Today's IT professional is much different from even five years ago. In addition to our IT savvy, we need business savvy. We have to be able to communicate with a wide variety of people. Even when we’re in an enterprise IT department, everyone is considered a customer. Today's IT professional must be just that: professional. We can no longer afford to be nerds.
There is also the matter of technology itself. If we expect vendors to stay on the cutting edge, we also need to adapt. We all want to be an expert at everything we put our minds to, but that’s not practical. It’s much more effective to be conversant in many subjects, fluent in a few, and expert in our current responsibility, knowing that it will continue to change. These days, organizations value people who know how to find what they need to do their job, do what needs to be done, and move on.
The way I see it, reinventing myself means embracing change and innovating my own techniques and tools so that I can deliver results that others find valuable. We need to differentiate ourselves, just as organizations do. The innovations we make can be technical, but they can also be related to business, relationships, communication, etc. These strategies should help.
Identify your individual strengths and how they can contribute to organizational success, and build on those strengths. Try a mix of training courses, a mentoring relationship, or a new project outside of your comfort zone.
You may wonder about your weaknesses—everyone does. I’ve heard that Tiger Woods wasn’t great in the sand trap, but instead of accepting his weakness, he worked it till he was good enough to get out of the trap. Identify your weaknesses, exploit them, and turn them into a strength—or at least to the point that they are not career enders.
Cross train within your own team. There’s no need to go deep; ask your peers about issues that matter to them and learn enough so that you can talk intelligently with them about those issues and share the load. Learn about tools your team uses: the terms, the architecture, and how they work. The best ways to do this are to take an online course and read the “getting started” product docs. If you’re like me (and I suspect you are), it’ll be hard to avoid getting sucked into playing with whatever product you’re learning about. Avoid that temptation; just get “good enough” and then take on more. The positive side effects of this intra-team cross training are numerous: growth of mutual respect, better teamwork, improved relationships, and becoming more valuable to the business.
Cross-train across practices. If you’re an infrastructure management expert, reach across the aisle and get training in, say, security or service management. As I mentioned in my last post, don’t get married to a tool. (I’m sure there are some spouses who think they’re married to a tool—no, not that kind…) What I mean is that there’s a difference between being an expert and being pigeon-holed. Think of it this way: Every system integrates with other systems, so learn how your area of specialty interacts with others. If you can converse in the concepts and terms of your peers across the aisle, you will gain respect and improve the quality of your own ideas. Like learning another language, you don’t need to be fluent, but you should know the basics when you’re in a foreign place. In any case, dive right in: You will survive and prosper.
Expand your horizons to understand how your company does business. Trace your job all the way up the chain of command, understand how the initiatives you’re working on (or want to work on) relate to portfolio management and architecture, and become aware of how they relate to the organization’s strategic goals, business model and mission.
If you want to dive deeper and your company doesn’t offer appropriate courses, take or audit a few business or IT management courses. You don’t have to go whole hog and get a degree. Many universities offer certificate programs. For example, in the mid-2000s I took a series of courses at UC San Diego toward a certificate in Systems Engineering that I found extremely helpful as a systems administrator and that laid the foundation for the skills I use as an IT architect. Another favorite course was Accounting for Non-Accountants (again, UCSD). I chose these courses specifically because they were glaring gaps in my knowledge (and, honestly, I had quite a bit of fear that they were beyond my capability to comprehend). But I faced my fears, took on something way outside of my normal job, and the payoff has been huge. Succeeding in these courses convinced me that I could continue my education in mid-career, which I did, completing my BSCIS in 2005 and MS in IT Management in 2015. Just because you may have failed at something in high school doesn’t mean you’re incapable of learning as an adult. On the contrary, your life experience may have set the foundation to learn a skill that could become your new specialty!
These strategies will help you do more than simply weather the storms of change or embrace change; they will help you become an agent of change! I hope that this will help you adapt and innovate in your roadmap to personal reinvention. Good luck!
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