of increment on 4 and the percentage of increment on 3. The key here is to perform your job by striving for a 5.

Learn how to negotiate your goals with your boss

Every time your manager meets with you to discuss the goals for next year is when you should negotiate your goals to determine which ones would be included in your performance appraisal. Also, make sure they are realistic and attainable. If you have doubts on how to attain one of those goals, make sure you ask the question of how it would be achievable.

Don’t leave anything to chance and never sign an agreement without having this clear. It is your career that’s on the line, not the manager.

Usually, this is not the place to use goals that have to do with career development. Companies usually provide a separate development plan for this purposes. Verify if this is your case.

A performance appraisal will evaluate your performance against the performance of the business you are working with and will measure how much you contributed to the performance of the business. The closer your goal is to the business’s goal, more will be the direct impact that your score will have.

The good thing is if the business couldn’t achieve its goal, but you did, then you have a sure above average score, but if it was the other way around, then it could hurt you. You have to understand these things in order to be prepared for negotiating your goals. You need to speak up and learn how to negotiate your way into career growth.

As a manager, I always spoke with my employees candidly and even asked them for feedback on the established goals. Only then they signed their agreement.

How to use this to your advantage for Social Engineering

Prior to being a manager for the pharmaceutical company, I was a consultant IT Project Manager for several companies and industries and an IT auditor. As an IT auditor, I was hired sometimes to “social engineer” my way into a company with the goal of getting access to the company’s system.   

I really love this part of the job. After my clients signed the contract agreement allowing me to do this, I always found a way to gain access to a system and most of them without any computers. People are the best way to gain access to a system. I did this even before the term cybersecurity existed. I did this periodically mostly for the financial industry.

Because of my background in Social Sciences, I knew how to press the right buttons on people to get what I wanted in terms of securing my access into a company (…and still do). Sometimes I got paid a bonus if I did breach into the company’s servers. I even got arrested once after I gained access to a computer room, until my client who was the CEO at the time, cleared me of everything. That’s how “deep undercover” I was when doing my job. I took it seriously.

My point here is that having people skills really works when you want to specialize in Social Engineering and OSINT which happens to be my favorite cybersecurity specialties.

In summary, by knowing and understanding the business and the people you work with, you are helping others by contributing to a business process. Also, by the same token, you are learning new skills that will help you grow your mindset in a world where everything is getting more and more abstract.

by Edgar Vera, MS Cybersecurity



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