So you have decided on a career in IT instead of, say, being a dancer on Broadway or becoming a fugu chef in Japan. Given that you consider IT more interesting than appearing in 50,000 performances of “Oliver” and less risky than serving up potentially lethal sushi, what should you know about not just surviving but prospering in the fast-paced and exciting world of information technology?
Firstly, you need to know that you will never be indispensable. Even if you rise to the level of CIO or CTO or whatever the top IT wonk is called in your company, there are limits to how critical your services are to the organization.
So before you sneer at the CEO when he asks where the “any” key is, just remember you can be replaced and, given the current economic climate, this can be done without going to a lot of trouble or expense.
Secondly, you need to know that you can’t avoid politics. And before you ask — nope, you can’t just ignore corporate politics because they are central to how groups of people establish the parameters of working together.
While there is a theory that nice can win out in office power struggles, the truth is that nice in and of itself doesn’t work alone. It helps, but it isn’t key.
You can’t win at office politics. No one can, except occasionally in the short term. The goal is to survive office politics, and here’s how you do it: Firstly, don’t lie. Ever. Not even white lies. Secondly, don’t gossip. By all means, be amused by gossip, but don’t get involved and don’t spread it. Thirdly, don’t try to be manipulative or underhanded in any way. That rarely works and, when it doesn’t, you will make enemies.
My final advice in planning an IT career is you should have a good idea of the limits of your ambition. Want to work 24/7/365, live out of a suitcase and be the “go-to” guy? In IT there is no end of jobs like that, but if you have any plans for, say, a family life, then this is unlikely to be the job for you. Even if you are single this is a level of pressure few can tolerate in the long term.
On the other hand, what if you just want a 9-to-5 job and be able to go home and not think about IT until the next morning? No problem, but understand you are unlikely to rise very high in the hierarchy, even if you have outstanding skills, because you won’t be an insider, you won’t be part of the “team.”
The strategic approach is figuring out how much you want to give yourself over to your job and whether the compensation is worth it, because one thing is sure: if the economic ordure hits the whirling blades, you will find that my first point about not being indispensable will be clearly demonstrated. And suddenly finding that your commitment and raw enthusiasm didn’t really matter will be a hard blow.
IT is a wonderful career that can be stimulating, challenging, absorbing and rewarding. You just need to have a plan and understand the realities.
–You can send your reality tobackspin @gibbs.com