6 Habits Of Unsuccessful IT Pros - InformationWeek
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9/22/2014
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6 Habits Of Unsuccessful IT Pros

Watch out for these career sinkholes -- and learn how to recover if you've fallen into one.

10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run
10 IT Job Interview Phrases To Make You Run
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Career stuck in the mud? It might be time to take a peek in the mirror to figure out what's going wrong.

When IT pros think "mistake," they usually think in technical terms: The bugs in your code, the "whoops" moments in a production environment, the obvious-in-hindsight security hole -- these things can and do happen. But technology mistakes, unless they're of the catastrophic, time-to-find-a-new-gig variety, are usually pretty straightforward. Recognize the error, fix it, learn from it, and move on.

The more common symptoms of career self-sabotage, according to engineer-turned-recruiter Steve Levy, all lead back to a simple diagnosis: You.

Levy, who's head of global recruiting at the open source video platform Kaltura and helps moderate the Open Mic Career Chat on Twitter, is fond of noting that people don't put their humanity -- and all the good, bad, and downright ugly tendencies that come with it -- on hold when they arrive in the office. People remain people, and plenty of career pitfalls are created by that simple fact. Avoiding them is often an exercise in being honest with yourself, even when it's an unpleasant task. The core problem, according to Levy: The requisite self-awareness and self-honesty are often lacking in the IT pro tookit.

[Here is another question to ask: Do You Work In The Technology Ghetto?]

"It's the things that IT folks, technical folks, typically don't want to address," Levy said in an interview. "But these things that are really relationship-focused are the ones that will make or break your career."

Let's look at six potentially major mistakes IT pros should avoid and consider some fix-it strategies if the damage, even when it appears minimal, has already been done.

1. You have no filter.
You've heard the World War II-era saying: "Loose lips sink ships." In today's era, where multitasking -- or maybe the more accurate term is overtasking -- is the norm and the average IT pro might have a phone call, their email inbox, instant messaging, and social media all going simultaneously across at least two (and probably more) screens, loose lips sink careers. You need to be thoughtful and conscientious about what you're saying, writing, tweeting, texting, posting, and so forth -- and where you're doing it. Levy points out the too-long list of corporate Twitter fiascoes caused either by bad judgment or avoidable error, such as someone with multiple social profiles accidentally posting to the wrong one and embarrassing themselves and their employer as a result.

Levy invoked another adage, this one courtesy of carpenters, by way of advice for the foot-in-mouth crowd: Measure twice, cut once. This comes in especially handy any time human emotions run even a degree or two higher than when, say, you're sound asleep.

"The rule I use is: The first thing you want to send? Don't send it. The second thing you want to send? Don't send it," Levy said. "Usually, the third thought is probably spot on -- and won't get you [in trouble]." A related reminder for the loose-lipped: "The 'Reply All' button is not your friend," Levy said.

If you've already stuffed a foot into that loud, giant mouth, the best repair strategy is usually to apologize privately and appropriately. Then stop talking for a while.

"If [you're in] a foot-in-mouth situation, the last thing you want to do is keep talking," Levy said. "It's usually because you're talking too much."

2. You're a bit too chummy.
Be friendly, be polite, be kind -- they're all fine attributes that, let's face it, the world could use more of. But beware of becoming too "buddy-buddy" with people in the office. Like a lack of filter, acting like a friend rather than a colleague around the wrong person can give the wrong impression.

"There is a pecking order in every organization, and you need to know what it is," Levy. Know who you're communicating with and, when in doubt, button up. Cracking even an innocuous joke in front of someone who doesn't want to banter in the office, for example, is high-risk and low-reward.

"It's frightening how people [think]: 'OK, I got a job. Now I'm one of the crew," Levy said.

