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Everything I Needed To Know About A Career In I.T.

Level 17

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(image courtesy of Marvel)

...I learned from "Doctor Strange"

(This is part 1 of what will be a 4-part series. Enjoy!)

"When the student is ready, the teacher appears," is a well-known phrase, but I was struck recently by the way that sometimes the teacher appears in unexpected forms. It's not always the kindly and unassuming janitor, Mr. Miyagi, or the crazy old hermit, Ben Kenobi. Sometimes the teacher isn’t a person or a character, but an entire movie filled with lessons for ready students. 

I found myself in that situation recently, as I sat watching Dr. Strange, the latest installment in the Marvel cinematic universe.

There, hidden among the special effects, panoramic vistas, and Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones were some very real and meaningful IT career lessons, applicable to both acolytes and masters as they walk the halls of your own technological Kamar Taj. In fact, I discovered a series of lessons, more than I can fit into just one essay.

So, over the next couple of installments I'm going to share them with you, and I’d like to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

If it needs to be said, there are many spoilers in what follows. If you haven't seen the movie yet, and don't want to know what's coming, bookmark this page to enjoy later.

Know the essential tools of the trade

The movie introduces us to the concept of a sling ring, a magical device that allows a sorcerer to open a portal to another location. In the narrative arc of the movie, this appears to be one of the first and most basic skills sorcerers are taught. It was also the key to many of the plot twists and a few sight gags in the movie. In my mind, I equated the concept of the sling ring with the idea that all IT pros need to understand and master basic skills, such as IP subnetting, command line syntax, coding skills, and security.

Can you be a solid IT pro without these skills? Sure, but you'll never be a master, and odds are good that you'll find yourself hanging around the lower end of the career ladder far longer than you’d like.

Think creatively about how to use the technology you already have

In the movie, immediately after figuring out how to use a sling ring, we see the hero use it in non-standard ways. Instead of opening a portal for his whole body, he opens holes just big enough for his hands, so that he can borrow books from the library and avoid being detected by Wong the librarian. We see this again in the use of the Eye of Agamotto during Doctor Strange's face-off against Dormamu.

The great thing about essential IT skills is that they can be used in so many ways. Understanding network routing will allow you to build stronger and more secure environments in the cloud. A grasp of regular expressions will help you in coding, in using various tools, and more. Understanding the command line, rather than being trapped in the GUI all the time, allows you to automate tasks, perform actions more quickly, and extend functionality.

It's worth noting that here at SolarWinds we place great stock in enabling our users to think outside the box. We even have a SolarWinds User Group (SWUG) session on doing just that – called “Thinking Outside the Box”.

Don't let your desire for structure consume you

In the movie, Mordo began as an ally, and even friend, of Stephen Strange, but displayed certain issues throughout the movie. In claiming he had conquered his demons, the Ancient One replied, "We never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them."

Mordo’s desire to both protect the natural order and remain steadfastly within its boundaries proved his undoing, with him leaving the sorcerers of Kamar Taj when he found that both the Ancient One and Doctor Strange had bent rules in order to save the world.

I find this relevant when I see seasoned IT pros forcing themselves to operate within constraints that don't exist, except in their own minds. When I hear IT pros proclaim that they would never run (name your operating system, software package, or hardware platform) in their shop, it's usually not for any sound business reason. And when those standards are challenged, I have watched more than a few seasoned veterans break rather than bend. It's not pretty, and it's also not necessary.

There are never too many sorcerers in the world

Mordo's reaction is extreme. He begins hunting down other practitioners of the magical arts and taking their power, proclaiming, "There are too many sorcerers in the world!"

There are times in IT when it feels like EVERYONE is trying to become a (again, fill in your technology or specialty here) expert. And it's true that when a whole crop of new folks come into a discipline, it can be tiresome watching the same mistakes being made, or having to explain the same concepts over and over.

