Six Things I Wish I Knew Earlier
There’s a moment – it could be in the SCRUM or meeting with your reports – when something clicks, and you wish you had learned a nugget of wisdom earlier in your IT career. If so, more than a few mistakes would have been prevented.
Though rewinding time to make our younger selves wiser is the stuff of movies, it is possible to share valuable lessons collected during a tech career so that others avoid your missteps. And regardless of professional level, all of us have the potential to do things differently every day.
With insights from business leaders and tech entrepreneurs, here are a half-dozen things to tell our younger selves.
1) Prioritize What Matters
“So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.” – Caterina Fake, Co-founder of Flickr
Whenever possible, take a moment for a gut check to determine if your time and attention are focused on what matters. Sometimes that means making trade-offs between family and career; sometimes it is a matter of stopping currently profitable work to focus on long-term growth. The goal is to make sure you are not doing busy work, spending time and energy on projects and routines diverting you from your professional and personal goals.
2) Prepare For Change
“Longevity in this business is about being able to reinvent yourself or invent the future.” – Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Accepting the non-stop pace of change and progress in the IT industry, and how that impacts you, is one of those lessons that comes about through experience. Do you have the skills and stamina to adapt to the constant waves of disruption in the industry? Nadella offers two suggestions: approach your career as a work-in-progress or take steps positioning yourself to create the change.
3) Don’t Get Too Comfortable
“Coding is like writing, and we live in a time of the new industrial revolution. What’s happened is that maybe everybody knows how to use computers, like they know how to read, but they don’t know how to write.” – Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube
Believing that your certifications and specialized tech skills will always make you in demand is short-sighted in the IT industry. While most people know how to use computers, today’s school-age children learn coding. Five years from now, your specialization may not be special. Keep your skills relevant through on-going education, seeking out new projects, and staying tuned in to industry trends.
4) It’s Not All About Me
“It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.” – Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack
Most IT professionals are committed to doing their best and working in a team of peers also committed to excelling on a project can be stimulating. There’s the temptation, however, to overlook who ultimately will use the final product. At regular points along a project timeline, consider the needs and expectations of your internal stakeholders (such as finance, design, and business departments) and customers.
5) Your Questions Set You Apart
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” – Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx
Finding yourself in a new situation is stressful. At those moments when you are trying to understand a project or challenge, your approach – the kinds of questions and how you ask them, how you interact with others, what resources you turn to – allows you to demonstrate your tech skills and, just as important, your leadership and communication style. Especially for people seeking management and executive IT positions, these experiences give you the freedom to showcase your all of your talent.
6) Respect the Culture Factor
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker, management consultant and author
It’s true: In every plan, people and their work culture are the unpredictable variables. Regardless of how well-thought out and rational a timeline is or how snazzy a plan looks in Powerpoint, the environment is a critical element. Investing time in understanding a culture and making necessary adjustments for the “people factor” gives your plan a better chance for success in the real world.
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