3. You don't do what you say.
While applicable across age groups, this one might be especially important for recent graduates and other early career IT pros. "You have to follow through," Levy said. He acknowledged it sounds obvious, yet is amazed how often it's an issue. Over-promising, procrastinating, or just plain punting

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Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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progman2000
IW Pick
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 9:26:49 AM
The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
you're #1 - people get far too lax in what they say, and "Time Management".  I work for a small company that does not micro manage employees.  The ones that use their downtime to pick up another task or pursue a professional certification, etc, almost always excel and succeed.  Unfortunately the norm nowadays is to use the downtime to catch up on Facebook, the scurge of worktime productivity.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:52:16 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
Agree with highlighting time management. Too many talented people waste too much time on things that don't drive innovation or drive value. There are times to unplug from the hectic pace of the day, but it can be very difficult for many to regain the focus that is critical to growth and success.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 2:59:14 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
I think managers should try to know what moves the employees under him. Every employee is different and needs different motivational techniques. Any manager who has mastered that can captain his team out of any tough situation (like decision making marketing values).
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:09:05 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
@jagibbons Being a superlative performer means you have to push past "the point of pain" into a realm where the pain disappears and the distractions blend into the background. This isn't easy to do when you can see others being substantially more social than you.

Ultimately, you still have to choose what feels right for you regardless of what others do. When you're looking in the mirror, the only person you see should be you; when you see others, then you have problems ;)
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 3:01:53 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
To be working in IT, you must always be technically forward, and it would have to mean cutting down on your facebook hours. To be technically forward an IT guy must alwasy undergo a metamorphosis and this is the only thing that will secure his future. Expanding the skillset of the employee is what managers must also take heed in.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:22:32 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
@SachinEE On one level, the manager needs to educate their team; on another level, the team needs to educate their manager. Knowledge flows both ways - just because they're the manager doesn't mean that they're the brightest bulb on the porch (to think this way is kind of very old school).

One idea is to have a skunkworks/knowledge day once a quarter - an internal company tech conference - to share cool stuff. 15 minute presos for everyone...

As far as managers knowing their team, that should be a given. But think about the questions asked during the interview or the quarterly performance reviews (you're not just doung these once a year, are you?): How well do hiring managers REALLY get to know their potential team members during the recruiting phase?

BIG opportunity for improvement here...
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 6:32:14 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
Great insight, and I'm not sure it even has to be Facebook that soaks up your extra time -- we can also spend too much time on legitimately work-related digital communication channels, like internal email, social networks, etc. Those are indispensible tools, but they'll also soak up as much time as you give them.   
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2014 | 6:58:51 AM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
Almost anything can be a time-waster if it is not done at the appropriate time. The successful pros in any field find the important thing to do at that time as opposed to anything else that may be important at other times but not right now.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:47:04 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
@ChrisMurphy Facebook was just an example; Twitter, CNN, Etsy, Amazon and Zappos are just as insidious ;)
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 1:45:59 PM
Re: The biggest ones I see as a Manager are...
@ProgMan Perhaps a solution is to designate a "Facebook Fifteen" where people can Like to their heart's content without fear of repurcussions. In every company no matter the size, there are those who do more than others; as I like to describe culture, it's what you do when no one is around to manage you. In other words, when only a few are going the extra mile, the issue isn't so much leadership as it is bad recruiting...
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 10:53:26 AM
Too chummy
"Too chummy" is rarely mentioned on these kinds of lists, so I'm glad you included it. I think it's Ok to let your guard down and be friendly with colleagues and managers. You will have a rapport that'll lead to better communication overall. But it's a fine line. You can run into trouble trying to be everyone's buddy, especially if you're a manager. Employees may feel misled, even betrayed, when you suddenly turn serious on them. I suppose the best policy is "be yourself but know your audience." What do others think? At what point does chummy become unprofessional?
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2014 | 6:56:03 PM
Re: Too chummy
@Shane - Agree that this is a great point seldom made.  My view is "too chummy" becomes unprofessional when the user no longer takes you seriously in your role or think they deserve special treatment because of their personal relationship with you.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:51:06 PM
Re: Too chummy
@vnewman2 "Too chummy" is anything that could be turned into a scene for "30 Rock" or the sadly departed, "The Office"
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 1:49:12 PM
Re: Too chummy
@Shane Being too chummy is a mistake I made decades ago - and vowed to never do it again. The challenge is that many find it hard to distinguish professional from personal when they're spending so much time at work.