But the truth is that there are never enough sorcerers, or in our case, specialists, in the world. There's plenty of work to go around. And the truth is that not everyone is cut out for some of these specialties, and they soon find themselves overwhelmed and leave – hopefully to find an area of IT that suits them better.

While I don't expect that anyone reading this will magically extract the IT power from their peers, I have watched coworkers shoot down or even sabotage the work of others just so they can maintain their own privileged status. I'm happy to say that this tactic rarely works, and never ends well.

Persistence often pays off

At one point in the movie, the Ancient One sends Strange on a trip through alternate dimensions, then asks, "Have you seen that at a gift shop?" When Strange begs her to teach him, her response is a firm “no.” Hours later, Strange is wailing at the door, begging to be let in.

At some point in your career, you may have an epiphany and realize that your career goals point you toward a certain technology or discipline. And, just your luck, there's a team that specializes in exactly that! So you go to the manager or team lead and ask if you can join up.

Your first request to join the team may fall on deaf ears. And your second. You may need to hang, like a sad puppy dog, around them in the lunchroom or around the water cooler for a while. Unlike Doctor Strange, it may take weeks or even months of persistence, rather than a few hours. But that doesn't mean it's not worth it.

Did you find your own lesson when watching the movie? Discuss it with me in the comments below. And keep an eye out for parts 2-4, coming in the following weeks.

The series is a general interest piece and not related to SolarWinds products in any way, nor will it be used to promote Solarwinds products.

It will be hosted on THWACK.com, the free, open user community for monitoring experts.

Can you

20 Comments

Your sling ring is more powerful than mine--I envisioned my parallel to the sling ring as something like SSH.  It opens a portal into other worlds (routers, chassis switches, giant UCS environments, ACI, tiny access points, etc.).

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Level 13

I don't know if i'd go into technology if I could do my life over again...

I've been thinking about this lately, and I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather be a fisherman in southern mexico or Costa Rica...

Okay, now I need a

EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT A CAREER IN I.T.

...I learned from Guardians of the Galaxy.

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When working, have fun and listen to really good music!

RT

Tools of the trade...

I always say, "All I know is the basics, but I know them very well."

I have to agree, knowing how to use the essential tools are needed.  Got boolean math?  I do not code but I have made some fine well-documented batch files over the years.  I have also cleaned up some sprawling login scripts.

Structure....

Be flexible, or work in a different industry.

There are never enough sorcerers....

I started working on an Apple IIe in 1983, ten years later I change careers and got a job at a Value Added Reseller.

In 1993, I thought I was late to the game.  I was wrong and anyone getting into IT and thinking this today....is still wrong.

Persistence...

Persistence pays off but so does patience.  Sometimes bang on the door....other times wait until the storm passes.

RT

Level 13

i don't know about GOTG, but what about Batman?

I'd say this geekspeak rings pretty true, as we have a number of new employees I've been helping get up to speed and in all cases I've helped them sharpen up their base set of tools. Without having the right framework, they wouldn't understand what they're looking at.

Batman had many positive items, not least of which are honor, faithfulness, trust, intelligence, a couple of good partners (Robin and Alfred), technology and gadgets.

I like how Guardians expanded on that and moved more towards a team comprised of members with varying strengths.  Batman's team was too small, and too often relied on him being the lone wolf or sole hero, with Robin sometimes being too young and inexperienced and limited to help in all the ways that an equally competent team member would be.  And Alfred--I loved his hidden strengths and trustworthiness, but his biggest way of helping was by being invisible to the bad guys, an unknown force that stepped softly out of the shadows to aid in whatever manner he could, and then silently stepped back to remain hidden.  Of course, I'm thinking mostly of the light-hearted '60's TV series more than the movies that are perhaps truer to the original comic books, but that are too dark and evil and violent for my tastes.

