What is the most important thing you need to learn about in order to succeed in your IT career? Is it mastering a certain system? Is it programming like an expert? Is it creating the best disaster recovery plan? Maybe. Those can be individual accomplishments that can help open doors. However, once you have your foot in the door, how do you maintain a presence that can continue to elevate you in the workplace? It’s great to know everything, but if your attitude stinks your value drops. I put much more value on those humble techs and engineers who try their best, have good attitudes, and are there when their colleagues need them. It’s tough to show those qualities on paper, but they do get noticed by good leadership. I am going to bring up a few qualities that I believe are important to have for anyone that wants to shine in their role.
Show Up or Shut Up
Years back I spent some time managing student workers at the help desk in the university. I actually enjoyed it because it gave me many opportunities to teach others. There was never a shortage of things to learn, whether it was imaging desktops, helping students with wireless problems or even guiding faculty through some obscure website issue. Some of my favorite teaching points were not technical. They were about being a noticeable employee and providing quality customer service. What is a “noticeable employee”? Is it being caught “borrowing” supplies from the office? Is it the number of tickets you can close in a day? My definition of a noticeable employee is someone who can show up and make a positive difference. It is someone who is reliable and dependable. It is someone who is willing to learn. Sure the help desk did not pay much, but it was a great place for students to practice those other skills even if the long-term plan was not IT related. I would tell them that I was sitting in that same chair they were just a year before, answering phones, resetting passwords, and opening tickets. Anyone could do that, but not everyone could or would go the extra mile. It was the little things that got me noticed and continued to give me opportunities. Show up on time. Follow up with customers on issues they had a week ago just to “make sure things are still going well”. Be willing to help others. Teach others what you know. Is it more work for you? Sure. However these are also things that will make your name be a part of a conversation, a positive one at that. I always disliked when when staff or faculty would call in to the help desk and ask for specific techs. No, you are going to work with whoever is assigned your ticket. However, deep down I knew it was an indicator that someone was standing out. You cant stand out if you don’t even show up.
This year, winter has been rough. I heard the news say we’ve had more snow in our area this year than the last three years. Each time I go out to shovel or use my tiny snow blower I need to remind myself the reasons I wanted to buy a home. If I was still renting, the owner would be the one out there shoveling the steps and the lot. It is a fact, owning a home is more work than renting. It is also a fact, owning a project or an initiative will give you some headaches similar to shoveling snow. One positive thought is that this home is mine, I can do what I envision with it. The same with a project within business reason, I can do what I envision as well. There is so much growth to be had from building something from the ground up. We need to look for those opportunities and take them when possible. Ask for those opportunities if you see they are not heading your way. Good leadership will take a chance on you especially if you are eager to make an impact in the business. It also means to expect more work when you do a good job. Taking ownership means you will follow through from start to finish. You will own the mistakes you make along the way as well. I do not expect perfection. Its impossible, however I do expect ownership of those mistakes. Unless you are the first perfect person out there, you will make mistakes somewhere in your career. You will forget to order some critical gear. You will mistakenly reboot or shutdown something that shouldn’t be rebooted or shutdown. Some important task will be affected by something you did or did not do. Ownership means admitting those mistakes, correcting them and learning from it. This will build people’s trust in you and you will be seen as a responsible colleague.
No, this section is not about one of the Avengers. It’s simply about turning on the light bulb. No matter where you are in your career, stop and look around. How do you make things better? I’m not asking about how you make things better for yourself, but for the business as a whole. Taking a step back and seeing where you can apply your skill-set to improve your surroundings can help you stand out. No documentation for anything? No problem! Make the documentation. Missing a helpful system? Research and make the suggestion. Find ways to use your skills to elevate the company. Having vision means you have a forward-looking perspective on where your company is going in the next few years. How are you going to help them get there? You want to look to be a part of the solution or better yet, be the solution. Vision is not something you provide care and feeding for by yourself. It is something you sit down with the team and discuss because your vision also has to fit the company’s vision. Having these conversations can help bring important solutions that many might not have even thought about. Keeping all your good ideas in your head won’t do anyone any good.
It is nice to work on different technology and add those things to our list of skills. It is essential to continue learning or you can be left behind in this competitive world. You do have to realize though that you are much more than what your resume shows. If you want to stand out and make a difference, don’t wait for the opportunity to come; start doing it where you are now. Don’t ever doubt yourself or let others sow that seed of doubt in you. You have much to bring to the table. It always begins by working on ourselves. Your actions will speak for themselves.