Soft Skills Archive

In this day and age, it is not easy to be an IT professional. We get hit with so many different issues on a daily basis. Not only do we deal with difficult technical challenges every day, but more often than not, we deal with difficult customers as well. However, unless you want to change fields and not work in the IT industry anymore, this is just going to be the reality for the rest of your IT career. So, my suggestion is this: Do not be the bad IT guy that everyone loves to hate. 

The IT guy that everyone blames for all their problems and despises seeing. Instead, do your best to read this post with humility and make sure you are not making the same mistakes that many bad IT guys make.

If you are not an IT person but have somehow landed on my blog, hey, you might as well stay and read what I have to say. You might actually find some validation for your negative feelings towards your company’s IT department. You may find that you are not insane and you are in fact working with a bunch of bad IT guys (yes, somehow for whatever reason, bad IT guys often come in bunches). And I know you probably have some emotionally charged words to use when describing these IT guys you work with every day.

This is a three part series. I will talk about the bad, the good and the great IT guys. Yes, legend has it that great IT guys do exists. For all the IT professionals reading this, I hope to help you, in this three part series, to move from whatever level you are at onto the next level.

Without further delay, let’s check and see if you are making some of the mistakes that bad IT guys make.

Here are 8 things that bad IT guys do (under the assumption that they are smart moves), which in the long run will ultimately hurt their careers.

#1: Blame the customer.

Probably one of the worst things you can do in your IT career is to blame your customers. Let me give you a couple of examples of how this usually plays out.

Customer A: “My computer keep bluescreening, I really need some help to get this fixed.”

Bad IT guy: “Did you install some non work related software on the system? Or go to some questionable web sites?” (Asked with an intense look, silently expressing the thought, What the heck did you do this time?)

or

Customer B: “I was on a conference call and the call dropped right in the middle of the call. Is there something wrong with our conference service?”

Bad IT guy: “No, our conference services are very reliable. Were you on a cell phone or in some remote location where the reception was poor? The call probably dropped on the other end.”

If you, as an IT guy, respond like this to your customers, you might want to change your tactics quickly. While the answers you give might not be false, blaming the customer is no way to build a good long term relationship.

#2: Throw out fancy terms to confuse the customer.

Do you ever encounter customers who come by frequently with some really trivial questions? Without knowing exactly what caused their computer problem, you throw out some really fancy terminology or some sophisticated sounding answers in order to sound smart and ultimately, to drive the customer away.

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom/freedigitalphotos.net

Let me give you an example:

Customer (a finance admin): “I was doing some work on our ERP system today, but it seemed a bit slow. Is there anything we can do to speed that up?”

A smug IT guy: “There is probably nothing we can do; the ERP system is actually hosted fairly far from us for security reasons. Its network is set up in a complicated clustering setting and whenever data goes to the site, each packet is required to move through multiple IP peering that is outside of anyone’s control. It is a good thing though because it protects good guys from mixing with the bad guys.”

Using fancy terms might get you the results that you want for the time being (ie. customer leaves your desk), however if you keep using this tactic, one day you will encounter someone who is just as technical as you or even more technical and you will look like a fool and lose credibility. Trust me, I have seen this happen a few times.

#3: Give different excuses for a repeating problem.

Here’s an example:

Customer A: “Hey IT, I keep having trouble printing to this printer. I thought you said you guys fixed it last week?”

A self-proclaimed smart IT guy: “Oh, we did. This is a different problem. Let me take a look. Something went wrong with your application; just reboot your system and try again.”

Giving a good excuse to get a customer to go away only works for a short time. If the problem continues to come back, no matter how good the excuses are, you will ultimately look bad.

#4: Over promise and under deliver.

This one is self-explanatory. Though your intention to always want to say yes to a customer might be a good one, when what you have promised never comes true, your good intentions will do more harm than good. Don’t say, “I’ll swing by”, but never show up. Or “I can fix that next week” and forget to follow up. Do this a few times and people will think you are unreliable.

#5: Use obsolete technologies and make everyone who wants new technologies look like spoiled brats.

Using outdated, obsolete technologies is actually a very pervasive problem in the IT industry. Yes, understand that in the world of IT, resources are not always plentiful. Ensuring that everyone in the entire company is using the latest cutting edge technologies is not always feasible. However, chronically using old technologies without making an effort to strive for better technologies and solutions can lead to many frustrated, demoralized customers. Always make an effort to bring new, good technologies to your customers.

#6: BS your customers.

This point does not only apply to IT professionals, but to anyone who wants to have a long successful career and maintain your credibility. Sometimes it is far easier to just BS or lie to your customer to “solve” a problem or create an illusion that everything is fine and dandy. But little white lies can get you in trouble as quickly as they got you out of trouble. 

Here are a few examples that you, an aspiring IT professional, should never do or even consider doing!

Example 1:

The CEO drops by IT and says, “A colleague of mine just lost all his email because their IT team never backed up their Exchange Server. We backup our Exchange every day, right?”

An evil IT admin, who is willing to say just about anything to get out of trouble and potentially look good doing it: “Yes, I believe our email team says (creates a back door so that just in case something goes wrong, he can blame the email team) our Exchange is configured in a cluster setting and has full backup running all the time. We should be fine.” (Answer given though he/she knows nothing about the email infrastructure.)

Example 2:

A marketing customer: “Hey, is our web server communication encrypted?”

Bad IT guy with a quick reflex: “Oh, of course. We would never deploy a server without making sure it is secure.” (But the truth is that everything is communicated in clear text.)

Don’t think that these are outrageous examples that never happen. The reality is that it happens all too often. Don’t be caught in these types of scenarios. Don’t BS your customers. Know your stuff, otherwise the consequences could be surprisingly severe.

