Bob Artner’s recent column, “The care and feeding of your Mr. Fixit,” generated a lot of reader responses. Bob explained that this species of IT pro can “fix the technological glitch, unsnarl the project management plan, or smooth over the ruffled client.”

From their e-mails and postings, we learned that for most Fixits, the job they do is nearly always thankless, many work longer hours than their peers, and most started tinkering with any mechanical or electronic device they could, from school age on up.

But what is it that makes someone want to be a Mr. or Ms. Fixit? And what does it take to keep a Fixit happy? Here’s what our readers had to say.

Learning by trial and error
David M. Kochersberger, a network administrator, shared his advice for aspiring Mr. Fixits.

“Play around at home with everything you can get your hands on. If you’re going to school, stay after class, ask lots of questions, get a part time job in IT, and pay attention to everything. Learn how they do things and try and find better ways,” he suggested. “One of the ways I got noticed was finding solutions for problems the IT guys didn’t have the time to solve. Don’t be afraid to sell your ideas to management.”

Ken Crook, president of KSC Technologies, said the Fixits of the world come by their reputations because they know a little about a lot of things.

“They also tend to be more self-taught than professionally educated. Is that better? I think so,” he wrote. “Learning by trial and error, reformatting and reloading your home computer time and time again causes you to learn the programs inside out.”

Rosalind Collins, a technology administrator, agreed. She also believes Fixits must look out for their own interests.

“I got this way by accepting every project assignment possible at first, built a reputation for getting jobs done, working creatively, solving problems, and making things happen,” Collins wrote. “Now that I’ve built the reputation, I have to choose my projects more carefully. I have had to teach myself how to say ‘no.’ I have had to learn how to avoid burnout when I’m working on too many projects at once.”

Unlike many of his peers, Kirk Kwiatkowski sees the glut of Mr. Fixits in the IT world as a problem rather than a solution.

“As an IT Manager, I believe the existence of Mr. Fixits represents failure to effectively lead,” he said. “Where Mr. Fixits exist, organizations tend to rely on this individual and learning is not optimized. Mr. Fixits also tend to use ‘expert power’ in a malicious way. They tend to want to maintain the status quo. This doesn’t promote knowledge transfer and learning.”

Blow your own horn
G. Pellett urged Mr. and Ms. Fixits to impress their value upon management.

“Mr. Fixit is often a resource that many companies don’t realize they have,” Pellett explained. “You need years of experience and maturity. New kids with the hot skills usually only know a small piece of the business, even if they do know it very well, and can be arrogant. If your company only embraces the kids and puts the older workers out to pasture, it will have lots of unhappy clients and inner turmoil. So, Mr. Fixit, bang your drum loudly and exercise your patience.”

Christopher Penn sees it a different way. He believes those kids could be a Mr. Fixit’s best ally.

“The real trick to being a Mr. Fixit, to enhancing your value and longevity, is to build another at your job,” he wrote. “It’s been my experience that supervisors generally don’t know what you know and don’t care to know, because it’s hard enough for them to do their own job. However, one thing they generally can see is when your talent spreads.

“Find someone in your organization who is young or young at heart, who generates results, and recruit them,” Penn continued. “Management notices when things do get easier for everyone involved because of another competent pair of hands. When asked, if you’ve selected right, your Fixit Jr. will be happy to sing your praises.”

Get the recognition you deserve
Ed wrote to tell us that Mr. Fixits are hard to come by.

“Most are gifted with an innate sense of curiosity. If you know a budding Mr. Fixit, nurture that person, as the world needs more like us,” Ed said. “If you make use of the talents of a Mr. Fixit, be sure to praise those talents to others, as we normally won’t speak about ourselves in such a manner.”

Ann Feeney agreed that Fixits need to hear praise for the extra work they do.

“A Fixit who isn’t maintained with regular appreciation and reward will burn out faster than a lazy person who does the minimum and no more,” she wrote. Feeney also offered these tips for keeping a Mr. or Ms. Fixit happy.

  • Don’t make your Fixit do other people’s work, especially if those other people are earning more money and getting more recognition.
  • Make sure that your Fixit’s help is rewarded, not penalized. If your Fixit finds that “pulling a project out of the fire” is on top of his or her own responsibilities, that almost guarantees that Fixit will be fixing up his or her resume very soon.
  • Don’t call (or let others call) on Fixit as a substitute for thinking. First, try to get your app to work, and then call when you’ve exhausted everything you know.
  • Indulge your Fixit’s passion for learning and taking on new challenges. Offer training, time off to study, a budget for buying books, and so on. It is an invaluable investment.
  • Talk to your Fixit. He or she will have an excellent sense of what is needed in the organization, in terms of resources, training, and equipment.

Likewise, J. Burket noted that many Fixits do excellent work but don’t get proper recognition for their knowledge.

“To be considered a Fixit shows that you have usually spent a great deal of your own time, money, and sweat learning your skills and have gone beyond the ordinary efforts put in by the average worker,” Burket said. “However, one of the most aggravating and frustrating requests by an employer is to be asked to ‘Show John how you do it.’

“If you’re a manager, take the time to appreciate what your top performers do and why they’re able to do it before you demand they give up their lessons freely,” Burket continued. ”They’ve worked very hard to get where they are and it’s not fair to expect them to just hand over the goods without expecting their subordinates to put in the time as well.”
How should consulting firms handle a Mr. or Ms. Fixit? Should this individual receive top pay and a corner office, or should every employee be expected to possess these skills? Give us your thoughts by posting a comment below. If you have a suggestion for an article, please send us a note.