How To Be An Awesome IT Professional

I bet a lot of you are reading this and saying to yourself, “I’m already an awesome IT Professional!” You know what? You’re right! The fact that you would read something to try and better yourself even though you’re already awesome is one of the many things that makes you awesome. For some of the newbies to the field or the ones that may find themselves in a rut, or even those that just want to get to the next level of their careers, this guide is for you.
What makes an awesome IT Professional? How can you spot one? How can you become one? How can you tell if you’re going in the other direction? Here are some of my tips for being an awesome IT Professional.
BE RELENTLESS
I’m not saying you need to be a nag or that annoying telemarketer from Sirius XM who keeps calling you to renew the free subscription you got when you bought your car. Being relentless is about looking at your career as a lifelong quest to improve yourself. Keep on learning. Read blogs. Build home labs. Take and pass certification exams. Join user groups. Do whatever you can to learn everything about your field. I look at it this way, whenever someone on my team has a question or can’t figure out how to do something, I want them coming to me first for an answer. Better yet, I want to have an answer to give them. No one has all the answers but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn as many of them as you possibly can. Try to be the best you can be both professionally and personally. Never stop pursuing your goals. It’s never too late to get there.
BE ORGANIZED
I can’t emphasize this one enough. You don’t need to be super anal but you need to be close to it. Document everything that you can. If you’re rolling out a new application, have all of the IP’s and spreadsheets done before hand so you’re just reading off a prepared list. When an issue comes up you don’t want to be fumbling for information. You want it to be easy to find and intuitive. Uniformity in your environment goes a long way in this regard. If you have multiple sites and your gateway has a similar IP at each location it takes some of the guesswork out of troubleshooting. It also makes things easier for new employees to get up to speed if your environment is set up logically. Use tags, use Organizational Units, put descriptions on your router interfaces. It may be more work up front but in the long run, it will help you exponentially. This goes for your day to day work too. Organize your email into folders, use contacts, do all of the things that you know you SHOULD do but probably aren’t. Keep notes when issues arrive so you have something to refer back to if it pops up again. The best IT Professionals do the majority if not all of these things.
BE LIKE WATER
“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
― Bruce Lee
Those of you who get the reference probably know where I’m going with this. This has been a common theme in my life. You should be able to adapt to any situation that arises quickly and easily. A similar motto is used in the Marine Corps. Adapt (improvise), and overcome. Most IT Professionals will deal with an end user or customer in one way, shape or form. Every user is different. Every user has a different personality and you’ll have to adjust to the personality that you are faced with. Some are pleasant to deal with, some can be complete and total nightmares. You’re not going to know at first until you are faced with the situation. The same goes for selling to a customer, you’re not going to know how to approach a customer until you hear what their situation is currently and where they are trying to get to. Once you have a clear understanding of what they are dealing with, you’ll better know how to assist. Be water, my friend.
BE A DETECTIVE
A lot of IT troubleshooting comes down to identifying a problem and resolving it as quickly as you can. A particular issue may come up but have more than one reason for why it is occurring. Take for example a user not having internet access. This could be DNS related, it could be a bad cable, it could be a bad network device, or it could be a problem with the ISP. You’ll need to find a way to go through all of the possible causes and come up with a resolution while keeping an open mind that every situation is different and may require different troubleshooting methodologies. You may not know the answer at first and you may need to do a little detective work to find the solution. How do you know where to look? This comes with experience, every IT Professional has their own way of doing things but one things mostly everyone share is the use of Google. As an IT Professional you will spend countless hours searching through KB articles, blogs and obscure tech websites searching for the one page that someone created after going through the same mess you’re going through. Once you have a good way of troubleshooting any problem can be resolved. Knowing the answer is sometimes less important than being able to find the answer. No one has all the answers.
BE APPROACHABLE
This one is often overlooked. How many of you know of a super smart IT Professional who always knows what the issue is but they are a complete pain in the ass to deal with? Almost as if you’re being a horrible person for asking them to their job. I’m not going to lie. This was me for a few years there. I was a nightmare. I just wanted to sit in the air conditioned datacenter and pound away at all the project work I could find but I didn’t want to interact with anyone. It may have been all of the years of support that chipped away at me, I don’t know. At the end of the day though, it was counter-productive. You need to build relationships to be successful. Whether it’s with your end users, management, your vendors, or your peers. At some point, you’re going to need help in procuring equipment, a reference, or even a new job. This also goes for managers. You want your employees to be able to come with you with issues, ideas or general concerns while having the feeling that they can have a constructive conversation. Building relationships with those around you will help you find answers in situations where looking for them yourself is not working. It will also grow your network for years and years to come.
BE COLLABORATIVE
Unless you are in the smallest of companies, you work with a team. You all have similar (if not the same goals) so why not pool your resources? If you are strong in a particular area and you know that one of your comrades is not, bring them up to speed. Sit down with them and try to explain as much as you can. Cross train with each other. If you know virtualization and the person next to you knows networking, you can both be two-trick ponies. It will also help give you different perspectives on technologies that you may not have had before. In the end you’re only as strong as your weakest link. If your team is strong, you all look good. If one person isn’t, the same holds true. You ALL look bad. I’ve found them some of the best relationships I have to this day are with people that I worked side by side with for months and months collaborating, sharing ideas, and discussing the task at hand with. Some people out there take the opposite approach and like to horde knowledge and info like a pack rat. What happens when they are not there? If you’re the only one who knows something and you go on vacation, guess who’s getting a phone call on the 4th tee. Yep. No one likes getting work calls on vacation. If everyone on your team is in the loop though, you won’t be getting a phone call because the issue will be resolved before it gets to that. Everybody wins.
BE RESTED
As I mentioned earlier, I hit a point a few years back where I wasn’t the greatest person around. I can look back on that time now and realize that I was burned out. I was working crazy hours, I was working on multiple projects and I was re-certifying a bunch of my certifications all at the same time. That translates to not a lot of sleep and a level of irritability seen only in garbage cans on Sesame Street. One of the things that really helped me was when I realized that there are only so many hours in a day. You’re not going to finish everything you set out to do every single day. You need to manage your time wisely and learn how to prioritize your tasks. This will go a long way to ensuring that you are productive while not hitting the wall because you tried to do too much all at once.
These are just a few of the guidelines that I’ve used in my career. If you already do some or all of these things you’re probably already awesome. No matter how great you already are you can always improve. Not just in IT but in life as well. The journey is a marathon, not a sprint. BE AWESOME TODAY!!
I’m sure you all have even more great ideas that I’m forgetting or I just didn’t think of BE COLLABORATIVE and share them with the group. 🙂 As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged. Thanks for reading.