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Day 17 - What I Would Tell my Younger IT Professional Self

Level 14

If I were to choose one thing to tell my younger IT professional self, it would be “know your business.” That could mean many things, but what I’m talking about is make sure you have a solid understanding of the following:

  • Expectations – make sure that what you are doing is what is wanted/expected
  • Your role – in your team, your organization, and your company
  • Your value – what you bring to the table that others appreciate
  • The numbers – any numbers about you, your role, your job, and what you deliver that others look at or that guide business decisions
  • Measurements – related to numbers; what gets measured gets done, so know the key performance indicators
  • Money – how it effects your position, your team, your organization, how budgets are decided, and what gets tracked

I have worked with too many people in my careers that have flawed thinking. A lot of it stems from not knowing the business of what they do. They could be subject matter experts at X, but still not be successful. Knowing your business helps you to see the “big picture” in a light that will help you understand what decisions are being made, why they are being made, and what decisions are likely to be made in the future when Y happens. Many IT professionals complain that management just doesn’t get it; however, perhaps a more useful approach is to ask how management is looking at things.

35 Comments
Level 11

Predatory Thinking

Book by Dave Trott

A wonderful book all about out thinking the opposition, but also about thinking in general.  It teaches some wonderful concepts, but one that sticks out is, just because YOU know something, don't presume, or be aghast when someone else doesn't know that thing.  We all have different knowledge bases around different subjects due to our experiences in life.  For those that enjoy good anecdotes, and are interested in learning new ways to think, I would recommend the book.

Level 9

Business Awareness is such a crucial skill these days. We can get so caught up just looking after our own area and plot of land or analyzing figures that we can miss out on the bigger picture. Talking to your colleagues and understanding their departments' challenges and strengths can really help drive business improvements and transformation.

Level 9

This is a key selector when I am hiring someone.  Do they know how to determine business needs.  Being able to do this is very important.  I can teach someone how to configure a router or work with Office 365, but it can be hard to teach them to take a business need and apply technical knowledge to solve it.

MVP
MVP

Great points. In the IT world it is so often just assumed that you know . . .

It's not enough to just evaluate yourself on these points, but to make sure your boss and company have the same things in mind. I've seen bosses not make expectations clear so they have people spending hours/days/months on projects only to find that it doesn't match what they had in mind. All of these areas are OUR responsibilities as individuals - make sure that you are on the same page with the boss/company. But, take it to the next level and make sure your family, friends and anyone close to you are on the same page. How many people have regretted a direction that they took because they felt is was best for their family, but the family felt differently.

It's Christmas so I'll mention Elf. The dad was working hard to do his best job "for the family." When what the family really wanted was more time with him rather than more of other things.

Level 14

I can check the box on all of those points, except my role.  Over the past couple of years, it seems like my "role" has been more or less, a grey area that isn't explicitly defined in my job description. It can be frustrating when you're trying to establish clear direction.  You have to know where you are before you can move to where you want to go.  Nonetheless, I agree that we all need to know what our business is and own it passionately.  Thanks for the article. 

MVP
MVP

IT is for me one of those careers which crosses many different skill sets. Being an IT professional may mean that you are the absolute guru on a tech subject, but the ability to extol the virtues of that subject, to recruit evangelists, to sell that is a whole different thing, which is why there is pretty much always a place for someone in the IT sector. It is finding and matching your passions and skills to those roles (note how passion is first here!)

This can happen in IT, for lots of reasons. Typically it means that somebody realized you can do more than your role, and they have a need. Frequently that somebody is important, a boss or owner, and that's ok. Make sure that the duties of your assigned role are taken care of, make sure that the person who judges your performance understands its covered and why your are pulled away. But not having a clear direction in my career has meant that they trust my judgement and ability to assist even if its not my area of expertise. Long term its always worked out for me.

Level 13

Know your surroundings

Level 15
  • Money – how it effects your position, your team, your organization, how budgets are decided, and what gets tracked

That's the hard one for me. Luckily I'm currently able to let jbiggley​ count all the beans, but I know that it's supposed to matter to all of us. FWIW, I do try to think cheap about everything, but I cannot get into the love of "Type1/Type2" savings that Josh puts in 3/5 emails

Level 10

Level 10

Excellent words.   I always ask myself 'What can I bring to the table today?'  I try to think forward to get where I need to be, but have to remember the past on where I have been.

Level 9

Having the ability to glimpse the big picture is a good thing. 

Level 20

ben-franklin-question-authority-k-scott-teeters.jpg

I like your points.   Big Picture is great as long as you do not get caught up in it.   Stay out of the weeds, keep the big picture in view, understand your role, and be productive.   Followup on but more importantly act on ideas, and produce results regardless of what level you achieve. 

Level 14

It is always important to know what you  bring to the table.  Know how to take your unique knowledge and experience and use it to benefit the team.

"Know your business."  That's great!

I indulge in reading heroic fantasy, including Science Fiction (especially Space Opera), and the protagonists are all what we'd recognize as "competent."  They really know their business.

I appreciate working with anyone who knows their stuff, and I feel badly if I'm incompetent at anything I need to fix someone's I.T. problem.

Good call!

Level 9

Great things to keep in mind

Level 10

Know your industry, your profession and trend in  technology development.

