Wednesday, October 8, 2014

IT Pro Tips

I’ve had the opportunity in the past to teach at a local college from time to time, teaching either intro to object oriented programming, or intro to IT.  Surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed the intro to IT class more than anything because it’s so broad.  More surprisingly, somebody let’s me teach!

I wasn’t a very good college student.  When I tried, I did well.. I just didn’t try.  Why?  I was lazy.  It was easier to hang out with my friends then stay home and read (ironically, now I’m so busy with work and raising my daughter that I wish I could sit at home and read all the time).  It took a few year’s to get my act together.  I had a chance to reflect on this because this same college asked me to come by and talk to their computer club.  When I asked what to speak about, they said “anything”.

So the college Eric Witkowski would have waited until the last minute, tried to go to the podium and make people laugh, and walk away without caring (boo college Eric Witkowski).  The IT Pro Eric Witkowski said “OK!” to the request to talk, and then went home and said “What in the world can I talk about?”  And really, I wanted to think about this some.. I wanted to do this right. 

So the first idea I had ended up being the idea I ran with.  I didn’t want to at first, but it was ultimately the best choice.  I could have talked about what it’s like to go into a world of programming, or how the Internet works, or why HTML5 is so popular and special, but they weren’t right for me to talk about.. at least this time.  Instead I went with “IT Life and how (not) to get fired”. My talk was kind of embarrassing, but now that I exposed my demon’s, it’s a little more gratifying to talk about now (even on my public blog).

My talk went on to say who I was, and what challenges I face in the IT world.  Item’s like a user stating “I need this NOW” but then requesting “so, how long will it take?”.  And when I say “3-4 weeks” I get the reply “but I need this NOW!”.  Other items include Marketing needing a website to handle 100,000 users per month, when you well know that you won’t get that many users in a year.  Or when user’s say “X isn’t working”, but then you ask for details like the error message\code, what they’re doing that possibly caused the error, etc. and get nothing in response.

From there, I leapt into how I found the IT world in the first place, and how I managed to also not make it into the IT world in the first place.  I took an Advanced Placement course for programming in high school and got a 1 out of 5 on the exam (that’s bad).  I got an internship and showed up late. At first, I thought we just started at 9AM, not 8AM.  When I was informed that we started at 8, I tended to sleep in and arrive late.  When I was given a small piece of a project to write\test something, but because I was “just an intern”, people constantly knew to scrub and test my work.. because I wasn’t very good at doing so myself.  When I was (somehow) hired full time, I was still a little lazy, and one time called in “tired”, and to the class I informed them of how my boss at the time had to sit me down and really explain that he’s fighting and pulling for me, and trying to get me experience and opportunities, and I went ahead and left him a voicemail saying “I didn’t sleep the best last night, so I’m taking the day”. 

It was interesting, because until I did this presentation, I never realized that this was the moment where my career took a turn for the better (I subsequently emailed my former boss that essentially said “umm.. thanks for not firing me”).  But therein, I was able to explain to the group that during that wake up call, I really had a chance to say “I was only doing X, but needed to do X + …”, and how doing these extra things started to round out my career, be more professional, be more successful and start to be more of a leader in my organizations that just a follower. My favorite way of discussing this was to point out that when I was initially hired for my first position, I was hired to do this:


And now, I do this:


What I really wanted to explain was that this list is nowhere close to where I need to be, nor where I plan on being when my career wraps up somewhere around 2043. And so, that brought me to the final point of this blog post, which was to showcase the items that *I* think are important for IT professional’s.  Perhaps these are common sense, perhaps you’re doing these things already, perhaps you think they’re wrong.  For me, these were items that worked for me, and so.. I hope they can help you as well.

IT Life – Tips

  • Project Management skills are important for *all* employee’s
    • Requirements Gathering
    • Documentation
    • Testing
    • There are many different aspects to a software project, writing code is only a small portion of a software project.
  • You don’t have to be the person with all the ideas, just translate them into something that works.
    • If you users are aggravated, they have an idea of what the solution is
    • If you users are stressed, they have an idea of what the solution is
    • If you users are backlogged, they have an idea of what the solution is
  • Standards and Best Practices
    • If you want to be rich, do what rich people do
    • If you want to be successful, do what successful people do
    • In IT, successful shops develop protocol’s, standards and processes.  They upgrade them to stay current, but they always follow them.
  • What makes you irreplaceable?
    • Nothing (the president is replaceable for cryin’ out loud)
    • Only the paranoid survive – so do things to make you as hard to replace as possible
    • KNOW your business
      • How does the company *profit*?
      • Who are your customers?
      • How do you serve them well?
      • How can you serve them better?
      • How can you keep them from being stolen?
      • Who is your competition?
    • Moral of the story: India will always be cheaper labor, but employee’s can help understand the items above and improve the organization
  • Read, Read, Read
    • Current Events – Time and Forbes
    • Current Trends – Wired and The Verge
    • History, Biographies, Non-Fiction
    • Never stop learning
  • Listen to your users
    • God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason ya know..
    • Often, your user’s are your troops on the ground, they know how things work, how customer’s complain, how paper get’s lost, how item’s get screwed up, and what costs time.
  • Document well
    • It’s amazing how easy it is to forget details when you don’t work on a project for 2 years
  • Be a leader
    • Take ownership of projects, help manage deliverables and work with other team members
  • Don’t be afraid to fail – Steve Jobs did plenty of times
  • Donate your time, it’s great experience, it’s great to help non-profit’s, and it’s a great resume builder
  • And of course.. don’t call in tired

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