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Born to be in IT?

There are two basic ways to be good at something. Sometimes, proficiency is due to hard work; other times, it comes from an innate talent. Is there a trait that makes you uniquely suited for working with technology?

There are two basic ways to be good at something. Sometimes, proficiency is due to hard work; other times, it comes from an innate aptitude. Is there a trait that makes you uniquely suited for working with technology?

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Some of you may have read my post from last week, "Save Money by Making Your Own Ethernet Cables." Discussion around that article broke down pretty evenly. Quite a few people responded that they cut and crimp their own Cat5 cords as well. A good portion of commenters said they buy finished cables from reputable wholesalers in order to save on both cost and effort. This rather balanced response exists in direct contradiction to the reaction I got from our director when she learned I was making cables. I believe she said something like, "What are you, crazy? Can't you just buy those?"

However indelicately phrased, my boss may not have been far wrong. I can be a little...weird, sometimes. I have a specific way I load the dishwasher or — often — will reload the dishwasher (if someone else has done it incorrectly). I like to make sure that the pieces of furniture in my living room align with each other as well as with the boards that make up the hardwood floors. Sometimes, I will invest more effort than other people would to save a very small amount of money, whether it means spending five minutes on a phone survey to acquire a $2.00 pet food coupon or...making my own Ethernet cables.

I like to think of myself as detail-oriented. My fiancee, when she's being charitable, calls me compulsive. When she wants to poke fun at me, she compares me to Rain Man.

As I see it, that particular personality quirk — whatever it is — is something that helps me in my work as a support tech. For one thing, it can make me one heck of a problem solver. I have been known to fall down the rabbit hole while I'm working on something, forgetting to leave the office or event to eat meals. Or call home to let my loved ones know I'll be late. (Sorry, honey.)

I think that I might be an example of how one might settle into a job that "biologically" or  "psychologically" suits him, as much as through any conscious preference. But then, this idea has been written about before. There was a piece in Wired Magazine some years back that posited an explanation for the increasing incidences of autism and Asperger's syndrome among children born in Silicon Valley. The article asked if what seems to be "geekiness" in some technically minded people might actually be a predisposition to one of those conditions. Geeks marry and produce kids with autism or Asperger's syndrome. Setting aside how difficult such a diagnosis can be for a family, the article left me with the idea that one could be biologically inclined to a particular field of work. I find that concept fascinating.

So I ask you: what traits -- physical or mental -- make for a good support pro? What qualities have you observed in yourself or in others that led to a successful IT career? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

As a postscript, if you want to read about a few qualities that make for bad support techs, check out Becky Robert's 10 Things list from 2007.

135 comments
XnavyDK
XnavyDK

yup I was born to it, I just didnt know it until I got my hands on a mainframe computer game my step dad had. He worked at a company called Digital in Cambridge, Ma. It was called Dungeons and Dragons. It was a little lego guy and little lego maze but I beat it in 2 days. I was 15 then. I also went on a field trip to an IBM building and when they sat us down at the computer terminals. It was supposed to be a preprogrammed "look at what I can do" thing on the terminal, but I proceeded to "look" at their payroll records and other data after I poked around and got out of the programmed dribble. The guy asked me how I got there after I told him I could not see the test. How was I sposed to know there was a test... then I joined the navy and they put my in front of a Z120 mainframe. Then a slight deadzone ( I got married) and then got my hands on a used 8088. A few months after that I have a BBS and 20 286 ibm clones in my garage. needless to say I was in the wrong field in the navy. I knew that in 1997. Too late to change jobs. Now I am in Computer Geek Heaven and GETTING PAID FOR IT! But IT is my new\old Love.

justiceabove
justiceabove

I have a condition that does not allow me to be active or serve in the military, so not a jock, what else can I do besides draw? (Which I do actually). The answer, computers. Ive been into computers since I was 5 when my grandfather showed me Doom and DukeNukem. Games is how I got into it believe it or not. This might be because to play games on the computer now and days you have to know quite a bit of how to fix faulty games and glitches and what not. Also I was "born" with this annoying desire to help someone with a computer issue whenever one arises. I will take a part of my day to help this person, and I don't even get payed for this yet!

