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Coaching for the IT industry, in an AI-driven world

In recent times, some have become fixated on coaching, while others have been captivated by the possibilities of AI. But have you ever wondered how these two distinct realms intersect? Are you curious about how coaching can support the IT industry and amplify the potential of AI? Keep reading.

Author: Stefan Chirila

What's up with IT in an AI-driven World?

To clarify upfront, this article isn't exclusively tailored for Team Leads, Scrum Masters, Project Managers, or those in management roles. It's also relevant for IT engineers and consultants who are contemplating bringing more value in app development or IT services in a world driven more and more by AI.

Let's kickstart our exploration with a bold prevailing concern in the IT sphere nowadays – the imminent replacement of IT professionals by AI in their roles. Is this a valid one?

Among the standout skills for the year 2027, as outlined in a recently published report​[1]​, the leading contenders include Analytical thinking, Creative thinking, followed by AI & Big data, Leadership and social influence, Resilience, flexibility, agility, and so on (see table below).

Figure 1 - Businesses' top 10 skill priorities for 2027 [1]

As observed above, the skills sought after by these emerging professions are notably characterized by an amalgamation of distinctive human attributes and technological competencies. Technology skills will still play a major role as today (if we compare it with data for 2023, from the same report). And this trend is expected to persist further, given that while AI excels in the efficient automation of tasks, it still falls short in emulating the distinct qualities that define human beings. Therefore, let's set aside concerns about being replaced by AI for now. However, does this mean we should lay back and relax?

As technology continues to advance, it becomes imperative that these innovations are crafted by humans to effectively address profound human needs. As Erik Brynjolfsson (director of Initiative on the Digital Economy, of MIT), was saying: ‘We need to work aggressively to make sure technology matches our values’ [2]. Thus, in an AI-driven landscape, nurturing our innate humanity becomes essential for navigating digital advancements. Relying solely on knowledge generated by pure AI will prove insufficient. It is the authentic human values and the emotional facets of individuals that ultimately confer purpose and meaning upon tasks and professions.

To be more specific, as we shift our focus to the AI systems we build, it becomes evident that their development essentially requires:

  1. carefully crafted algorithms,
  2. the necessary computational power,
  3. high-quality data.

The first one, the algorithms that underpin many of today's technologies have actually been in existence for the past five decades. However, their effective application was hindered by the limited computing capabilities of that era. The recent wave in AI advancements is fundamentally rooted in the exponential growth of computational power. What currently constrains AI progress further is the scarcity of the third element above, the datasets, crucial for training these systems. That scarcity is leading to a high-quality data frenzy, often likened to the gold rush.

Hence, it becomes imperative to contemplate strategies for obtaining high-quality data. It rests upon the open minds of humans to discern pertinent data and channel it into intelligent systems, thereby extracting human-centric value. Our role extends to leveraging our creativity, interpersonal abilities, and innovative thinking to decipher one another's needs, identify novel patterns in unexplored territories, and devise unconventional solutions that AI systems can subsequently utilize. The depth of our connection with colleagues, combined with the fusion of our individual strengths through collaboration and team cohesion, directly influences the worth derived from AI systems.

And that’s not all. While we already see the benefits of having AI involved within our IT related tasks, reliance on existing AI-based tools for an abundance of information and support, may inadvertently lead to a scarcity of attention - a notion underscored by economist Herbert Simon [3]. Furthermore, the proliferation of an information-rich environment introduces many uncharted options, new ethical dilemmas, and data protection challenges. Additionally, it also incites rapid shifts in our perceptions, beliefs, and values. This phenomenon could potentially induce a heightened sense of instability, uncertainty, and even anxiety.

In navigating these multifaceted challenges, a pragmatic approach requires fostering awareness, cultivating critical thinking, nurturing a forward-looking vision, maintaining unwavering focus, embracing adaptability, demonstrating discipline, infusing a human touch, and fortifying resilience. How do we better develop and put into practice these human-related skills? These domains represent the exact areas where coaching can bring value. Let’s dig deeper.

What is coaching?

Many of you probably already possess a notion of what "coaching" entails. This concept is far from novel; its origins trace back to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. His systematic and disciplined method of employing insightful questioning, known as the Socratic method, served as a precursor to coaching, fostering deeper revelations.

Let's consider the International Coach Federation's (ICF) perspective on coaching: “ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership.” [4] Don't be intimidated by the term "client". Although coaching can manifest within professional contexts, its techniques can extend to interactions between individuals, whether peers or colleagues: one individual, who concentrates on facilitating the coaching process (referred to as "the coach"), partners with another who seeks to achieve a specific goal (referred to as "the coachee").

In the definition above, let’s highlight the fact that coaching is seen as a partnership. Emphasizing the collaborative nature of coaching, it's crucial to differentiate it from mentoring, training, consulting, or therapy. Pure coaching refrains from providing solutions, imparting knowledge, judging ideas, or assuming a therapeutic role. Its purpose is not to replace these methods but to complement and coexist with them. Primarily, coaching stands as a means of assisting others in a manner aligned with their authentic needs.

Contrary to a role of teaching or changing the coachee, a coach supports by offering a realm of learning. By inducing self-awareness through reflective practices, coaching speeds up the learning cycle [5]. Unlike mentoring or counseling, coaching thrives on harnessing one's inherent uniqueness and individuality, rather than shaping conformity to predefined norms. The coach does not apply generally valid recipes, but works with unique personal attributes, inviting the coachee to have the courage in creating his own path. This empowerment nurtures independence, self-assurance, a sense of security, a heightened personal responsibility, and, notably, the achievement of what might have seemed unattainable.