Do not get stuck!

Level 12

Ignore what you're told and get certifications.

When I finished a computer science degree I was warned to never get certifications, as employers at the time thought someone with a degree or with certifications was great but someone with both must be trying to make up for incompetence. A short time later having both became a winning combination, and life experiences had put me into a position where I couldn't afford the exams at that time.

Level 11

great comment, you can go far by knowing what you are supposed to be doing and getting a good understanding of it.

Level 14

The most important thing I learned in my first IT job was that I had ears, whose purpose was to listen!

I had two of them... so I didn't miss anything important!

Know your job, but don't forget to know yourself!

$$$, budget, CAPEX, OPEX, depreciation, etc. has never been my strong suit. And is probably what has limited my career growth the most. But I have tried to understand budgeting better and I swear I find it to be so boring. So I only have myself to blame for my lack of promotions. That being said...

I have been privy to how others have done prepared budgets and I know I could do it much more cohesively. Some of the budgets I've assisted with are so painfully convoluted and thrown together.  There is no attempt to make it understandable or to try to identify efficiencies. This baffles me. Yet another reason why I probably haven't been promoted. Directors and above love to protect their budgets.

Level 16

Especially if you go for the higher certifications.

Level 12

"Mind your own business"....sorry had to do it.

You can’t know it all, but an understanding of the business can help a lot.

Level 14

" It's about the business stupid!"

rule #1 for IT.

  • Expectations – make sure that what you are doing is what is wanted/expected

As a long time manager of IT professionals I have two views on this:

  1. It is my job to set expectations of behavior and performance for those that work for me. If I do not then I have no authority or right to hold them to any metric. It is a failure on my part. I also, need to set my expectations based on their past. Remembering that a young person may not have ever encountered a particular situation before. They may need extra attention or assistance in moving a project forward. You are the one preparing them for better things and the next job.
  2. As an employee, you have to ask your boss and peers these questions. It is something that has to be discussed every so often. Not just in performance reviews, but in weekly or monthly meetings. WHat of the two dozen things on my plate do you want time to work on. Here is how I think they should be ranked and what level of effort I think they deserve.

Both of these help make life in middle management livable and I hope it translates into me being a decent boss.

Part of knowing your business might also be knowing how much time your business requires.  I was about fourteen or fifteen when I realized there were more things to do than I had time in a day, and I would have to prioritize between them--and DROP one or more of my fun pastimes.

Talk about "adult shock!" 

Perhaps worse, I whined about it for a few days until I realized everyone had the same problem, and didn't need me to share it with them.  Sigh.  The trials of youth.

Maybe something to send back in a time capsule would have to do with that.  "Figure out the obvious about something, and don't say it.  Because someone's already heard it--maybe dozens of times--and won't appreciate you being obvious about it."

Or "Walk a mile in someone else's shoes . . . "

MVP
MVP

We used to have this displayed in the engineer department at work. Always put a smile on my face!

MVP
MVP

I agree with both of your views - and it's important to hold to both of them. If the employee expects the boss to inform them then there is still the opportunity for misunderstanding. If the Boss expects the employee to ask then that's just poor leadership. It's important to take personal responsibility and pursue the information and the understanding so that you are sure that you know what is expected.

First off, awesome job, mandevil​; short, sweet and to the point!  My wife would say I could do with a crash course in "Self-Editing" on occasion, but I will keep my response succinct.

IMO, one of the best things I ever did for my IT career was get an MBA.  I say that not to boast but to encourage others to do the same or, if you don't want to or cannot get the full degree, take some MBA courses.  What I learned in those years about business in general has been absolutely priceless in my IT career.

All too often, people want to "silo up" in their company and just "do my job"; they work just hard enough to not get fired and the employer pays them just enough so they won't quit.  When you understand the business and your role in it (and, BTW, if your leadership isn't providing that vision, go find it!  There is nothing that says you can't!), you can help create and provide value added propositions to the organization.  Sounds like buzzword bingo, I know, but small things can make a huge difference, especially when we put our egos in check, think of the greater good of the business and keep in mind the fact that if the business does well, they will be more likely (and able) to keep us around.

"Think Win-Win" - Stephen Covey

Level 9

That last statement is so true. I have seen a lot of flawed thinking from both sides of the manager/employee relationship. I have also seen managers change things when the right questions were asked by employees and relevant data was provided to management.

Level 14

Yep, we have TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason.  Listen first, engage brain then talk.

Level 14

I think I'd probably tell myself to go into Law or Accountancy           There's always a need for someone to hide the money or get the crooks off when they get caught.  IT is a pretty thankless task.  No one ever thanks you when things are working well but they will yell and scream if even the slightest thing goes wrong (usually because they have done something stupid).

I once had a customer yelling at me because his computer wouldn't work.  He had a next business day response but, as I was already on site for another call, I decided to see what I could do.  After the yelling I told him I'd be back tomorrow and walked out.  When I got there just before the end of the next day (fulfilling the contractual obligation) I just plugged the PC into the wall socket and walked out.  Petty I know but it did make me smile.

About the Author
I have over 15 years of broad experience as a production DBA, development DBA, and architect/data modeler on a variety of platforms. I worked in the aerospace, global technology, geospatial industries, and taught master level courses at Regis University.