What Makes an IT Professional?


The other day, I was talking with my dad and told him IT Pro Day was coming up, and that I needed to write something about it. "Why is it IT PRO Day?" he asked, "Why not just ‘IT People Day’ or ‘IT Enthusiasts Day’? Why leave out all those aspiring amateurs?"

My dad was trolling me using my own arguments from a debate we frequently had when I was a kid. You see, my dad has been a musician his whole life. He attended Music & Arts high school in NYC, then Julliard and Columbia, and then had a career that included stints with the New York Philharmonic, NBC Symphony of the Air, and 46 years with the Cleveland Orchestra. Suffice to say, my dad knew what it meant to be "a professional."

As a kid, I insisted that the only thing separating pros from amateurs was a paycheck (and the fact that he got to wear a tuxedo to work), and that this simplistic distinction wasn't fair. Of course, what was simplistic was my reasoning. Eventually I understood what made a musician a "pro," and it had nothing to do with their bank account.

So that was the nature of his baiting when I brought up IT Pro Day. And it got me thinking: what IS it that makes an IT practitioner a professional? Here's what I've learned from dear old dad:

First, having grown up among musicians, I can PROMISE you that being a professional has nothing to do with how much you do (or don't) earn at “the craft,” how obsessively you focus on it, or how you dress (or are asked to dress) for work.

Do you take your skills seriously? Dad would say, "If you skip one day of practice, you notice. Two days and the conductor notices. Three days and the audience notices. Pros never let the conductor notice." In an IT context, do you make it your business to stay informed, up to date, know what the upcoming trends are, and get your hands on the new tech (if you can)? It even extends to keeping tabs on your environment, knowing where the project stands, and being on top of the status of your tickets.

"If you're not 30 minutes early, you're an hour late," Dad would say as he headed out at 6 p.m. for an 8 p.m. concert. "I can't play faster and catch up if I'm 10 minutes late, you know!"

Besides the uncertainty of traffic, instruments needed to be tuned, music sorted, warm ups run. While not every job requires that level of physical punctuality, it's the mental piece that's relevant to us. Are you "present" when you need to be? Do you do what it takes to make sure you CAN be present when it is time to play your part, whether that's in a meeting, during a change control, or when a ticket comes into your queue?

When you first learn an instrument, a lot of time is spent learning scales. For those who never made it past the beginner lessons, I have some shocking (and possibly upsetting) news: even the pros practice scales. In fact, I'll say *especially* the pros practice scales. I asked dad about it. He said that you need to work on something until you don't have to think about it any more. That way, it will be there when you need it. As IT pros, we each have certain techniques, command sequences, key combinations, and more that just become a part of us and roll off our fingers. We feel like we could do data center rollouts in our sleep. We run product upgrades "by the numbers." The point is that we've taken the time to get certain things into our bones, so that we don't have to think about them any more. That's what professionals do.

This IT Pro Day, I'm offering my thanks and respect to the true IT professionals. The ones who work every day to stay at the top of their game. Who prepare in advance so they can be present when they're needed. Who grind out the hours getting skills, concepts, and processes into their bones so it's second nature when they need them. Doesn't that sound like the kind of IT pros you know? The kind you look up to?

The truth is, it probably sounds a lot like you.

  • In '79 a dance band offered me a dream position in a house band gig at a beautiful northern Minnesota lake for the summer, and ongoing gigs for the coming years.  The only condition was that I had to learn how to play bass in five weeks.

    I didn't have a bass.

    But I had a friend who enjoyed custom-building solid body electric guitars.  He had the wood & time, I bought the hardware, he put it together, I modified over time, and I still play that bass today.

    Hard Maple body that's seemingly bullet proof.

    Cherry fingerboard with brass inlays and a brass nut.

    Shaller tuning pegs (that look as bright and shiny as if they were brand new) and that hold a tune well.

    Twin DiMarzio Model-1 Humbucking pickups, which I rewired so I can play bridge pickup, neck pickup, and blend both together with the sealed Gibson pots. I love those DiMarzios.  http://www.dimarzio.com/node/2124 .  Their sound is bright on the bridge, deep and mellow at the neck, and everything in between.

    I also added a BADASS-II bridge and a custom grounding switch so it never hums or buzzes or feeds back if I set it down.  And after 38 years of playing it professionally, I still get gigs with it, still enjoy it.

    A few years ago I picked up a lovely used Hohner B2AV-WS 5-string headless bass that is MUCH lighter, with active electronics that can REALLY bark if I run into a situation where that's fun.  I've played that one in a number of pit bands for Broadway shows here (Hair Spray!  Jesus Christ Super Star.  School Of Rock) and it's been a delight.

    I'm pleased to know a fellow DiMarzio fan!

  • Well said adatole and lessons learned well from your father.

  • I have been paid to play music and take pictures...but I would not call myself a professional.  More like an enthusiastic amateur but not a professional.

    When it comes to IT systems work and security, I constantly train and apply what I learn.  In doing so I advance the state and security of the systems the team manages.


  • Your original argument holds water because in the sports world the difference between amateur and professional is financial compensation. See Olympics and college sports.

    You can be an IT professional and not be as dedicated to your craft as is a musician. You can be an amateur and be more dedicated than a pro.

  • blame it on the keyboard...a little enthusiastic keyboard bounce.

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