After 17 years in the industry I have decided that it is time to pass down some advice to the newer entrants in to the field of Information Technology. If you’re just out of school with a freshly minted degree, looking for that shiny new job that leads to fame and fortune, then this article is for you. If you are looking to move up in the job you currently hold, then this article is for you. Hell, if you’re breathing and have heard of a computer before, this might be for you as well.
(1) The first thing you have to realize about working in Information Technology is this: it automatically leads to six-figure incomes, sports cars, and attractive women. Most people won’t tell you this, and in fact go to great lengths to cover it up—much like we in the Seattle area tell people it rains all the time so you won’t move here—but it is true. Anyone who denies this is either lying to you, or incompetent. If you apply for a position in IT (cool-kids abbreviation warning) you should definitely expect this as a minimum package. If you don’t get offered all of these things up front, or hear anything faintly resembling an insinuation that you might need something called experience, run the other way: this job is beneath you.
(2) This brings us to another good point that we should discuss right away: this notion of experience. Experience is something that people who’ve sat around at their job long enough claim you need in order to do what they do. The reality, however, is far different. Most of these so called “experienced” people have long ago given up on being useful, and are simply waiting around to retire. They’re slow, ineffectual, and don’t know half of what you do. They’re your parents age, aren’t cool, don’t dress right, stay home on weekends, don’t come in with hangovers, and sit around so much it’s painfully obvious they don’t do anything. Experience is just a word they toss out there to keep fresh young people who know more than they do from exposing their weaknesses to the sober light of day. Scoff openly when presented with the need for experience. Tossing in an “old” joke or two wouldn’t hurt either… it helps let people know you’re on to them.
(3) Everyone knows that IT types in general, and network engineers in particular, are opinionated people. All day, every day, we’re called upon to give voice to others’ technology insecurities; to make them feel better by telling them what is good and bad in any given situation. To truly be successful—to truly rise above the crowds of mediocrity in the field—you’ll need to take this natural predilection for opining and crank it up a few notches. The best way to do this is to form as many opinions on technology as possible, and then never waver from them. It works even better if your opinions aren’t based on anything useful like quantifiable data or experience, but rather on ego. You’ll also want to pick technologies to evangelize that either few people know, you don’t currently have in place (this helps tremendously, because you can be the “expert” without having to get your hands dirty by proving it), or that make you seem “cool”. To wit, let’s look at point number 4:
(4) Technologies like Apple are ubiquitous in the network engineering world. They are good products in many ways, but that’s not why you’ll want to use them. You’ll want to use them because that’s what all the “cool” kids are using. Old people with “experience” use PCs and you don’t want to be associated with that. Having some off-handed platitudes about why you use Apple computers is going to be good here; things like “I only use the best tool for the job” is a great one. If challenged, or heaven forbid proven wrong, above all else don’t acknowledge this. Simply wave your hands in a dismissive way and insist that somehow the thing you like about Apple really hasn’t been disproven, and move on. This doesn’t apply only to Apple, of course, you can use this technique to make yourself look smarter than those around you with just about anything. As I stated, however, you’ll really want to pick as many technologies as possible that don’t have much market penetration in your company or circle of influence. If you pick something well-known to evangelize, you run the risk of being labeled as difficult to work with.
(5) On the topic of difficult to work with, this can be important as well. Agreeable people get nowhere in corporate America, and you certainly aren’t working for any team. The best thing to do with any new job is to immediately establish that you won’t play by everyone else’s rules. The most effective way I’ve found to make this happen is to constantly complain about how much better things were done “at my old company.” This applies even if, as is likely, your old company was just college. What this does is establish the fact that you’ve seen better, you know better, and you won’t be held back by mediocrity. It also lets everyone know up front that you aren’t a team player, and that you’ll drive the bus of success all on your own thank you very much.
There are many more tips I can share, and I’m certain that this is probably just the start of a multi-part article. It is, after all, incumbent on those of us who have been in the industry for a while now to try to pass on all that we’ve learned to the next generation. There is far too much disinformation out there on so-called “success,” and I believe that whatever I can do to debunk the common mythology, it is for the best.