Research reveals the inner psychology of IT professionals

IT professionals are creative, flexible and strategic but can find it difficult to fit in with corporate culture, says psychology research

IT professionals are more creative, flexible and strategically aware than the average person, but they can find it difficult to fit in with corporate business culture, research by psychologists reveals.

A survey of almost 300 IT professionals by Computer Weekly and the psychological consultancy PCL shows that IT professionals have unique strengths compared to the average population.

Insightful thinkers

IT specialists are logical, insightful thinkers, innovative, adaptable and open to new ways of doing things, the psychometric analysis of IT workers reveals.

“They can be a little unconventional, have lots of ideas, and a capacity to synthesize information. They probably can be quite adaptable and they are not constrained by convention," said Gillian Hyde, chief psychologist at PCL.

How the IT crowd squares up

Information Technology

  • Analytic
  • Creative
  • Flexible
  • Strategic-awareness.

Recruitment

  • Persuasive Communication
  • Results Orientation
  • Self-confidence
  • Creativity
  • Risk-taking

Police

  • Customer Focus
  • Team Orientation
  • Planning & Organising
  • Attention to Detail
  • Resilience
  • Self-confidence
  • Analytic

Entrepreneurs

  • Change Management
  • Independence
  • Results Orientation
  • Flexibility
  • Creativity
  • Information Management
  • Problem Solving

Sales

  • Customer Focus
  • Persuasive Communication
  • Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Sensitivity
  • Project Management
  • Resilience

Marketing

  • Persuasive Communication
  • Strategic Awareness

Nurses 

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal sensitivity
  • Resilience
  • Project management
  • Customer Focus

Source: PCL

Some 295 IT professionals, ranging from CIOs, analysts, software engineers and help desk support completed an online test.

The study was designed to answer the question, 'is there an IT type?'

“The answer is a resounding yes. Our sample was found to be significantly different to the general population on a number of competencies,” said Hyde.

Creative streak

The study reveals that, while IT professionals have strong analytic skills and a logical approach to decision making, they also have a creative streak.

“There is scope within IT to have a lot of creative input. How to solve a problem, how to create a system that works. You are creating something, whether its an internal HR information site or a website,” said Hyde, a chartered occupational psychologist.

IT professionals tend to be individualistic and may not fit as well as other professionals in corporate cultures, the research suggests.

“They won’t follow rules for rules sake. If they see a better way of doing things, they are not hidebound by what has come before,” said Hyde.

Employers should offer IT staff a degree of latitude in the way that they work, if they want to get the best out of IT specialists, PCI suggests.

That might mean being flexible over working hours, and allowing IT staff to work from home, for example.“You have to be a bit more open minded,” said Hyde.

But she warns against taking this approach too far. One rule for IT and one rule for everyone else can quickly lead to resentment.

Customer focus lacking 

On the negative side, IT professionals score less well at communications skills and are less likely to be customer focused than the average person.

That does not mean IT professionals cannot learn to be good communicators or become more customer focused, but they may find it more difficult .

“People who are customer focused tend to be agreeable, warm, very sympathetic people who can be very tolerant and patient. That is not a particular strength of IT professionals,” said Hyde.

Calm in a crisis ?

Despite the tight deadlines and long hours IT professionals deal with, they score less well on resilience than some other professionals.

That means remaining calm in a crisis does not necessarily come naturally to IT folk.

“They may be a bit more edgy or anxious. Sometimes they lack composure in times of stress. They show their emotions a bit more,” said Hyde.

The flip-side is that IT professionals can be more self critical about their work, and this can drive them to want to continuously improve.

Questions over recruitment 

The psychometric tests show little variation in natural competencies between IT leaders and technical specialists.

This raises some difficult questions, given that IT leaders need to have strong people and communication skills, said Brinley Platts, a behavioural scientist and executive coach.

“I suspect there are technical roles where someone might be on the spectrum, love’s problem solving and does not waste a lot of energy communicating with people. But those roles are disappearing very fast,” he said.

The problem may have its origins in the way companies filter candidates for technology jobs, through testing, interviews and assessments.

“For the sake of low-level, career-entry technical aptitude, we may be filtering out effective, compelling communicators and visionary leaders. Clearly, this is a disaster as we switch over to digital techniques and agile cultures,” he said.

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills

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Psychometric tests - the resort of HR departments who lack understanding of the IT roles they are trying to select the best candidate for.

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