#7: All talk, but no data and no results.

This is another sign that distinguishes the junior IT guy from experienced IT professionals. Junior IT guys tend to do a lot of talking and give customers a lot of answers that are actually just guesses. They like to call these “educated guesses”, however at the end of the day they are still guesses. But experienced IT professionals do good research and support their claims with real data, and their results show that they know what they are talking about.

#8: Talk badly about their own IT department.

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

This is almost like the unforgivable sin in the working world. In IT we sometimes have a very high workload and have to work overtime and all, but in no situation should you ever complain to the customers about your teammates or your boss. That is a suicidal career move. There are some junior IT guys out there who, maybe in the hopes of gaining sympathy, start complaining about their own work, their teammates and even their boss to their customers.  Ultimately these complaints will simply discredit the whole department over time and will eventually reach the bosses’ ears, thus being a suicidal career move.

Lastly, why am I telling you all this? Among the IT professionals mentioned in the real life examples above, one guy got fired, while the other few never got a promotion. Therefore, if you want to have a vibrant successful IT career, be sure to never commit any of these 8 “IT crimes”.

Come back frequently for parts two and three of this series. In those upcoming posts, I’ll be talking about what makes an IT guy a good IT guy, and of course, what distinguishes a good IT guy from a great IT guy.

Have you witnessed any of these IT crimes being committed in your workplace? Have you yourself, in a desperate situation, committed one or two of these? If so, no worries. It is not about how you have failed, but how you can get yourself out of those mistakes, and how you can change your ways from bad to good. Please share your experiences with me.

 

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In the world of IT, I think it goes without saying that you need to have some technical skills in order to have a good career in the field. How many technical skills? Well, that depends on what position you are currently overseeing. However, a different type of skill set which is equally as important to have, but everyone seems to have forgotten about, are people skills. Let me give you three reasons why people skills are so important to your IT career.

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

First, management generally doesn’t like employees who can’t work with others. Yes, do understand that if an employee has exceptional technical skills, management will have to keep him/her for those highly technical tasks that only he/she can do. But the question would be, for how long? Depending on how difficult it is to work with this person, sooner or later management will always come up with the idea to “cross train” the rest of the team to ensure that more than one person can perform his/her difficult tasks. Now, I’m not saying that management will eventually fire this highly technical but difficult to work with person. Well, unless he or she is really difficult to work with, then yes, they will ultimately fire them.  Most of the time management will likely keep them around, however, the recognition will likely go to someone else, to a person who can learn to be technical and yet, is easy to work with.  And if this person is pleasant to work with, guess who is going to get the next promotion?

Second, great tasks are rarely accomplished alone. Promotions and salary aside, for those who actually like their jobs working in the IT field and want to accomplish something great, well, you can’t do it alone. If all the projects that you’ve done so far in your IT career were all done by yourself without any help from other people, perhaps you could dream bigger. Have you ever heard of a datacenter being built by one man, or a cloud service offering all managed by one very talented IT sys admin? Of course not. To accomplish something great, you need a good team to get it done.

Last but not least, for someone who has no people skills, he/she is for sure going to miss out. Miss out on what? Well, a whole lot – anything from technical information to information on how well or poorly the company is doing. If someone is not easy to work with, people around him are generally not going to volunteer information to “help” him out. That’s just human nature. If someone in the team just learned some latest and greatest, really cool way to manage the datacenter infrastructure, they for sure are not going to voluntarily share this information with the colleague who has no people skills. Unless the management were to mandate some kind of cross training, but even then, the information shared would likely be the bare minimum.

Besides technical information, people also know a lot about the state of the company. If you talk to just one person, you might not find out a whole lot, but if you talk with many people in the company, you can often put together how well or poorly the company is doing. For example, if you talk with a person in Sales, it is quite easy to find out how many deals the company has made this quarter. Or if you chat with the guy in Manufacturing, you’ll find out how many products your company has shipped. If you chat enough and with the right people, you’ll find out a whole lot about the company and gain a few good friends in the process. From these conversations, you might also find out some of the pain points people have regarding IT. If you are proactive about addressing these concerns, your end-user community will thank you and again give you a much better chance at your next promotion.

Allow me to give you an example to help  some of these concepts sink in. And trust me, once I point it out, I’m sure you’ll find some of these same folks working in your companies as well.

Several years ago, there was a highly technical sys admin that I had the displeasure of working with. This guy was not only difficult to work with, his attitude was just downright unacceptable. He talked to everyone as if they were below him and no one could measure up to his technical expertise. He thought he was smart to withhold critical technical information and refused to cross train anyone on the team in order to protect his own job security. I would have never hired this guy, but unfortunately for me, he was part of the team that I had inherited.

Well, it took me and our management team a few months to analyze and work out the situation. We understood that this individual was highly technical and quite valuable to the company, but ultimately due to his lack of respect for others and inability or unwillingness to work with others, we had to let him go. We actually had to hire two senior sys admins to replace this one guy and had to do a whole lot of reverse engineering to figure out the technical information that he had hid from us. But we did it. We fired the guy. And do you know how the rest of the team reacted? The entire team welcomed it. One guy even said to me, “It’s about time.” I know this example is a bit extreme, but it is a true story. What’s the moral of the story? Well, there are several. One, don’t count on your technical skills alone because there are always other technical folks out there who are just as good as you. Two, treat others with respect. Yes, work on your people skills and it will give you a better chance at your next promotion.

I hope you see how important people skills are to having a successful IT career. There are different aspects to people skills as well. How do you manage relationships with the people who report to you, people who are your peers and the people you report to? Come on back as I’ll be sharing more on these topics in the future.

-David H.

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