- Follow your boss. A wise person once told me you should always know what your boss reads and read the same thing. It will help keep you if not a step ahead, at least you won’t be completely off the page from the person that decides if you keep your job.
In today’s social media it’s even easier to keep up with what your boss is thinking. Whether it’s reading any blogs that they write, or following them on twitter or chatter, knowing what he or she is saying can keep you in the loop.
- Know the “website guys” by sight. This is the executive team and board members that are listed on the web site. No one wants to be the one that says “Who are you?” to the CEO. Make sure you can at least remember who they are, what they manage and as importantly, who their administrative assistant is. You should also know your management chain by sight, from your immediate supervisor all the way through to the CEO.
- Invest in new “geekiness”. I know everyone is busy and no one has time to do this, but much like exercise you actually can find time to be geeky. In many cases this will actually save you time. For example, say you need to make a mass change to something like sharepoint profile photos. You could manually do them all one by one and probably in a day be done. But if you were a geek and knew about some import tools, you can probably automate this in a few hours, and then be able to keep it up to date.
Sort of like the saying “recognition doesn’t cost, it pays”, Geekiness in IT is the same way.
- Challenge the status quo, question decisions, but don’t argue. It’s OK to ask if we are doing things the best way. I once read a loser is someone who says “We’ve always done it this way” and a winner asks “Is there a better way?” Asking that question is a good way to show you want to make things better.
It’s also OK to question a decision. In fact sometimes this is a great way to show you are actually paying attention. We recently started talking about moving our email to the cloud. While I am not opposed to moving stuff to the cloud, we just finished migrating to exchange 2010. I made the observation that since we just moved and won’t need to upgrade for 3 more years anyway, we may want to look at a major system that is due for an upgrade instead.
There is a fine line though between being a person that questions decisions and someone who is disagreeable. Know where that line is and try really hard not to cross it. At the end of the day though, if you and your boss disagree that much, it may not be bad to find somewhere else to spend your days.
- Follow your company’s key technology. We are a big Salesforce.com shop as well as SAP, Dell and Microsoft. Knowing what the vision from each major vendor is key to making sure you stay ahead of the pack.
Unfortunately I am more in tune with Dell and Microsoft and less up on Salesforce and SAP. So I’ll be spending the next few weeks reviewing the dreamforce presentations and making sure I at least know where they are headed. I think this is time well spent.
Since we are also looking at cloud applications, Google, Zimbra and many others are on my hit list to catch up on. Also important is knowing how these can integrate so knowing about any free, cloud or other tools that help integrating is key. Use things like twitter, online magazines or other tools to keep up to date.
- Never say no. Many times if you think the answer is no, you didn’t understand the reason behind the question. Now that said the answer isn’t always yes either. No one likes a “yes man”. Well some people do, but they are generally arrogant narcissists and their opinion is usually wrong.
One example that hit this home for me was when an engineering manager came to me and wanted to connect our guest wireless, which uses no encryption or authentication to be able to connect to our engineering labs. I held my comments, which was basically “That’s stupid” until then end. Once he finished and I asked a few pointed questions, it turned out what he really wanted was a way to test a new ipad application he was building. I was able to show him a way he could do this using infrastructure we already had and that didn’t jeopardize our security.
The answer wasn’t yes, but it wasn’t no either and we ended up both being happy with the outcome. Keep asking questions until you get to a solution that works.
- Network well. Many people think that this means signing up for linkedin and facebook and sending out invites. While that’s part of it, networking is way more than that. It’s about keeping yourself relevant as well. I really try to update something in my social networks so my connections see my name on a regular basis. Plus many times their connections may find me because of this. Does it work? I’ve got almost 900 linkedin connections and very often will get prompted for information from my network.
You can’t just do online updates though, face to face is still a better way to connect with someone. I try to at least once a week go to lunch or have coffee with someone. It can be a co-worker from a different department, a peer from a different company, a recruiter or vendor. We actually encourage folks to go down to the cafe and have a cup of coffee and mingle with their peers.
This is so important that my review has a goal to spend 30% of my time to be “internally socializing”, also called business alignment, 40% external socializing, also called marketing, and 30% running IT. We are a technology company that sells to IT departments so these numbers are probably a little skewed compared to other companies, but it is important for everyone to spend some time networking.
The last comment on networking is around helping your network. A friend of mine recently was looking for work when his company closed the site he managed. I pointed him to a few recruiters I liked that had openings and also offered to review his resume. Some people call this good karma and who knows maybe it is. I like to think so anyway, but it also helps build relationships. If someone helps you out though, it’s important to let them know how you made out. They helped you for a reason, the least you can do is let them know if it helped.
Anyway those are my tips. I’d love to hear what others have found to help them.