pworlton
pworlton

There are many ways to approach a career in I.T. - I've seen good techs come from no experience but good instincts (which was me at one time), from lots of experience but very little instinct (my boss, basically), and from education and hard work. However, there are just some people who should not even attempt to be in I.T., and that's what I tend to focus on when I'm conducting an interview or giving advice. You can't be: impatient, timid, over-confident, easily distracted, content with your knowledge level, or an extreme extrovert. There are probably some other attributes I could name if I spent enough time on it, but all of these attributes indicate that you are probably going to screw up a lot or be a non-starter. What's sad is that I know a lot of people that get into the I.T. field because they think it is easy. Those are the people who screw things up so badly that I end up having to come in to correct their messes.

ptc4free
ptc4free

I grew up, at a very young age knowing and loving science. By the time I reached 5th grade and they taught us about atoms I was already deeply into books about particle physics and knew about subatomic particles and whatnot. I read tons and tons of science books, then eventually I stopped and wanted to join the army and blow stuff up. Eventually I had an epiphany and got into computers and programming and the passion has stuck for years now. I definitely love what I do so far, and have found myself so glued to a project where I have sat at my computer for 10 hours straight, without going to the bathroom or eating until I have finished. I organize my code "somewhat" nicely. But other than that, (and I find it common with IT people my age) I am a pretty unkempt person. I like my workplace in order, but my relaxation place in chaos.

reisen55
reisen55

The point of this thread is to assume that most of us found IT as a career either in college or shortly thereafter. I know that many of us blundered into it by outside means and travels. Here is my tale: I worked for a family business for 10 years, and that business is no more. While there, we purchased our first IBM PC systems and used them for packaging analysis and that was great fun. I think I still have the program that, in DOS, took an original item such as a common Luden's cough drop box and sized it into the folding carton, into the shipping container and then onto the pallet itself with common stacking configs and overhangs. (Whenever you see a Luden's cough drop box, I REMEMBER THAT PROJECT WELL). So I touched the PC and had a home system too. Built it. Later worked for an IBM BUSINESS PARTNER on the AS/400 platform, sales again but enjoyed the technology. Plus this was IBM when it had real power, in 1990 and 91. 92 was the year of the collapse so I changed over to a MicroAge store in Mahwah, NJ = TOTAL CHAOS as compared to IBM. Career change: profits were nill and the only people who knew ANYTHING were the techs in the back room, so I got out of sales, got some certs and started a NEW CAREER path. Took a few years after MicroAge of working on all sorts of jobs and places until I found a system administrator job at Aon Group in Manhattan. THAT job was memorable too, as it was on the 101st floor of the South Tower, World Trade Center. After that "day" I remained with Aon in different capacities and in 2005 was outsourced OUT of Aon, along with 140 other professionals, by Computer Sciences Corporation. In came India and everything has since been total hell there. Went independent in 2006 after a really BAD job at Continuum Health Partners and been building a business ever since. What is your story?

johns
johns

I thought so...until I got treatment for clinical depression. Funny how lack of personal/social skills and a focus on technology turns out to be abnormal behavior. Maybe we should be recruiting people with Asbergers syndrome. They would make great IT workers.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I have seen mentioned in these posts could lead to success in any number of fields. Personal preference (free will?) seems to be equally as important as any trait mentioned here.

JimTheGeordie
JimTheGeordie

I started to read all of the posts on this interesting topic, but then I perceived a pattern in it all. Everyone is born to be in IT. It is such a broad area of enterprise that there is room for everybody. All you have to do is find your niche. For myself, a short-lived entry in my CV says it all: "As a child I designed model railway layouts. As a civil/structural wngineer, I designec bridges and buildings. Now i design networks and databases.". I have great difficulty picking out one socket pattern from another. I get exasperated when Windows behaves in a way I consider totally stupid. However, I am pleased to recognise and call on the expertise of others to help me with these problems. We are all equal in this regard. I was sad, however, to read the comments of an HR executive, that people without social skills should not be employed in this area. There is a huge amount of intuitive techical knowledge inherent in such people. What HR must do is provide a sympathetic supervisor who will be their window on the world. As a mentor in our local computing society I would suggest career paths which would provide the educational backgournd to achieve my students life objectives. Those who simply wanted to nmake money I attached to the other ones as sssistants. Mutual dependence can be very useful as a team-building mechanism. I do relate to the person who said that a career in IT is one to be enjoyed.

soare
soare

As I read your article, it was like looking in the mirror. When I am working on computer related items I lose track of time, and before I know it, its like 1 or 2 AM. I am also married,and yes, I have a daughter that has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. So I ask, WHY?