Navigating the journey of self-awareness, challenging limiting beliefs and biased perspectives, are difficult when undertaken in isolation. Our cognitive patterns often resist alteration, making it notably difficult to initiate change. Furthermore, maintaining focus on this endeavor becomes especially difficult when the stakes are high. This is precisely why, irrespective of our level of experience and expertise, the presence of a coaching partner can be immensely beneficial, assuming the role of a guide along this transformative trajectory.

The rationale behind the need for coaching and its efficacy is already well-founded. Empirical evidence supports its role within organizational contexts, fostering a healthy environment that enhances both performance and overall satisfaction.

How can coaching specifically support the IT industry?

Amid the rise of technological disruptions originating from rapid advancements, coaching serves as a counterbalance, enabling IT professionals to also put into use and develop the crucial human-related skills mentioned earlier (in the first part).

Coaching invites deliberate, introspective, and methodical decision-making processes through its fundamental practice of reflective inquiry [6]. This one encompasses reflective formulations, open-ended questions, and active listening. Reflective formulations act as a "mirror", engendering reflection through techniques such as recapitulation, labeling, analogies, key point identification, and emotional change recognition. (While the intricacies of coaching techniques extend beyond the scope of this article, comprehensive sources are available for in-depth exploration.)

Without a doubt, regardless of their level of experience, every IT engineer's perspective can be enriched through peer collaboration. Coaching sessions facilitate this by enhancing a human and personal touch, fundamentally rooted in the coach's empathy – the capacity and willingness to comprehend, recognize, and resonate with the emotions, thoughts, sensations, values, and personality traits of their interlocutor. In active listening, the coach not only absorbs the coachee's words, which encompass facts and observable elements, but also attunes to their emotional energy, nonverbal cues, and paraverbal expressions, alongside their needs and values. This grants coaches the ability to infuse intuition, experience, social awareness, and emotional intelligence into their one-on-one or team coaching sessions. By harnessing these techniques, we engage in meaningful discussions and our collective potential, offering insights that are challenging for AI to replicate.

Apart from technical expertise, the performance of today's IT professionals also relies on their ability to grasp and leverage their team’s business context, the broader organizational landscape, and the client's domain and business environment. Given the fluidity of these dynamics in the IT industry, coaching serves as a potent tool for maintaining focus and stability on what’s important.

Primarily, it accomplishes these aspirations by initially helping the coachee define precise goals — arising from challenges such as innovative visions or technical issues — and breaking them down into manageable components. Subsequently, the coach can aid in uncovering untapped potential that lies beyond unconscious biases, refining contextual understanding encompassing pertinent resources, limitations, assumptions, risks, or opportunities. By fostering a creative process, the coaching journey channels insights further, towards potential options. Ultimately, since coaching is about action, the coachee is guided in constructing a purposeful plan, and its progress is diligently monitored thereafter. This approach also proves valuable during IT solution brainstorming and innovation sessions.

In the current IT sphere, individuals who solely depend on their knowledge and skills are unlikely to sustain their success in isolation. Moreover, given the constant emergence of novel IT frameworks, IT systems, processes, and evolving organizational demands, the ability to adapt becomes paramount. To fulfill these needs, the application of coaching doesn't solely revolve around enhancing competencies through accumulating knowledge and skills; it fundamentally revolves around cultivating attitudes that inherently yield value.

Figure 2 - The three dimensions of competency: knowledge, skills, and attitude [7]

These attitudes hold exceptional importance in the rapidly evolving IT landscape, making them the most challenging yet crucial aspects for IT professionals to cultivate. The ultimate outcome is an even more agile culture, one of creativity and innovation - a domain where AI systems inherently fall short of replication.

And what’s next?

Given the advantages of coaching that we've previously explored, it's no wonder that an increasing number of leading IT professionals readily embrace incorporating coaching techniques into their daily routines, yielding positive results.

While engaging certified professional coaches can significantly deepen awareness through in-depth sessions, immediate access to them isn't always feasible. Given the IT industry's context outlined earlier, a winning approach might involve extending coaching practices beyond Leadership-related roles, making it an inclusive practice for every IT employee. Fortunately, a wide spectrum of coaching models and techniques has lately emerged and is readily available. By engaging in studying coaching techniques, IT professionals gain the capacity to seamlessly incorporate them precisely on the spot, right when and where they are needed, increasing performance.

The topic may be explored even deeper, as there might be some more specific questions to be answered: Which coaching models are particularly suitable for the IT domain? What coaching techniques could be seamlessly integrated into IT-specific processes? What would a coaching culture mean for an IT organization?

While answering these questions may be the center for other discussions, I invite you now to consider a more immediate question: What’s your next step toward coaching?


[1] "2023 How to close the skills gap to enable future growth," World Economic Forum, 2023. [Online]. Available:

[2] L. Nguyen, "What Is Ethical AI & Why Is It Essential for Business?," 19 04 2022. [Online]. Available:

[3] H. A. Simon, "Oxford Essential Quotations (5 ed.)," [Online]. Available:

[4] "What is Coaching?," The International Coaching Federation (ICF), [Online]. Available:

[5] N. Burch, "Four stages of competence," [Online]. Available:

[6] M. Reynolds, Coach the person, Not the problem.

[7] "Competence Based Learning Outcomes," [Online]. Available: