How to make it in corporate IT (by the skin of your teeth)

By Vaughn Brown
Guest Blogger

It’s not easy to break into corporate IT, unless you’ve got more than some hope and a little courage. I should know, since I’ve spent nearly two decades overcoming one struggle and stumbling block after another and am finally arriving at true IT happiness. My story, titled “The Paper MCSE,” can be found here, and can give you some tips. Until then, use this short list of essential dos and don’ts as a guide.

A quick list for success in information technology

If you want to succeed in IT despite some common challenges, follow these four simple rules to stay ahead of the game. They’ll help build your experience and get you on the road to a resume that will knock the socks off of hiring executives and IT directors at XYZ Corp:

1. RTFM!!! I know, this is the most basic and essential component to IT success but if you want to succeed, just hit the books and get to work. Go to your local Barnes & Noble, buy your favorite java concoction and dive into some tech books while enjoying the free air conditioning. You won’t have to pay for the books and you can read to your heart’s content. Another option may be the library, a great resource for learning — it’s not just for kids. Take advantage of those tax payer dollars and get some education! Look online for resources too, they are everywhere. But when you’re in cyberspace, be careful! Remember that most Wikis are open resources and can be chocked full of misinformation. Learn to discern opinion and truth. This is critical to your IT success.

2. Make the tech-support dude your bitch! I’m serious. You paid for support, now take advantage of it! I’m not talking about Acer tech support in Costa Rica where the first step to recovering from a computer lock up is to reformat your hard drive and start from scratch. I’m talking about leveraging that support contract to your advantage. Use those guys to guide you and educate you. Take notes as you troubleshoot and work through problems. This is invaluable to the success of any IT infrastructure. Always remember that the guy on the other end of the phone line is sitting there in a cubicle with a headset, surfing the Web and just trying to get through the day. Make it a great experience for the both of you—be friendly, ask questions, above all make sure you listen well—and you’ll get more out of it than you might expect. Don’t be afraid to escalate the call if you find yourself treading water. Never be insulting to the guys on the other end of the line! Making friends with support people at high levels is something that can carry you through some tough times. They’ll throw you some bones when you need it. Stay on your toes and always stay in learning mode. This is essential to success in the IT world.

3. Learn to work as a team! I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have egomaniacs on an IT team being Negative Nancy, complaining about user issues, talking about how much better their code is than dude-over-there’s code and how they bucked standards and structured their Linux installs far off the beaten path. This type of attitude is great if you’re in a pissing match but it does nothing to build the team and help move your projects forward to completion and success. Don’t hate on technology! Don’t get caught up in the Linux vs. Windows or Mac vs. PC wars. All technology has its place and it all needs to work together. Think of the next guy in your position and think of those who came before you, since thinking of others is important in being a cohesive and forward moving IT team. Get together! Standardize! It doesn’t matter which standards you follow so much as you understand the vision and need of the end user, your clients and the purposes of the projects you’re working on. Remember, you have a job because there is a need! Find out what the users need and work to deliver it to them. Learn to know the differences between what people want and what they need.

4. Look to the future, have vision and stay positive. Don’t use band-aids! Instead, implement solutions that work and have staying power. When urgent and unexpected issues rear their ugly heads, you need to comfort and reassure the executives that all is well. Keep communication open and fresh and be patient with them while you’re troubleshooting, and don’t panic. The executives drive the business forward while you’re in the engine room driving the ship. Help them understand this too, so that when things get hot and stressful they have confidence in you and the patience with you that you need from them. While we in IT understand what it takes to get from A to Z, the executives often only see dollar signs. The costs are enormous and the bridges to success require architects with vision and wisdom. Executives sometimes don’t understand how complex a process this can be. Don’t be afraid to humble yourself and contact an IT consultant. They will visit you with hopes of big sales and therefore give you invaluable advice, direction and guidance. Just like the tech support guys, make these boys your bitches. Let them take you out to lunch and learn all you can from them. Throw your complex problems in their lap and start spitballing solutions with them. This is what they live for, and you’ll get all the credit when you implement their solutions. You’ll have incredible success as you leverage their experience and knowledge and they will provide you with a roadmap to success. They will help you bridge that gap between IT and the corporate brass and the proverbial planets will align.

Enjoy your success and always keep moving forward!

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