DMambo
DMambo

I think the trait that allows me to keep my head above water in IT is tenacity. I HATE to be in a situation where I can't figure out how to get something done. I'll freely admit that I'm not the brightest bulb in the marquee, but I'll work like a dog to figure something out.

sduran
sduran

Dishwasher, furniture alignment, losing track of time and even being called Rain Man (but I'm a Woman!) - there must be a common branch on our family trees! On the other hand, I learned a long time ago that time is money. My time is so valuable to me. If I can afford to pay for it or to have someone do it, I will. Washing my car for instance... are you kidding me? That's like 3 hours of my weekend so I'll gladly fork over the $20 while I read the paper and let someone else do it at the car wash. I just kind of picked this career out of the many things I was qualified for with my ASVAB score. It must have been a good fit because 25 years later, I'm still in the field. I've stayed because I like the challenge of never having the same day twice. I'm good at it (I think) because I'm fearless when it comes to computers, whether it's pushing a button, running a command or clicking something that I've never clicked before. And no, that hasn't always worked out for the best, but it makes life interesting and fun (most of the time).

reisen55
reisen55

Will you EVER have a future in IT. American workers need not apply.

user support
user support

During an interview when asked about greatest strength and weakness, I give the same answer. I am detail oriented. I have been called anal, compulsive, my wife calls the home pc "The Mistress", and the light switches all have to be the same way. I don't make cables nor do I replace the CPU any longer. It is cheaper timewise to buy cables and replace motherboards. I would like to perceive that I got where I am today by hard work and improving my reading comprehension and study skills. I have a degree in business but gained my skills by tinkering over a twelve year period and becoming the go to guy at my regular job and Army Reserves. Circumstances were different before IBM introduced the desktop pc. I originally went to college for Engineering but couldn't keep up with the workload. In order to program the Burroughs Mainfram you had to define the problem, flow chart the possible resolutions, write out the program, type up your punch cards to match the program you wrote and place in the machine's card reader. If there was an error in logic in one of your cards, your program did not run. If not for the introduction of the IBM pc, I am not sure that I would be in the IT field today.

msantagata
msantagata

You need to have the combined tenacity of 50 Marines, the brain of Nikola Tesla, and the curiosity of 1000 cats. Of course, using and fixing hardware and software on PCs and Macs since 1980 always helps, as does having no fear of taking anything apart and putting it back together again (in workable condition) since you were 7. College degrees in Computer Information Systems and Commercial Art + various certifications also helps! :-)

yohanrupa
yohanrupa

I'm the exact same way William. I also tend to get so into what I'm doing that I seldom take a lunch or even leave my office at all. I think it's a good thing and bad. It's good that we've found our careers in something that we're so passionate about that we skip meals and lose all track of time. But at the same time, I've been trying to balance my work life and home life, because they are both equally important (home life should be more important)....

mdhemphill
mdhemphill

I think you are born into IT. I think there are traits that we are born with that are beneficial to people in IT. If you are inquisitive about math, science or how some things work you will be more apt at solving issues. I don't think someone without an inquisitive nature could really prosper in this industry.

Da Saint
Da Saint

And punch cards zipping into all those pockets is what got me into IT. From those early years to now when I'm carrying a Blackberry on my hip, it just keeps getting better.

jvandore
jvandore

Yes, of course there is an innate predisposition to this work. It is something about working towards a kind of orderliness and/or putting together several components and making a pre-envisioned whole. And yes, alot of IT people have this. Here is **my** question: the human brain has this hard-wired into it. At what point were these qualities (or something similar) evolutionarily useful so that modern brains can do this? That is: what did pre-historic geeks do that enabled them to procreate and make more geeks?

radarop
radarop

I remember many years ago when I first joined the military. They had a group of tests called ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Appitude Test). When as a 17 year old kid I took those tests I scored the max points in the electronics area, yet I had never touched any peice of electronics in my life. The other areas were administrative,mechanical, and general. So I am a believer that a lot of people have an inate born in appitude towards certain jobs. I too am a "absent-minded professor" type according to my wife. If I get into a intriguing problem I will stay after it for days if needed. So I believe work ethic, tanacity, and a will to succeed are very important for the IT field.

