10 tenets of working in IT

Introduction

I published an amended version of the article below over at Packet Pushers in March 2012. In line with tenet 10 (Review), I thought that I would re-post here with some hopefully relevant amendments. Even if you read the original post last year, consider reading it again for inspiration. Please feel free to share any ideas of your own in the comments below.

This article is a summary of a larger text that sits in various 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. If you compare the original post to this one, you will see that some things have been removed, others added and some amended. 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 (Create time). Or maybe you aren’t confident about how to put what you are learning in to practice. Give tenet 3 (Socialise) 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 (Review) and make sure you keep reviewing progress before yet another week\month\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 emails: Deal with, Delete, Delegate, Defer. Never neglect family\personal time. Prioritise your workload. Don’t ignore the little jobs; they can have a habit of growing. 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 ##% exceeds expectations. Determine the low hanging fruit. Automate. Orchestrate. 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. Consolidate your sources of information and set dedicated time aside to catch up. Ask yourself if you could be doing something more important right now.

2.Self-train

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 – cross pollinate). 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. Certification is great but don’t overlook the power of experience. Learn about things that compliment your current skill set.

3.Socialise

Learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. to your advantage. Each of these can sap your time (see tenet 1 – create time) 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 (Self train). Give feedback 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 your skill set. Talk to your colleagues in the next cubicle. Learn storage, Windows, Linux, scripting. Get multi-vendor 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. Get a hobby – doesn’t have to be related to your work but it lets the mind grow.

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 (Create time), but you need to be reminded here: never neglect family\personal time. If your job is more important that your family, something is broken.

6.Share

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. Drop useful links on your blog\social sites.

7.Honesty

Be honest. With yourself, your colleagues, customers, friends and family. 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 (Review) to track them.

8.Focus

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, walking, etc. Make a list and use tenet 10(Review) to keep on top. Be relevant and accurate in everything you do and say.

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. Drop things that you no longer need. Fine tune that which you do. Be an army of one.

10.Review

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. Flense the blubber from your life.


Summary

Before I send you forth to slay the dragon, let me wrap things up by addressing those of you who are in medical need of addressing tenet 7 (Honesty), 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 migraine inducing 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 or just don’t care about your job (another post coming on this topic alone).

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! Having read through this article a number of times before re-posting, I know I’ve allowed each of these tenets to be neglected on at least one occasion.

Don’t make the mistake of tarring 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. I got asked by several people who read the post last year if I would consider writing a more in-depth post for each tenet in turn and I think that is a good idea so watch this space.

Till the next time.

3 Replies to “10 tenets of working in IT”

  1. Wow I just stumbled upon this and it is so real I termed them commandments!

    Thank you, stuffs like these are not very common.

    1. HI Austin. Thanks for your kind reply and glad you found the article helpful. I’ve also fleshed out each tenet in it’s own article. Feel free to share.

Please let me know your thoughts!