Monday, April 22, 2013

Know your place

I've been in the IT game for awhile but unlike most of my peers I haven't spent any great amount of time in any one place.  It's not that I don't believe in long-term relationships, on the contrary my average client has been with me at least 5 years.  I'd just rather be as productive as I can be instead of treading water with busywork.

To be successful in consulting you have to learn to be attentive to your client's needs.  That means doing what they need you to do in a timely fashion and then get out of their way.  Often times that means getting out your comfort zone when they throw something at you from left field. 

You have to be adaptable and keep up with current technology but that can be difficult if you're not working in large organizations with big IT budgets. 

Still, you have to realize that whether you're dealing with 15 or 5000 users, at its core IT is always the same.  Everything scales.  The only real difference is the people providing the IT services. 

At some point most IT organizations grow beyond the capabilities of one person.  Maybe it's a specialized application that needs a dedicated person or just plain old growth.  It doesn't matter so long as everyone understands the fundamentals.

I'm not talking about acing your IT exams or memorizing all the Active Directory FSMO roles either.  No, the fundamentals I'm talking about have very little to do with technical buzzwords and everything to do with IT's role in any organization.

In short, know your place. 

That's actually a brick wall I've been running into lately especially in a profession with declining wages and a bad job market.  It seems that IT managers are more concerned about the skill of the day or how many letters follow your name than whether or not you understand IT's role.

Hot skills come and go and to be an expert in anything in IT ultimately has about as much importance as winning first place in a snowman building contest.  Nobody's going to care after tomorrow. 

It's not about the skills, it's about your ability to use them to serve your users.   So long as you have the capabilities to adapt and a point of reference it's not a big deal if you don't match up to someone's skill punch list. 

That's what I attribute whatever success I've enjoyed in my own career to.  My role has been one of service; no more, no less.  Anyone who thinks that IT is anything more than that is quite simply an egomaniac.    
Yes, IT provides the medium that powers a connected world but in the grand scheme of things it's not important for its own sake.  

We in IT simply provide the means for other people to accomplish their goals.  
I'm perfectly ok with that but many in IT aren't and they refuse to hear anything that doesn't glorify the profession.  They inflate their technical accomplishments, create needless workflows (busywork) and body block anything that threatens their fragile egos. 

I've been in the field for quite some time now and while the phrase is tired I literally have forgotten more than most IT managers know at this point.  Familiarity with a specific IT platform is only valuable so long as it remains viable to the organization.  Once it's outlived its usefulness you need to move on but the lessons learned continue to have value.  They are the true definition of skill.  

Whether you're an admin or a CIO you have to realize the value of IT has nothing to do with buzzwords or brands.  It's got everything to do with ability and attitude, however, and they aren't defined by fads.

I actually find it amusing that anyone in IT attributes the word "skill" to anything that has a brand name attached to it.  It's probably the only profession that discriminates based on marketing jargon.  When you consider that the non-IT equivalent to a tech job is an auto mechanic you start to realize how ridiculous it is to be passed over because of familiarity with one brand name over another. 

I mean, does anyone actually believe that a Chevy mechanic is incapable of working on Fords?  
Generally we don't label auto mechanics by their brand affiliation, they're just mechanics.  The skill is in being able to understand automotive systems no matter who made them.  That's because at their core they're designed the same way regardless of whose label is on that grill.

Yet as an IT worker you're led to believe that managing Cisco branded switches has taught you nothing about managing one from HP or Dell.

It's a poor interviewer that doesn't realize that I've spent my career going the extra mile and continually learning new skills to fit my client's needs.  I tend to be more practical and don't spend my nights pouring over the latest database or scripting languages. I'm too practical for that.  I'm only interested in what makes my users happy because I know my value to them depends on it.

I had an opportunity to speak with just such a misinformed IT manager recently concerning an IT support position.  When he asked  the, "Tell me about yourself" question I obliged by giving him a short synopsis of my career and my commitment to serving my users.  In fact I actually told him my view of the value of IT in an organization. 

His response? " Where do you see yourself in five years" 

In other words, he wasn't listening in fact I knew he hadn't even looked at the resume that was forwarded to him from the pleasant HR guy I'd talked to a week before.  

I could excuse the fact that he was 20 minutes late in calling me ( a time he chose by the way) or that he was interviewing me while obviously doing something else. 

What I couldn't excuse was the attitude.

 I knew I'd encountered yet another IT egomaniac who felt threatened by the truth.  At the end he asked if I had any questions and of course I asked him what his ideal candidate looked like. 

By the way hiring managers, it's a great question and people like me only ask it to see if you've been listening to us.  If I don't ask it, I don't care.

He responded with a parade of meaningless buzzwords and brand names (most of which I was familiar with by the way) and nothing about serving the customer.  That told me he was just looking for a mindless automaton and in retrospect I should have ended the call right there.  Unlike him, however, I try not to make snap judgments.

Considering this position was customer facing the number one priority should have been my attitude toward service.  That goes double when you consider how heavily customer facing my career has been to date.  Instead, he chose to focus on buzzwords.  When asked if I had any other questions I gave him the opportunity to come clean. 

I asked, "So what how do you feel about me as a candidate so far?"  His response, " Not too good"
I ended the phone call. 

I've dealt with hundreds just like him and knew we were never going to be on the same page.  Being in the field as long as I have been I've had the opportunity to be on the other side of the desk.  That means I have my own criteria in mind whenever I'm in the interview process.

 For example; If I'd feel comfortable hiring my potential boss in my own organization then I know it's going to be a good fit.  If, however, I know I'd be kicking them out the door faster than they came in...

Look IT Managers, If you're passing over dedicated, motivated and experienced candidates because their qualifications don't stroke your ego you really need to get out of the field.  Somehow, somewhere along the line you've forgotten your place and now...

You're just in the way.

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