IT Employment

Resolution Relaunch: Broadening your base by not studying IT

Instead of studying IT to make yourself a better job candidate, try becoming well-rounded by utilizing your connections.

The reason this resolution seems so impossible is because it doesn't offer boundaries. How much is too much? When you try to know everything, you end up learning nothing.

This is probably a good time for my to say that my views don't represent Patrick Gray's views. Patrick wrote a post not long back about five New Year's resolutions IT leaders should adopt. I'm writing an article for each resolution, giving you insights on how to turn resolution into reality.

Patrick's second resolution is to "broaden your knowledge base." In his original article, he argues that being a well-rounded individual will help you lead better, manage better and help you "become a more interesting and dynamic human being." I agree with Patrick, but his version of "well-rounded" may differ from mine, so I wanted to say that upfront.

"Well-rounded" (my version)

In my mind, society has loosely connected "well-rounded" with a  college education. I can't back this up with hard evidence, other than to say that I associate the term with someone who is highly educated, and who can speak on almost any subject presented. But nobody teaches why this is a good thing (e.g., Patrick's reasons, which I discussed above). Therefore, I'd like to offer a better, more succinct definition of well-rounded:

Someone who knows enough about various topics to form connections. When this person doesn't know enough to form a connection, they learn it so that they can.

Connections?

Good leadership achieves results. And one of the foundational ways you can achieve results is to form connections. When you can concretely draw a connection between a direct report's work and the positive impact it has on the company and the world, that person will see meaning in their work and strive to do it better.

Maybe a narrative example will help.

James is your direct report. He works closely with marketing. The problem, though, is that the marketing department has embraced the BYOD revolution. He's becoming frustrated because Marketing expects him to fix problems and bugs, but they won't communicate about which devices and/or third-party apps they're using. Consequently, James runs in circles trying to get the information he needs just to fix little problems (can't connect to the network, the app won't sync to the desktop, etc).

What do you do? Your first, and the most obvious option, is to limit Marketing's use of devices and apps to a select few approved kinds.

Except (in our scenario) you know a little about marketing. Your roommate in college was a marketing major, and you took time to learn about his profession. You know that marketing people are "creative," and that they do their job by trying new things, ditching what fails and keeping what works.

This knowledge gives you the power to do something special: build a connection, and thus a balance, between James and Marketing. Because you know a little about marketing, you can help James see the need for Marketing to use various devices and applications. And because you're the IT leader and know a little about marketing, you can help Marketing employees see the need for James to be part of the technology process, so that he can help them achieve their goal without compromising the rest of the company.

Could you have done this if you knew nothing about marketing? Likely not. You wouldn't have had the necessary knowledge.

Drawing the line

And so the original question: How much is too much?

I think - and this is my opinion borne of experience - that you seize the opportunities around you. When you consistently come across a book that is outside of your area of expertise, take it as a sign that you should read it. When someone invites you to a new and unusual activity, give it a try. When you meet someone who does a job you're not familiar with, quiz them about it.

The world is trying to connect with you. A well-rounded person seizes those moments to connect back with the world and incorporate what they learn into their everyday life.

How have you rounded yourself out lately?

14 comments
info
info

You about said it... People with College Degrees tend to see other people with College Degrees as 'competent', 'informed' and 'intelligent'. Anyone else is just a slack-jawed yokel from the backwoods that can't tie their shoelaces. They couldn't be more wrong. But try telling THEM that! ;)

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

The article's premise is a little bit confusing to me. I agree that networking and forming connections is essential for ANY industry and being able to work outside the box is definitely going to make you more valuable within your organization. But if you're in IT, studying IT to stay ahead of the curve is not an option: it is mandatory. IT is one of the toughest industries in which to stay competitive, especially given the increased adoption of cloud-based implementations and such--where IT pros are required to develop skills previously beyond their interest level (EX: Systems Administrators being asked to code). With increased globalization, it's also paramount that we not only continue to develop our technical skills, but also our soft skills and BUSINESS skills. We must remember that IT is here to serve people and not the other way around. So IMO, it might have been more apt that this article's title refer more to the importance of building connections, since that's what the body seems to talk about.