KaryDavis
KaryDavis

I believe now that I was born for IT... looking back, all the signs were there, but I grew up in a time when women were raised to be wives and mothers (60's)...so my techie tendencies were not recognized or most assuredly not encouraged...so I never really thought of myself and a "techie" 1. OCD...mild to rain-man (still can't do uneven light switches) 2. Logical - Lenoard Nimoy was one of my first serious crushes... 3. I was attracted to AV guys at school.... overheads, mimeographs, sound equipment and pocket protectors just "did it" for me. 4. I named my first bike (banna seat and high rise handlebars) The Enterprise. The list could go on... but I think I've made my point. I was a paralegal for 15 years of my professional life. When my job was outsourced, I took a temp position that required Win 3.1 be on my desktop. Suddenly, things literally seemed to fall into place for me. I seemed to have an innate understanding of how computers worked...and would get lost for hours tinkering and figuring out things... It didn't take me long to realize I wanted a career in computers... I wasn't sure what I wanted to to, but it defineately had to be with computers. I've been in the IT field now since 1996 and have gravitated to the Help Desk Support field which allows me to be the social butterfly I am at heart, and still enjoy the techical aspects of my personality. I am a natural "people" person, and enjoy interacting with people and helping them solve issues. Althought I didn't find "my place" until later in life...I did finally come to be the IT person I was born to be. And I love it....

alsane.ahmad
alsane.ahmad

i think if you can see, hear and smell absolute logic, then you born to be an IT guy.

necessaryevil
necessaryevil

I agree. I had a few different careers and was not formally educated in IT but when I fell into this it was like I found my home. I learn anything related ot it quickly and have really good recall for it. This doesn't usually apply to other areas of my life.

blarman
blarman

Many IT pros I know are perfectionists. Whether you are a coder, a DBA, or a support guy, in many cases there is a "right" answer to the problem - whether it is using a recursive call to eliminate 100 lines of looping code, normalizing your data to 3rd normal form, or even just installing your own tools/web browser on user PC's for troubleshooting. IT suits many perfectionists because there is a way to do things "right" that suits their internal drive for putting together the pinnacle of technical expertise - even if it is only a few lines of code. Contrast that to many of the managers who are more obviously okay with something that isn't perfect - something that is (to the skilled IT tech) a hackneyed patch that gets the job done but carries risks of failure - and you can easily begin to see why many of the disagreements between management and IT arise. Both sides need to come towards the middle: managers need to assure IT that even 98% can be good enough sometimes, but Managers need to be able to accept that there are some times you don't compromise on 100%. As a Director of IT with 10 years in databases AND an MBA, I've found that the biggest bridge-builder is to point out these personality differences between the two groups and get their goals aligned. Once that happens, things tend to flow pretty smoothly.

greg.buccheri
greg.buccheri

You only need one thing: to be totally pig headed.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

1). Sardonic sense of humor...CHECK. 2). Misanthropic tendencies...CHECK. 3). Ability to rationalize maximum effort for minimal pay...CHECK. 4). Tastebud preference for stale dorritos, bad coffee and fresca...CHECK. Yep...I was born for IT!!! ;) Kidding aside, I did exhibit an inquisitive nature and technical aptitude pretty early on (as soon as I received my first R/C car, I promptly took it apart and reassembled) in life. I took to SciFi like a bee to honey as a kid (no one else in my family likes either Trek or Wars). If there are such things as professional predispositions, I suppose I'd have it for either IT or crime boss...and my connections in life lead me to IT! :)

Chandra
Chandra

I find across the board, that techs must have a willingness to communicate and want to fix the problem. Even those mundane ones or ones you require help in fixing. Our end users are happier when you keep them in the loop even if the problem can't be solved immediately.

aandruli
aandruli

When I had to rebuild a large server from scratch, my boss apologized and then asked why was I smiling. Part of the "born to be in IT" is saying to yourself "wow -- they are paying ME"

Ellmari.Wroe
Ellmari.Wroe

I think some of the most important traits are the urge to understand IT and the urge to want to solve problems (to find answers that makes sense), the urge to make things work, to use knowledge and skill to create things and the urge to follow through on everything you've done. A good memory helps a lot. Bottomline: I think it's all in the mind...

