I don’t know about you guys, but the longer I am in this industry, the more I realize there’s so much more to learn. I still have the same passion and desire, but a lot of the hubris and puffed out chest I had as a newbie right out of college (and has allowed me to paint myself into a corner when I didn’t give a whit whether right or wrong) is gone. I’ve matured (well, at least I hope so). Make no mistake about it – I’m just as opinionated and outspoken, but I’ve found better outlets and ways of handling myself.

When we start out in any new situation – IT or not- we are all naive. Sure, we did some homework but what did we really know? Book smarts can’t compensate completely for life smarts. In IT terms, what you do in a lab in perfect conditions doesn’t always translate out to how things go down in production. Theory and practice are two different things.

The inspiration for this blog post was that I was watching ex-SNL and current “Parks and Recreation” (NBC) star Amy Poehler’s speech to the Harvard Class of 2011, and it has some very poignant lines which many in IT can really take to heart. It’s funny at times, as you would expect. Here’s the link:

Three of the best ones I wanted to specifically call out:

  1. “You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
  2. “Try to keep your mind open to possibilities, and your mouth closed to matters you don’t know about. Limit your always and nevers.”
  3. “Listen. Say yes. Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often.”

All are oh-so-true, espeically in IT. With technology, there are some always and nevers – for example, what is supported or how something works is what it is. Let’s get that out of the way up front.

However, the rest of that you really need to take to heart. I used to think that I could do it all. I was smart. I obviously knew better than everyone else. I was invincible. I was in my 20s – what else would I think? Now, to be fair, sometimes I was right. But this is where being green behind the ears works against you. As I said to start, what I know now is vastly more than I did when graduating in 1994 and moving into  the working world, but with the years of experience I know that no matter how much I learn, how much I know, how much I may be an expert at something:

  1. There’s always someone smarter and better than you.
  2. Admit what you don’t know and be honest about it. You’ll step into some massive potholes if you don’t and represent yourself as knowing something when you really don’t. Biting off more than you can chew can damage your professional reputation and people can lose faith in your abilities if you misrepresent yourself.
  3. Since technology is an ever-changing target, never assume what you know about old tech is true.
  4. The biggest skill I have developed is the one to listen. When I was younger, I did a lot of talking. Not a lot of listening. Often times saying less is more, be it an e-mail or a conversation. You learn much more by keeping your ears (and eyes) open. As a consultant, there is no better skill than the one to be able to listen to people to be able to respond properly.
  5. I’m always learning new stuff.

I had the faith in myself just under 4 years ago to go independent and be my own boss. Boy, that had a lot of risk associated with it. You have to be bold in your career and manage it yourself. Don’t let others do it for you. Find people you can trust and will be great mentors over the years. The people who were my best mentors challeneged me, pushed me hard. That meant in that challenge, there was friction because I didn’t want to try or do something. But they saw the potential in me to give me that encouragement or push in the right direction. I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for people like that. Of course, there’s a lot of self-motivation and inquisitiveness (is that even a word?) on my part, but we all need a bit of kick in the rear every now and then.

Brent Ozar (blog | Twitter) tweeted this today (which ironically was about the same time I was watching Amy’s speech):
“Days like today, heading off for #SQLCruise, it really hits home: I don’t have a job, I love my coworkers, and I’ve never been happier.”

I couldn’t agree more. Having a workplace and co-workers you like and trust goes a long way. Look, there will be people we don’t get along with no matter where we are. But you don’t want to be miserable day in and day out, week after week, year after year. That’s not good for the psyche or the soul. Amy’s comment about people having your back is really important for IT and speaks to that trust aspect I mention. Do you want to be in a place that constantly throws you under the bus? (I could make a DBA joke here, because we always get thrown under the bus, right?)

There are times when what you’re doing will be a solo effort and that’s all you need. But I would argue some of my biggest successes in life and in my career were team efforts. My contributions were important, but so were everyone else’s. It’s not all about you. I know, sometimes that’s even difficult for me to admit about myself, but learn to give credit where credit is due.

The best learning experiences will be your failures or scenarios where things did not go smoothly. IT is definitely not all sunshine, roses, puppy dogs, and kittens.  Always understand there’s a best case – and a worst case – scenario. You will have disappointements along your journey, but the best folks pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start all over again (to paraphrase that famous song). Sure, some failures can be a career limiting move, especially in IT. I’d be naive myself if I thought otherwise (and I’ve seen that played out). Try to avoid those.

EDIT: Another great quote from Dennis DeYoung on success found as part of this podcast: “People who are ambitious and driven are trying to please somebody who cannot be pleased.” I can attest to that. I’m my own worst critic.

Your career is going to be a journey with peaks and valleys. You’ll have some very high highs and some lows you wonder why you even bothered to get up that day. But you can take a lot of life lessons you use in your daily tasks and apply them to IT. Remember, only you know what’s best for you. Never lose your passion, remain true to yourself, have high morals, be patient, and good things will happen to you.