But chummy flows both ways - and in both instances, it's an HR issue. How many companies actually have an HR department that is strong enough to handle issues like this?

 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 12:30:03 PM
Suitable for all business scenarios
I'd say this list is suitable for any type of professional. For IT I'd add "doesn't match technical skills to the job description." Yes, some tech skills are more in demand and, thereforce, pay more, but if you don't really have them, don't be a pretender. Even if you're skills are aligned with the jog, you have to stay "plugged in," as the aritcle advises keeping up with the latest skills and trends in your domain.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 1:55:37 PM
Re: Suitable for all business scenarios
@MrHenschen Thanks for seeing how these apply to all employees...

Funny how many folks become complacent once in the job. I advise people to spend 2 nights each month attending Meetups, association meetings, etc. to meet, greet, and refresh themselves. I run a few Meetups here in NYC and the topics are always current and chosen to make people think laterally. Or to write it more clearly, the topics are chosen so folks come away thinking, "I didn't know that..."
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:39:50 PM
Problems with the boss
I have a bit of a different perspective w/ #6... The vast majority of cases I've seen of people seriously not getting along with the boss have involved 1) an employee who was truly an incompetent, horrible person or 2) unlawful employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and or other unlawful activity by the employer.

In the case of the latter, talking with the boss about it seems to be inviting even more trouble -- especially in my experience as an attorney who has dealt with these matters.

And in the case of the former -- well, a truly horrible, incompetent employee isn't going to think that they're the problem, anyway...and they'll be fired soon enough.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/22/2014 | 3:19:45 PM
Re: Problems with the boss
It's hard to generalize about advice on communicating with managers. People have different levels of maturity, different pressures...Take what you can use here and personalize it for your situation.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:31:11 PM
Re: Problems with the boss
@LaurianneMcLaughlin Nice to see the Editor-in-Chief chiming in. Have I told how much fun it is being interviewed by Kevin?

If communicating were so easy, there wouldn't be 108,157 books about Business Communications on Amazon (not to mention the number of books on communications for couples).

Both managers and non-managers seem to make the same kinds of career errors over and over again; HR has to intervene over and ocer again. Recruiting has to find someone new over and over again.

ALL for the same reasons.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:02:49 PM
Re: Problems with the boss
@JoeStanganelli IMO, a now incompetent employee was likely chosen by the manager during the recruiting process because of their competence. So the issue can be traced back to how the companyh recruits. Second, I'm sure you and all the folks here know of people elevated to management without the proper skills or training. That's a whole other ball of wax.

The way I think of it is as a long-time married couple who were once madly in love, spoke like chatterboxes, and couldn't see enough of each other. The right marriage counseling can work wonders BUT only if both sides want it.

I'm wondering what HR is doing about this?
dried_squid
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dried_squid,
User Rank: Moderator
9/22/2014 | 2:28:19 PM
Career stuck in the mud?
I hope not.


I perceive my IT career from the vertex of a triangle, the other vertexes are the non-IT supervisors and and the non-IT workers.

 

For any shared task, each vertex has it's own priorities and desired futures. Same occurs in the inner sanctum, ie. my IT career, IT supervisors, and IT workers.

 

In general, I agree with the six points, for more than just the IT area. And I suggest there's another current muddying the waters of anyone in any career, considering the last 15 years, the idea that new applications in IT are more important than new ideas on how we do what we do.

 

Without electricity, IT is stuck in the mud. What about the services our people provide?

 

I fear some groups see new applications religously, irrespective of the mission at hand. I believe that puts me at risk.
LevyRecruits
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LevyRecruits,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2014 | 2:14:22 PM
Re: Career stuck in the mud?
@dried_squid I think you're saying the what's new and hot takes up more mental energy than the foundational elements of IT (or anything for that matter). That's a great observation and completely true. It also obfuscates how companies view - and review - talent: If you have the "new and hot" you're considered "better" than someone who doesn't - which is ludicrous and speaks to a weakness in leadership.

But there's a reason why "new and shiny" sells when "old reliable" works just fine.

Yes, I'm sticking with my iPhone 4...
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