Guardians took lone wolves and built a team with a wide variety of strengths and abilities--and ethics and values and conflicts.  Their journey towards goodness and becoming a team, combined with unexpected humor and fine pop music totally out of expected context, helps me think that although Batman has many points that can be applied towards becoming successful in I.T., Guardians has even more points to recommend it.  Perhaps strictly from the numbers of team members, perhaps from the humor or music.

Level 9

"When I hear IT pros proclaim that they would never run (name your operating system, software package, or hardware platform) in their shop, it's usually not for any sound business reason. And when those standards are challenged, I have watched more than a few seasoned veterans break rather than bend. It's not pretty, and it's also not necessary."

Bravo! That is so on the money it gets my highest compliment regarding writing: "I wish I would of wrote that!"

Level 10

Great post!

There are never too many sorcerers in the world

I've had friends who choose to go into IT for their career choice, and then constantly compare themselves to others, saying that the other persons work experience or studies is more advanced then their own. I found myself constantly repeating to them: Hey! Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but if you want to learn about this field or that specialty then just DO EET! Learn about it and know about it, and own it! Different sorcerers had different powers, find out which one suites you the best! If you do find someone who knows more then you on a topic, then try to learn from them, soak up that knowledge! Usually you'll find they are more then willing to share the knowledge with you!

The other thing I might point out is, just because there are a lot of sorcerers, don't ASSUME anything about them!

Being a lady in IT, I've come across my own share of obstacles, and one thing I've run across is people assuming your knowledge base without actually taking a proper look at what you do.

It gets very old, very fast. Also gets very tiring.  But one has to just KEEP AT IT! Persistence!

Persistence often pays off

I would throw in there also, of ways of dealing with Self Doubt. When you get people assuming stuff, if you're not careful you find yourself thrown in a loop of self doubt about your own abilities. Can I really do that? Am I sure of this answer? Maybe I should double check... etc etc.[usually 90% of the time, it turns out, hey .. I DO know the answer!..why did I doubt myself?]

It takes time to learn when to put your foot down and point out, excuse me but NO you're wrong, I DO know what this is and how to handle it, stop assuming I don't, thank you.

I think a lot of these movies can be applied to real life situations in terms of facing your fears, putting in that hard work, being persistent and going out to celebrate (maybe a swarma?) when you reach your goal! .. .then aim for a new goal and next adventure!..rinse-repeat.

Level 12

very usefull

Level 20

Dr. Strange was a pretty good Marvel movie this time!  A lot of irony that he'd lose his hands which were his best tool at the time only to have to learn new tools instead.

I see "Self Doubt" holding way too many people back.

Trust yourself.

RT

"Don't let your desire for structure consume you"

adatole​ says to a process and efficiency junkie (me)!  Yea... too late on that one... lol

MVP
MVP

I love this one

Don't let your desire for structure consume you

Learning to avoid the whole religious debates and restrictions is really hard for some folks, usually not based on any real business reason but instead unwillingness to admit a personal lack of knowledge.

MVP
MVP

Late to this game...very good posting and the comments I have read thus far also ring true....

Level 21

mcam​ I completely agree with you on this.  The religious debates in IT drive me insane.  I think it's great to be passionate about what you do but sometimes we need to be more pragmatic with our approaches to problems and not be emotionally attached to our ideas in such a way that we feel personally insulted if somebody else presents a different and/or better idea.

Level 21

Think creatively about how to use the technology you already have

I think this is also a great though.  I have seen countless occasions where folks in IT were looking to purchase or implement new tools to solve a problem when we already had tools in place that could solve the problem, they just weren't thinking about the tool beyond what we had already been using it for.

For me Orion has been a Swiss Army Knife, I have used it to solve all sorts of problems that didn't necessarily have anything to do with monitoring.

Level 13

Excellent post @adatole.  I think that last one is probably the most important.  Nearly everyone I know that's achieved anything (and certainly in my own life) has come primarily because of persistence.  Not quitting my be the most important lesson of all. You will be knocked down, maybe even knocked out, but if you get back up and get going again you'll eventually get to where you want to go.

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.