Be appreciative, embrace failure, and other things a career in IT has taught me
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Spring has long been one of my favorite seasons. Everything about spring just teems with the joy of new life, hope, dreams and, of course, new beginnings. Late spring and early summer is also the time of year I loosely refer to as “graduation” season. Soon, the mailbox will be full of graduation invitations for a whole host of smiling young faces headed out with their shiny new diplomas in hand to conquer the world.
These kids are confident! Invincible! Bulletproof! And, although they’d never admit it, perhaps just a little intimidated. After all, we ask 18-year-olds who are generally still wholly dependent on the Bank of Mom and Dad to suddenly make decisions that will impact their lives and shape the trajectory of their professional careers for years to come. Nothing is more tragic than to graduate only to discover six months later that the career path you’ve chosen isn’t right for you.
Doubts about career choices aren’t limited, of course, to those just beginning their career. I think all of us have those days (and sometimes weeks and months) where we wonder what we were thinking and whether we should be looking at different opportunities. Personally, I think periodically evaluating where you are now and where you want to be is healthy. It helps you to clarify what you want to gain from a job and determine whether your career is meeting those needs.
I must confess that I didn’t start out intending to pursue a career in information technology (IT). I literally stumbled into this thing. I was in a position in a wholly different field (real estate law — BORING!) which was absolutely making me crazy. I dreaded mornings because it meant another day in that office … and I began plotting my escape.
Quite by accident, a VP at a powerhouse IT firm saw my résumé, liked what was on it, and thus began my career in IT. Here we are 20 years later: I’m still working in IT and I have no plans to move to another field.
Why did I stay? Quite simply, I love the innovation, challenges, excitement, and opportunities for growth that I’m constantly presented with in IT. Many of the lessons I’ve learned working in IT have nothing to do with technical skills, but everything to do with how I live, work and interact with others. Perhaps these are the most important lessons of all.
Some or all of these lessons learned might not apply to your situation. But I hope that you’ll find a few pearls of wisdom that also convey the message that IT is an exciting place to be.
Adopt an attitude of lifelong learning
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” — Anthony J. D’Angelo
If you love learning, then you will love working in IT. IT is all about constant change, new ideas, building, growing, evolving, expanding. The technology that is new and innovative today may well be obsolete or on its way out the door five years from now.
To stay at the top of your game in IT, you need to be willing to embrace new challenges, new opportunities, and new technologies. Successful IT professionals realize that learning does not end with college. In IT, constant learning is a way of life.
Boldly go where no man has gone before — be curious
“To boldly go where no man has gone before” was part of the opening narration that used to introducing each week’s new episode of Star Trek. (If you’re not familiar with Star Trek, then you should be. Google it!) Star Trek was all about exploring new places, new ideas, and new concepts.
The original television series was short-lived — it has since been resurrected or rebooted many times, most recently in the guise the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery — it ushered in an atmosphere of curiosity, imagination, and innovation. Frankly, it made science geeks the “cool” guys on the block. What a great forerunner to the explosive dawn of the IT age. A career in IT encourages you to be curious and ask “what if” questions.
There is success in failure
Success comes in many different forms, including failure. While each of us needs to know what the criteria for success looks like in our organization, sometimes the greatest innovations are born not in our successes but in our failures. Viewed correctly, failure leads to growth, innovation, and increased creativity.
Communication is key to success (or failure)
The single most important soft skill that, in my opinion, is required for project success is clear, concise communication. This includes both written and verbal communication. Say it with me: Communication is key to the success or failure of any project.
I’ve watched projects which should have come in on time and under budget implode because of poor communication practices. If strong communication skills aren’t your forte, then take the time to develop them. Good communication skills will serve you well and you’ll never regret the time spent developing the ability to be an effective communicator.
People are any organization’s most important resource
At the end of the day, people are your most important resource and always matter more than the project. You can buy new hardware or software, but highly qualified and motivated team members aren’t so easily replaced. Always be respectful of the fact that each of us has a journey and a life outside of the office and cultivate an atmosphere where balance between the two exists.
I was once part of a team where one of our team members received the unspeakable news that her husband was not just sick, but had only a few weeks to live. Of course, we all rallied to cover her work. Unfortunately, management had not cross-trained anyone for one aspect of her position and a crisis occurred which could not readily be solved.
Management called her at home and asked her to work on the problem. She did and her husband died a few hours later. The team never forgot or recovered. The damage was incalculable. Your employees, peers, and team members are all valuable individuals and deserve your respect.
There is power in the act of expressing sincere gratitude, appreciation, and thanks to others. I believe that most people, myself included, have a deep desire to know that we matter and that what we do makes a difference. Unfortunately, when it comes to work, most people do not feel appreciated.
According to the O.C. Tanner’s 2018 Global Culture Report, only 52 percent of leaders acknowledge employee contributions. More disappointing is that only 32 percent of employees indicate they receive some type of praise or acknowledgement. Frankly, those statistics are beyond sad.
One of the most profound things I’ve learned working in IT is that expressing true and sincere appreciation to others for their contributions is transformative to you, the individual, and the team. Expressing appreciation builds loyalty, a sense of cohesiveness, unity, trust, and a true sense of camaraderie. Always let others know how their contribution to the team made a difference.