Imprecator
Imprecator

Like "IT Alignement to the Business". Let's face it, IT is and always will be barely tolerated by the organization. No matter how much you lower costs or streamline processes or how many problems you solve for the organization. IT will always be treated like the the bastard child from the poor side of the family. It's the destiny of anything that's infrastructure. The C-Level execs hire spinless cowards as CIOs why? because all they need is someone to have around and point the finger to when the CEO can't get his iPhone to talk to the ERP. Or when the CEO's "executive assistant" can't print the christmas list for the entire company on the color laser printer. Add to that the unreasonable expectations users have that IT infrastructure should be like that of the USS Enterprise (without paying a dime for it of course) and we have the current situation. Marketing personnel are amongst the most unstable, unreliable people around, they call it being "creative". In practice it's impossible, no matter how much social skills you apply to it to reach an agreement with them, because they'll break it as soon as it's written and say it's due to the "creative process", or the "dynamic enviroment modern companies are these days". After several years of dealing with them I very much doubt that. They break their agreements because they can, and usually IT has to suck it up, PERIOD. Since when push comes to shove, the suits will rather listen to a Mac Fanboi that tells them that with Macintosh you don't need IT departments when they have 1000 workstations to support (and let's not even begin to talk about servers, networking, storage et al), or to some consultant that has never done any production work in his life tell them about how the wonders of the cloud, BYOD, Big Data or whatever came out this morning applies to EVERYTHING. Or even worse to some "Management Consultant" tell them that they're going to transform IT into a profit center with no investment at all. It really doesn't matter what IT does or doesn't do. The current fad now is telling the suits that they can outsource everything to the cloud and give tablets to the users so they don't need any grumpy geeks to manage their systems. They never actually do it though, they just use it as a negotiation tactic to keep IT salaries low and IT Infrastructure OPEX to a minimum. While of course, forcing IT to give support to the current infrastructure (which is usually falling apart from lack of maintenance) and the flashy new mobile devices. So "Broadening the Base by NOT studying IT" should mean "stay away from IT profesionally, be a hobbyist".

sergio.venegas
sergio.venegas

John_LI_IT_Guy, I think has missed the point of the article. I don't think that the writer is implying that IT can and should support every app that someone chooses to use. Instead, it is a call to all of us, IT Staff and users to broaden our horizons beyond our immediate circle of influence, expertise, etc in order to be better prepared to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves as challenges. Unfortunately, the John’s perspective is all too common within the IT community. No one said IT was going to be easy, and I suspect that it will continue to be so, for many years to come.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Aside from another description of portly on account of I don't get too much exercise. :) In order to develop effectively you have to understand the domain, and underlying ideas. You can't apply properly otherwise. Physics, chemistry, metallurgy, horticulture, electronics and mechanics are just some of the subjects I've learned entire segments of in order to do my job. Math, I've got coming out of my ears. Having / needing to learn these sparked all sorts of other interesting learning. Including Chaos Theory, String Theory, Philosophy and Cosmology. Allied with an intense interest in history it made me learn about the giants on who's shoulders I'm standing. Well rounded isn't something you do, it's something you are, and you aren't ever going to be well rounded by NOT studying something. If you want an eye-opener have look at robotics, just the math can keep you busy for a couple of years. A few non - IT types getting off their well rounded posteriors and learning a bit of IT would have far more of an impact than a geek learning flower arranging...

ddraigddrwg
ddraigddrwg

BYOD is fine, if IT is given the time and training and a little of the WIIFM factor ;) How often would this happen in the real (cash-strapped) world? Not very often I'd imagine! It'll just be a case of business as usual in most places...

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

IT cannot and should not be expected to support every app someone chooses to use on their BYOD platform. An IT staff can only support so many platforms and applications. Unfortunately some people want it both ways. I don't have a problem if someone requires a specific application because it makes them more "creative". If you choose to operate "off the reservation" your on your own.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'll have to tell you that your attitude is unhelpful. :p Taking off that hat, because I look and sound silly in it, and engaging my well rounded and broad experience of IT in business, I have to say that while it might not be the best way to say it, absolutely none of it was factually incorrect. As you say alignment from another angle, and every time I hear this tune, I have to point out pseudo IT consultants have been spouting it for decades, with absolutley no effect. Which makes me wonder, are they right.... May be the real problem isn't that IT won't align to the business, but that business won't allow IT to align itself. Certainly there are few other explanations. I mean if we are all thickies that just don't get it, why are they paying us, or more correctly our managers, who they picked because they weren't too IT...

mla_ca520
mla_ca520

John, your comments are right on, but your comments didn't actually respond to the article. The author never said that IT could or should support every app someone chooses to use on their BYOD. Rather the author was pointing to working with marketing to assist them in maximizing productivity, while expecting them to work with IT in terms of applications and technology needs.

Imprecator
Imprecator

Since Mincing Words have failed miserably, I only do that with the non-it personnel around work, and ONLY as long as the job pays well enough to stick around.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

can understand. If we do it like this, it won't do what you want now, will never do what you want later, and it will cost more. Yes but I've already sold it... So what do you do? Give up and let off steam with a frequent and lengthy rant is the only sanity preserving option.

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