10 of the best pieces of IT advice I ever heard

Even if IT is the best path for you, you may encounter some stumbling blocks. These career-tested tips will spare you a few headaches along the way.

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The IT career can be a long, tough, but rewarding haul. You work crazy hours, you deal with angry, frustrated end users, and you spend most of your time embroiled in one tech emergency after another. At the end of the day you're exhausted, and it's all you can do to carry yourself home, eat something, and go to bed.

Or so it seems.

You also get to work with technology, help people get their jobs done, and even (in some cases) help save lives. But ultimately, it's just you--and you're going to need some advice to get you through. Over the years, I've been handed a few golden nuggets of wisdom I thought I'd pass down to you. Here they are.

1: Learn to say "no"

If you're new to the career, chances are you'll be saying "yes" to everything. However, as you gain experience and put in your time, the word "no" needs to creep into your vocabulary. Otherwise, you'll be exploited.

Of course, you have to use this word with caution. Should the CTO approach and set a task before you, the "no" response might not be your best choice. But if you find end users--and friends--taking advantage of the word "yes," you'll wind up frustrated and exhausted at the end of the day.

2: Be done at the end of the day

I used to have a ritual at the end of every day. I would take off my watch and, at that point, I was done... no more work. That simple routine saved my sanity more often than not. I highly suggest you develop the means to inform yourself that, at some point, you are done for the day. Do not be that person who is willing to work through the evening and into the night... or you'll always be that person.

3: Don't beat yourself up over mistakes made

You are going to make mistakes. Sometimes will be simple and can be quickly repaired. Others may lean toward the catastrophic. But when you finally call your IT career done, you will have made plenty of mistakes. Beating yourself up over them will prevent you from moving forward. Instead of berating yourself, learn from the mistakes so you don't repeat them.

4: Always have something nice to say

You work with others on a daily basis. Too many times I've watched IT pros become bitter, jaded people who rarely have anything nice or positive to say. Don't be that person. If you focus on the positive, people will be more inclined to enjoy working with you, companies will want to hire you, and the daily grind will be less "grindy."

5: Measure twice, cut once

How many times have you issued a command or clicked OK before you were absolutely sure you should? The old woodworking adage fits perfectly here. Considering this simple sentence--before you click OK--can save you from quite a lot of headache. Rushing into a task is never the answer, even during an emergency. Always ask yourself: Is this the right solution?

6: At every turn, be honest

I've witnessed engineers lie to avoid the swift arm of justice. In the end, however, you must remember that log files don't lie. Too many times there is a trail that can lead to the truth. When the CTO or your department boss discovers this truth, one that points to you lying, the arm of justice will be that much more forceful. Even though you may feel like your job is in jeopardy, or the truth will cause you added hours of work, always opt for the truth. Always.

7: Make sure you're passionate about what you're doing

Ask yourself this question: Am I passionate about technology? If not, get out now; otherwise, that job will beat you down. A passion for technology, on the other hand, will continue to drive you forward. Just know this: The longer you are in the field, the more likely that passion is to falter. To prevent that from happening, learn something new.

8: Don't stop learning

Quick--how many operating systems have you gone through over the last decade? No career evolves faster than technology. The second you believe you have something perfected, it changes. If you decide you've learned enough, it's time to give up the keys to your kingdom. Not only will you find yourself behind the curve, all those servers and desktops you manage could quickly wind up vulnerable to every new attack in the wild. Don't fall behind.

9: When you feel your back against a wall, take a breath and regroup

This will happen to you. You'll be tasked to upgrade a server farm and one of the upgrades will go south. The sweat will collect, your breathing will reach panic level, and you'll lock up like Windows Me. When this happens... stop, take a breath, and reformulate your plan. Strangely enough, it's that breath taken in the moment of panic that will help you survive the nightmare. If a single, deep breath doesn't help, step outside and take in some fresh air so that you are in a better place to change course.

10: Don't let clients see you Google a solution

This should be a no-brainer... but I've watched it happen far too many times. If you're in the middle of something and aren't sure how to fix an issue, don't sit in front of a client and Google the solution. If you have to, step away, tell the client you need to use the restroom and, once in the safety of a stall, use your phone to Google the answer. Clients don't want to know you're learning on their dime.

More suggestions?

And there you have it: 10 of the best pieces of advice given to me over the years that helped save my sanity, my job, and my career.

What bits of wisdom have others shared with you?

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