10 toxic traits that could damage your IT career

In order to have a long and successful IT career, here are 10 things you should not do.

Mad male employee blaming female colleague for mistake

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In a recent article, I outlined the 10 traits that are common amongst some of the very best IT professionals. These traits are not necessarily learned by reading a book, but rather comes from within; the traits can be bolstered through experience and mentoring by the right individuals.

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The aim of this article, which focuses on negative traits, is not to shame or be critical of IT professionals; the hope is that anyone who identifies with any of the following traits will seek out support to curb these potentially toxic and career-ending tendencies before they develop into long-lasting habits. Perhaps you work with a colleague that exhibits some of these traits and want to help them correct course.

This list is not exhaustive or exclusive to IT. You are not a "bad apple" or beyond assistance by demonstrating these behaviors; these are merely observations from my over two decades of IT experience and noticing similar qualities shared by some individuals I've worked with during my career.

1. Apathetic

Arguably, not caring about the job being done is among the more egregious traits. It always comes through in an IT pro's work, and as much as they think they can hide it, stakeholders will pick up on it. When it gets to the level of being "checked out," not only will that IT pro's coworkers see it, but they will likely be shouldering part of the IT pro's workload, which is not fair to the team.

2. Poor communicator

At its core, IT is a service-related job. Regardless of the level or position an IT pro has attained, they are providing a service for someone who is likely feeling desperate and needs help getting a problem resolved. When someone reaches out to an IT pro for help and they don't get a response, that's a problem.

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3. Always right and doesn't admit to mistakes

We all want to be right (and conversely, never wrong), but realistically, that isn't the case. We're human; we make mistakes, and we need to own those mistakes to build relationships and grow as professionals. When an IT pro can't accept that it is their fault, or they try to pass the blame onto someone else, eventually there will be no one left to blame.

4. Impetuous 

Not to be mistaken for eagerness, impetuous individuals often don't wait for the appropriate time to take action but dive head-first into an issue with an almost blind belief that they will resolve the issue without aid or the necessary tools. When this mentality pays off, it's often labeled as being a "self-starter;" however, when it doesn't pan out, it underscores one's lack of patience and puts a task or project in jeopardy.

5. Shirks policies and guidelines

Similar to the entry above, they often go hand-in-hand--and usually to the person's detriment. Policies and guidelines aren't perfect at times, but they're in place to ensure that tasks/projects occur with as little resistance as possible. Bucking the system and going rogue seldomly pays off, and it can derail a project and often creates a bigger problem. Plus, it can include expensive fines and/or jail time in regulated environments.

6. Knows it all

Everyone loves a know-it-all… said no one ever. This especially remains true in the business world. Unfortunately, IT gets a bad rap at times due to decades of this type of behavior, and while technology and the way it's managed has changed, there are still IT pros who exhibit this belief and make a lot of people upset with their attitude. These individuals often get themselves into a lot of trouble, which is not good for a lasting career in IT.

7. Lacks respect for colleagues/coworkers/management

There is no excuse for disrespecting anyone--period. This is across the board for the entire workplace. A person's colleagues are their team, and they're supposed to have their back (and vice versa). Coworkers are--in essence--an IT pro's clients; they are the ones who keep IT associates employed, in a sense. And management--well, they're the bosses. Upsetting them usually leads to termination. 

SEE: Access management policy (TechRepublic Premium) 

8. Lacks focus or perspective

Sadly, I see this way too often. Otherwise good IT pros who want to move up and do other things but lack the focus to buckle down and start learning. Believe me, it shows, and others see it and will use it as a barometer to separate the wheat from the chaff, as the saying goes. Sometimes all that's required is the effort to understand and to try and see things from another perspective other than the one that suits a person. A little effort goes a long way.

9. Passes the buck

This is one of the more frustrating issues to encounter. On the one hand, the person may be afraid to admit he doesn't know something, so he hands the task off to another, more competent employee. But when he does know and doesn't try because he knows someone else will take the call, that's upsetting. Don't be that person. 

10. It's never their fault

This is akin to the know-it-all, except this personality type cannot (or does not) admit that anything is their fault. They are so hung up on this minor detail (and it is a minor detail, most of the time) that they miss the forest for the trees. Their energies are focused on not being wrong instead of learning new technologies, increasing their knowledge base, and becoming a master of their craft.

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