This article is a summary of a larger text that sits in various unexplored parts of my brain and has been accumulated through over 10 years of working in the IT industry in a wide variety of roles and an equally diverse range of companies from the very smallest to the largest. I’ve whittled a number of concepts down to the list of 10 below. Each of these has also been listed in a briefer form primarily to make the post hopefully more ‘punchy’.
This list should not be considered as definitive or as static. It just happens to be the top 10 points I thought of out of the larger list at the time of writing. The snippets within each tenet were jotted down over the last few days as and when I gave some thought to them. It may be interesting to look at this list in a year’s time to see if anything has changed. Some of the current points would not have been relevant five or more years ago, such is the pace of change in our industry. The way I’ve listed them may leave some open to interpretation and cause further discussion and that is by design.
Regardless of whether you plan to start a career in IT, if you are a veteran or indeed have no intention in working in IT but want to do the best you can in your chosen career, this article is aimed at you. The purpose of each tenet is to give you an area of improvement that will help you out in your career and indeed in your life in general. If you are able to focus on a single tenet for the next few weeks, preferably one that strikes a personal chord, you should find that your job becomes both easier and more enjoyable. If you can find a way to make improvements in more areas, the rewards can increase exponentially.
Don’t write this article off because you find some or perhaps all of it obvious. I’ll be perfectly honest. There is no mystery here. It’s nothing more than common sense, gathered in one place. Sometimes, being poked is enough to change the inertia and get the ball rolling in the right direction.
The tenets support each other to some degree. For example, imagine you want to do some more studying, but you don’t have the time. Work more on tenet 1. Or maybe you aren’t confident about how to put what you are learning in to practice. Give tenet 3 a go and get more involved in the IT community. Or maybe every time you set goals, you get side tracked and fall behind. In that case, you need to work on tenet 10 and make sure you keep reviewing progress before yet another year goes by.
I have a message for those pessimists amongst you at the end of this post, but for now let’s pick up the pace and head straight to the tenets that will see you getting more done in less time and hopefully enjoying it.
1. Create time
First, acknowledge that there is not enough time to do everything. Focus on what is important. Be smart managing your Inbox. Give the 4 D’s method a go for incoming emails: Deal with, Delete, Delegate, Defer. Never neglect family\personal time. Do risk analysis to help rank your workload. Don’t ignore the little jobs; else they become the thorn in your side. Break the bigger jobs into manageable chunks. Learn how to delegate. Take a note of things that need to be done so they aren’t lost in the noise. Plan properly. Take regular breaks – you’ll come back refreshed. Accept when you are up to your neck in it. Ask for help when necessary. Learn when to say ‘no’. Don’t aim for perfection when 80% exceeds expectations. Determine the low hanging fruit. Automate. Ignore distractions. Skip meetings you don’t need to be in. Learn how to end phone calls\conversations on your terms. Have to take an hour for lunch? – use it for studying or go to the gym. If you go to the gym, take your MP3 player with learning material on it. Repeat for the commute to work and home again.
Don’t expect to learn things just by being sent on a training course or being told how things work. Read books. Watch videos. Create a home lab. Then use it, use it, use it! Fill in the gaps. Test the hypothesis. Ask questions, but try to find the answers yourself first. Double check the answers. Specialise. Generalise (see tenet 4). Google is your friend, but that’s just the start. Subscribe to blogs. Use your job as the best training ground you could hope for. Think outside the box.
Learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. to your advantage. Each of these can sap your time (see tenet 1) but also be immensely useful if used correctly. Follow\friend\circle\etc. people who you find valuable. Dump those that don’t. Start blogging – this will help with tenet 2. Comment on other people’s blogs. Try to give as much back as you take. Give praise where praise is due. Don’t berate unnecessarily. Be considerate. Make friends. Leave enemies in your wake, they will only try to hold you back.
4. Cross pollinate
Don’t limit yourself. Talk to your colleagues in the next cubicle. Learn storage, Windows, Linux, scripting. Get multivendor skills. Do all of this to the depth to make you better at your job and less reliant on others. A good IT engineer should be able to engage with his peers with other skill sets.
5. Be human
De-geek for customers, colleagues, management and family\friends. Understand the skills gap. Kill the acronyms. Empathise. Don’t hear – listen. Don’t look – see. Know your own flaws too. I said it in tenet 1, but you need to be reminded here: never neglect family\personal time.
Documentation is king! Use standardised templates. Create document sets. Send links to colleagues. Update a wiki. Use version control. Knowledge is power – sharing knowledge is the real power. Pass on tips. Give praise when receiving knowledge. Don’t assume people’s skills.
With yourself, your colleagues, customers. Admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know something, but make it right and get the knowledge. Change jobs when you need to. Change careers if needs must. Ask for feedback from the people you interact with. In particular, demand an appraisal from your line manager at least once a year and have short, medium and long-term goals set. Use tenet 10 to track them.
Set targets and goals but be sure to enjoy the journey too. Don’t drift too far from the highway. You have to tune your body as much as your brain. Exercise often, whether it’s a sport, running, the gym etc. Make a list and use tenet 10 to keep on top.
9. Know your place
Do not get depressed with not knowing everything. Know what you don’t know; decide from that what you need to learn. Don’t get bogged down comparing your abilities to others. You’ll either spend your life kicking yourself because you can’t emulate your heroes, or you’ll justify treading water because you are at least better than the guy sat next to you. Be the best you can be. Aspire to improve.
Set targets for all of the previous points. Track them. Improve where you can. Set goals. Achieve or change. Keep pushing yourself but take regular breaks. Don’t burn yourself out. Don’t take your foot off the gas too much. Treat your career like a prized network; monitor, be proactive, tweak, get feedback from its users, etc.
Before I send you forth to conquer the dragon, let me wrap things up by addressing those of you who are in medical need of addressing tenet 7, especially with regard to yourselves. The fact is you quite possibly don’t know who you are so allow me to draw back the curtains for a moment and let the light come streaming in.
I am referring to the ones who ‘know’ they don’t need to improve, who think they are already smart enough and certainly smarter than others, are experienced enough, don’t need to ask for help, believe they understand all there is to know about a topic from a Wikipedia article, keep things to themselves, see things in black and white, lie when they don’t know something, blame others when they are wrong, talk in tongues to show how clever they are, constantly make excuses, hide their mistakes, go home in the middle of a crisis and turn their phones off.
The chances are that even if you aren’t quite as stuck in your ways as the person described in the previous paragraph, you might be ready to admit that there are areas of both your personal and work life that could benefit from improvement. I certainly acknowledge that I need to practice what I preach here more often myself!
Finally, don’t tar this post with the ‘self-help crap’ brush. Be honest with yourself, swallow your pride, make these tenets your own and share them with others. You just might be surprised at the results.