Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

Are you right for Information Technology?

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

During and shortly after the ‘Internet boom’ there was much fuss about how stressful jobs in Information Technology can be. The field of Information Technology itself is not stressful, the stress comes from people doing things that they aren’t built for.

First, let us discuss what makes someone ‘right’ for I.T. there are some personality traits which are very helpful to someone who wants to work in I.T. such as: perseverance, curiosity, the ability to think critically, being analytical, versatile (being able to deal with changes in your environment at a moment’s notice), resourcefulness.

I.T. jobs often times require lengthy troubleshooting processes which involve vendors, customers, other employees, and sometimes all of the above. Perseverance is an important personality trait for someone working in I.T. because often times one is faced with a very complex and frustrating problem, and it would be very easy to ‘give up’ but you don’t learn anything by being a quitter (except that it is alright to be a quitter). More importantly, if you replace something every time a problem comes up that you cannot explain you end up spending your entire budget on ‘maintenance’ instead of pushing forward with new projects/deployments.

Curiosity is very important, you should have a natural inquisitive nature and want to know why something works (or does not work) a certain way. Critical thinking allows an I.T. professional to quickly troubleshoot problems, eliminate scenarios which are unlikely to result in a resolution and notice patterns which are hints to the cause of an issue. You cannot possibly explore all avenues of problem resolution, so you need to be able to quickly eliminate the ones that make absolutely no sense from the get-go.

Versatility is going to be one of the most important traits someone working in I.T. can possess. It can be very stressful for people who aren’t used to the ups and downs of an average day in I.T. to adapt quickly to the unexpected (Sometimes to the point of entirely mitigating their effectiveness in an unexpected scenario) An example of this would be a person who reboots first and asks questions later. A versatile/analytical system administrator/engineer understands that uptime is not everything. It would be nice to have a system or network up 100% of the time, but it is more important to know why the system failed so that you can avoid it next time.

Resourceful system administrators know that no matter how many certifications they have, or how many inane technical documents they read. They will never know everything and they shouldn’t strive to know everything. It is much more important to know where to find the answers. Whether it is Online Resources (Google), vendor support, colleagues, friends, or coworkers. Knowing where to find the answers to problems quickly is 70% of being a productive system administrator.

Personality type is also important in Information Technology. In most career paths being what folks would consider ‘a social outcast’ can actually be an asset. I know what you’re thinking, ‘every time I go to a job interview they give me a very ridiculous personality test’. They do this because some company which writes personality tests and/or a ‘self-help book author’ decided that companies would be better off hiring people who think and feel the same as the author of the personality test. (How screwed up is that?).

You must be able to tell people "No", "You’re wrong", or sometimes even simply ignore them. You must have confidence in your abilities (sometimes this comes off as arrogance) but honestly the people you are answering to don’t understand half of what is going on under their noses, and if they did they wouldn’t pay you to do it for them. A person can be both sunny and happy and objective, but usually I have found the best I.T. folks have at least some sort of personality "problem" which wouldn’t work in Healthcare or other industries which focus on serving people. You should be more concerned with your ability to communicate with your work than people around you. Of course, you cannot be a total caveman, but if every time someone reports a problem you immediately jump and run to their rescue. That is all you will do.

One of the largest no-nos in Information Technology is being a "tell me how to do it, I don’t care why it works.." I’ve run into people who just want to know the steps involved with performing a task, it may seem like a great idea to offload mundane administrative tasks to users as a way to lighten your load, but consider this – what happens when something doesn’t "follow the script" and the person who is doing part of your job has absolutely no idea what is going on. If a person wants to know how to do something they should also be educated on why and how that process actually works.

A good I.T. candidate should see problems and new projects as fun challenges, not ‘just more work’. You should be excited (not afraid) about new technology coming out. Being platform/vendor agnostic is also very helpful. You will never run into someone who does something the exact same way you do, so you should know enough about ‘All ways’ to do things in your specific discipline whether it is DBA, System Administration, Network Engineering, or making coffee at StarBucks. You have to be willing to move outside of your comfort zone otherwise you will miss out on opportunities to resolve problems in the most efficient manner possible and more importantly grow your experience.

Hopefully this article will serve to help people who are thinking about going into IT decide whether it is for them or not. You can certainly be successful in I.T. if you’re a ‘call technical support first, learn second yes man’ but you will most likely be very very miserable in the process.