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Do Capacity Management Practitioners need "technical" skills?

At first glance the question is a bit of a no-brainer. Of course capacity management practitioners need technical skills. Some context needs to be explained before you consider the question again.

In IT, technical skills are considered to be around things such as operating systems, common application environments and toolsets. These are the technical skills which the question alludes to.

It still sounds like the answer is ‘yes definitely’ as there is no doubt that these skills are valuable to the capacity management practitioner - but the context is still not complete.

If an organisation needs a capacity manager to work in, say, a Linux environment, should the employer seek someone with “capacity management” skills or “Linux” skills? Best case would be someone with both but in my experience such people are few and far between.

What are capacity management skills?

Capacity management has its own set of skills that are not based on operating systems and toolsets. These include workload characterisation, analytical modelling, simulation modelling, application sizing, forecasting, performance engineering, performance management, performance and capacity testing, capacity planning, demand planning, process design etc. Many of these are not trivial to pick up and develop. For example understanding queuing theory such that it can be used to build analytical models takes either some focused training or constant exposure to it in a working environment (ideally both). For the purposes of this discussion these are not considered to be “technical” skills.

It’s one or the other

I recently had to interview capacity management practitioners to work in a SAP environment. The organisation for whom this was carried out had a scoring system for screening CVs – amongst other things there was a column for capacity management and one for SAP. As it turned out there were as many candidates who scored well in the former as there were in the latter but few (if any) who did well in both.

There was lots of advice from SAP experts that to effectively capacity manage in a SAP environment that you need to know SAP. When one pressed harder for details, these same people found it hard to pinpoint exactly why.

There are always pieces of technical information that the capacity manager needs to know, whether it’s how to use a monitoring tool, how an application’s throughput is measured, what the fields mean in monitoring output, how an operating system manages memory or many others. However there always seems to be someone around who knows these details and it takes little effort to explain and pick up.

Consider the effort

In case you’re wondering the author does have some of these “technical” skills. On one engagement I worked with a colleague who had never used BMC Patrol Perform Visualizer and had never worked on a z/OS mainframe. Two or three hours was all that was needed for the author to bring the colleague up to speed – but it had taken the colleague about two years to attain the capacity and performance skills needed to do something useful with the data that was being extracted.

So, of course, every one picks up technical skills and experience but is this your “reason for being”? The effort and time invested in developing capacity management skills is significant and this should be considered before so called “technical” skills are taken so seriously. Both are needed but I think that one set of skills are more easily attained than the other.