Working in IT is such a breeze. The industry never changes, and the infrastructure we work with doesn’t impact anyone very much. It’s really a pleasure cruise more than anything else.
And if you believed that, you’ve probably never worked in IT.
The reality for many IT professionals is the opposite. Our industry is in a constant state of change, and from the Level One helpdesk person to the senior architect, everything we do impacts others in significant ways. Corporate IT, for many, is a maze of web conferences, buzzwords, and nontechnical leadership making technical decisions.
Not losing my mind in the midst of all this sometimes feels just as much a part of my professional development plan as learning about the next new gadget. Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed some principles to help me negotiate with this dynamic, challenging, fulfilling, but also frustrating and unnerving world.
Own my own education
The first principle is to own my own education. One thing I've had to settle with deep down inside is that I’ll never really “arrive” in technology. There is no one degree or certification that I can earn that covers all technology, let alone all future technology. That means that I’ve had to adopt a personal routine of professional development apart from my employer to even attempt to keep pace with the changes in the industry.
Now that I have three children and work in a senior position, it’s much harder to maintain consistent motivation to keep pushing. Nevertheless, what I’ve found extremely helpful is having a routine that makes a never-ending professional development plan more doable. For me, that means setting aside time every morning before work or at lunch to read, work in a lab, or watch training videos. This way, my professional development doesn’t impede much on family life or compete with the many other obligations I have in life. This requires getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting my lazy rear end out of bed early, but when I get in the routine, it becomes easier to maintain.
I don’t rely on my colleagues, my employer, or my friends to hand me a professional development plan or motivate me to carry it out. This is a deeply personal thing, but I’ve found that adopting this one philosophy has changed my entire career and provided a sense of stability.
Choosing what to focus on is a similar matter. There’s a balance between what you need to learn for your day job and the need to continually strengthen foundational knowledge. For example, my day job may require that I get very familiar with configuring a specific vendor’s platform. This is perfectly fine since it’s directly related to my ability to do my job well, but I’ve learned to make sure to do this without sacrificing my personal goal to develop foundational networking knowledge.
The leads into my second principle: community. Engaging in the networking community on Twitter, through blog posts, and in Slack channels gives me an outlet to vent, bounce ideas around, and find serious inspiration from those who’ve gone before me. It also helps me figure out what I should be working on in my professional development plan.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that too much engagement in social media can be detrimental because of how much time it can consume, but when done properly and within limits, reading my favorite networking blogs, interacting with nerds on Twitter, and doing my own writing has been instrumental in refining my training plan.
Taking a break
A third principle is taking a break. A friend of mine calls it taking a sanity day.
I can get burned out quickly. Normally, it’s not entirely because of my day job, either. Working in IT means I’m stressed about an upcoming cutover, getting some notes together for this afternoon’s web conference, ignoring at least a few tickets in the queue, worried I’ll fail the next cert exam and waste $400, and concerned that I’m not progressing in my professional development the way I'd hoped.
For years I just kept pushing in all these areas until I’d snap and storm out of the office or find myself losing my temper with my family. I’ve learned that taking a few days off from all of it has helped me tremendously.
For me, that’s meant going to work but being okay with delegating and asking for some help on projects. It’s also meant backing off social media a bit and either pausing the professional development routine for a few days or working on something unrelated.
Recently I’ve mixed learning Python into my routine, and I’ve found that a few days of that is an amazing mental break when I can’t bear to dial into another conference bridge or look at another CLI. And sometimes I need to shut it all down and just do some work in the yard.
This isn’t giving up. This isn’t packing it in and waiting to retire. This is taking some time to decrease the noise, to think, to re-evaluate, and to recuperate.
I admit that I sometimes feel like I need permission to do this. Permission from who? I’m not sure, but it’s sometimes difficult for me to detach. After I do, though, I can go back to the world of five chat windows, back-to-back meetings, and all of the corporate IT nonsense with a new energy and a better attitude.
These are principles I’ve developed for myself based on my own experiences, so I’d love to learn how others work in IT without losing their minds, as well. IT is constantly changing, and from the entry level folks to the senior staff, everything we do impacts others in significant ways. How do you navigate the maze of web conferences, buzzwords, and late night cutovers?