thepraxislady
thepraxislady

Whoa, Not a bad mentor to have growing up either. My first mainframe was a Digital (DEC) VAX at a proprietary computer school. It was amazing to see our students use Commodore 64s to connect to the mainframe per modem to do their programming assignments from home. We had hacker mentality too. While the school tried to squelch knowledge that we had them, those were the students technology recruiters wanted back then. Because they thought outside of the box? Very progressive school for the time. That was in 1985. Today we think nothing of calling up a server here and there. America Online, Compuserve and Prodigy were starting to enter the common market then. While I would rather be a college professor, my fascination with technology keeps me grounded to the IT industry.

toysarefun
toysarefun

I went right for it at 17, electronics, ac/dc, solid state, basic, assembler, boolean, and back in 87 the PC was fairly new, tech school was a great introduction to the Apple IIe, and the IBM pc/xt. Then after a 5 dollar an hour job as a bench tech, I went to the University for the business side of IT, which is MIS. Worked at a computerland franchise as a bench tech/parts runner/go fix it guy, and also at a small company with a COBOL program that the code fit into a double wide paper box. Then onto a school district before getting stuck in a dead end government IT job. Either way, after 20 years of IT, it can start to get kind of boring.

DaveSlash
DaveSlash

> Funny how lack of personal/social > skills and a focus on technology > turns out to be abnormal behavior. What?! I thought raging anti-social tendencies and an irrational desire to solve technical problems were signs of greatness. ;-) ;-) ;-) At least that's what I keep telling myself.

mattie289404
mattie289404

I see your point exactly. Using a broad brush to pigeon hole a view basic human characteristics....just goes to show you how many ignorant people there are...all IT are not anal retentive and all anal retentive are not IT....this should be called "Born to be Ignorant" nor can you be in IT just cause you are...geez

thepraxislady
thepraxislady

Where would all the IT jobs go if there were no Windows programming errors to complain about or fix? Apple? Not, it is a user friendly Unix platform, but not commonly adopted by corporations. Hence, since most ITs support office workers that use Windows?

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

I got into I.T when the system admin at school locked down all the PC's in the class room, i never knew this could be done and from then i have never looked back. I found out everything that i could and managed to find a way round it a few months later he was not pleased :D

chris
chris

uh, we built everything.

chris
chris

is that things do not need to be "prefect" for the express reason that code will be replace, systems modified, etc. Of course the flip side is that things built with the intention of being replaced often stick around far too long because "they still work" Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Muuussssstttttt refactor code.....Can't allow mutliple insert queries when loop could wrap into one db call.....

thepraxislady
thepraxislady

When an IT person wants more money and/or a promotion, how is the transition to management from 100% perfection to OK with not so perfect handled?

ejkolkman
ejkolkman

but don't forget the tendency to hang on to every piece of technology ever to fall into my hot little fingers, no matter how old or useless, on the off chance that I might need it for something, sometime, maybe.

shughes
shughes

Asperger?s syndrome or Autism have nothing to do with it... I've been in IT for 15 years now and it is solely thru hard work, dedication and determination that I am where I am today. Furthermore; any suggestion that my mental make-up could predisposition me to work in the field of.... ooooooohhh! look something shiny! BRB oktksbye!

chris
chris

think of it as non-social :-)

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

My partner can't stand that I keep some of my older stuff. Some exceptional stuff (like a Compaq Elite 4/75 laptop with base station) I donated to the computer museum at work for others to appreciate. I also like cruising opportunity shops for old stuff. There's a good bit of fun.

rickydoo
rickydoo

Anyone need an ISA 28.8 modem? 10b2 coax NIC? VESA I/O controller? I know exactly what you mean, but if you throw it out you'll need it the next day. Really.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...of "old stuff". Sadly, for the sake of domestic bliss, much of it will make its way to charity or the recycling company once the weather turns for the better. Oh well. Been buying the girls a lot of stuff that is 'dad friendly', so the space will be reoccupied with worthwhile items soon enough! ;)

Aaron Mason
Aaron Mason

Not anti-social. Just shy. (You can talk to me!)

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

That proves I was correct all along. It was a simple puzzle. OK I'm done with you.

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

Now can i have all that in English please, i don't have a 4 by 2 what your talking about 4 by 2 = clue :p

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I saw your 1/2 brother Rand 2009 in the bookshop the other day. Looked like he knew the places to go.

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

You love busting my ball's, i am happy at my place of work. Whats wrong with what i did ok i might have hacked the system but i never done any damage. I wanted to no how it all worked :P what have i ever done on you lol :p