One old guy’s advice to newly hired IT folks

Having grown in my career since college, I have learned many lessons. I started out in computers back in 1986, at the precipice of the “Clone” era. I cut my teeth and my hands by installing chips on memory cards and motherboards, replacing 5.25” floppy discs, and dealing with the jumble of cables on Dual 5MB Winchester hard drives that cost and weighed an arm and a leg.

I moved on to Networking with Novell and Banyan Vines, then Microsoft, onward into Citrix Winframe/Metaframe, and moved into VMware and Virtualization adding storage technologies and ultimately Cloud into that paradigm. I’m always tinkering, learning, and growing in my abilities. One of my key goals is to never stop learning.

Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to undertake amazing projects, meet wonderful people, and be influenced by some of the most phenomenal people in the industry. It’s been almost a master’s degree in IT. I’ve actually had the opportunity to teach a couple classes at DePaul University in Business Continuity to the Master’s program in IS. What a great experience that was!

I’ve been contemplating my friends on The Geek Whisperers, (@Geek_Whisperers) as I listen to their podcast regularly. One of the things that they do regularly is ask their interviewee in some manner, what advice they’d offer someone just coming up in the industry, or at other times, the question is, what lesson have you taken most to heart or what mistake have you made that you would caution against to anyone who might be willing to follow your advice. This question, phrased in whatever manner, is a wonderful exercise in introspection.

There are many mistakes I’ve made in my career. Most, if not all, have proven to be learning experiences. I find this to be probably the single most important lesson anyone can learn. Mistakes are inevitable. Admit to them, be honest and humble about them, and most of all, perhaps, learn from them. Nobody expects you not to make mistakes. My old boss used to say, “If you’re going to screw-up, do it BIG!” By this, he meant that you should push your boundaries, try to do things of significance, and outside the box, and above all, make positive change. I would say that this is some of the best advice I could give as well.

Humility is huge. The fine line between knowing the answer to a question, and acting as a jerk to prove it is what I consider to be the “Credibility Line.” I’ve been in meetings wherein a participant has given simply wrong information, and has fought to stay with that point to the point of belligerence. These are people with whom you’d much rather not fight. But, if the point itself is critical, there are ways in which you can prove that you’re in possession of the right information without slamming that other person. I once took this approach: A salesperson stated that a particular replication technology was Active/Active. I knew that it was Active/Passive. When he stated his point, I simply said, OK, let’s white-board the solution as it stands in Active/Active, acting as if I believed him to be right. With the white-boarding of the solution I proved that he’d been wrong, we all apologized and moved on. Nobody was made to feel less-than, all saved face, and we all moved forward.

This is not to say that it was the best approach, but simply one that had value in this particular situation. I felt that I’d handled it with some adept facility, and diffused what could have been a very distracting argument.

One thing I always try to keep in mind is that we all have our own agendas. While I may have no difficulty acknowledging when and where I’m wrong, others may find that to be highly discouraging. If you were to choose to make someone look foolish, you’d look just as foolish or worse. Often the most difficult thing to do is to size up the person with whom you’re speaking, in an effort to determine their personality type and motivations. Playing things safe, and allowing them to show their cards, their personality rather than making assumptions is always a good policy. This goes with anyone with whom you may be speaking, from coworkers, to customers, from superiors to peers. Assumption can lead to very bad things. Sometimes the best way to answer a question is with another question.

To summarize, my advice is this:

  • Push yourself
  • Be humble
  • Exploit your strengths
  • Listen before answering
  • Try not to assume, rather: clarify
  • Defer to others (your customer and your peers) as appropriately as possible
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Above all, Be kind

quote-a-young-man-without-ambition-is-an-old-man-waiting-to-be-steven-brust-25966One last piece of advice, leverage social media. Blog, Tweet, do these things as well and artfully as you can. Follow the same rules that I’ve stated above, as your public profile is how people will know you, and remember: once on the web, always on the web.


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