August 18, 2008
On the third Monday in August, 1998 I began my first IT job: first-level support for a bottom of the barrel PC maker whose low-quality computers were sold on a home shopping network. On one hand it seems like a long time ago; on the other hand it seems like it was just yesterday.
I've learned a few things since then. In no particular order here are 10.
- Be realistic
You may be able to write cool programs or admin Unix boxes like a pro, you may be the best at what you do, but most people don't care. Your manager wants you to get projects finished on time and make him look good. Your coworkers want you to be reliable and personable. If you're a lazy jerk, it won't matter if you're the best: no one owes you loyalty, friendship or a job.
In other words:
- Know thyself
Know your strengths and use them to help yourself and others. Know your limitations and either work to overcome them, or at least compensate for them.
- Remember and respect those who help you
The IT field is full of opportunity, but no one makes it on his own. You'll meet plenty of people who will help you out: teach you something new, or give you new opportunities, or help you improve yourself. Be sure to thank them, and show your appreciation by following their example.
- Keep your resume updated.
I'd barely begun my first IT job when I realized that the company probably wasn't going to exist much longer, and I saw that it was a good time to update my resume. You may not be looking for a new job, but management might be looking for the opportunity to cut costs. You may not be looking for a new job, but a new job might be looking for someone with your skills. When you complete a great project, update your resume (to make sure you don't forget to add the project later). When you master new skills, add them to your resume.
- Always learn something new
Five-year old skills run the risk of becoming irrelevant in IT. You never know it all. No matter how much you know, there's always more to learn: new subjects to discover, new depth in the ones you already know. Always work to make yourself a better programmer, sysadmin, network engineer, whatever you are.
Spend some time learning outside the IT field too.
Learning other languages is fun and good for your brain. Pick one that interests you and give it a try. Learning a little Chinese or Gujarati or Russian (or whatever) won't make you a millionaire or the king of your particular discipline, but someday it'll sure impress your coworkers or your boss or the new contractor at the office, and you never can tell what new opportunities you'll find.
- Keep your eyes open.
You have noticed that this list contains more than 10 items, haven't you? Computers are exact; programs are exact; look at that config file or program or data and see what it really says, not what someone else tells you it should say.
The IT field is full of opportunity, but it's rarely going to come looking for you. Keep watch for new opportunities to help, to improve your own job or skills, to make someone else's job easier, to fill a niche. Keep your eyes open to make sure that your company is doing well; if it isn't, keep your eyes open for new opportunities.
- Keep your mouth shut until you have something worthwhile to say.
Don't talk too much. Don't ramble. Don't say things that shouldn't be said. Before you say something, say it to yourself silently and then decide whether you should say it out loud. "I'm thinking about it" is a valid answer. Don't be in such a rush to be the first or loudest to speak; try to be the first to speak correctly.
- Be optimistic
IT is a field full of opportunity. You can choose your direction and goals and make them happen. Your only limitation is your ambition.
- Keep on track: in career, in your speaking, in your writing, in your programming. Be short and to the point.
- Get involved
It's easy for the keyboard and the screen and the server room to become your whole world, and that's actually a fairly lonely world. Find opportunities to get together with people who share your interests: user group meetings, programming conferences, language classes, and make some friends.
And whether your community is online or in person (or a little of each), pitch in and help out: teach something, train someone, write some documentation, clean up code or clean up a meeting room.
Finally, the most important of all:
- Have fun.