Every IT professional has a wish list. New equipment. More people. Larger budgets. Absent those wish list items, however, most people settle for companies that help them be successful in their job and career. Some even get both. Beyond adequate salary and benefits, what do IT professionals need?
“May you live in interesting times!” is an old ironic curse, but for a technical professional, job satisfaction depends on a reliable stream of interesting problems to tackle.
Interesting problems tickle your ingenuity and call out to your love of the technology. They engage your creativity and technical know-how and give you the chance to shine.
To be known as the source of solutions, you need deep expertise in some subject areas and comfort in many others. Projects that give you the chance to learn new things are invaluable. Hands-on experience gives depth to your formal training and lets you dive into areas you’ve not explored.
Interesting problems are not just technically interesting. Often the most consequential problems call for applying business skills and soft skills. Those problems require you to think strategically, to listen, and to influence; they offer the chance to learn to magnify your effectiveness by moving from being a solo professional to a technical leader.
Supportive office environment
How you feel as you walk into the office has a big impact. Team outings and free food aren’t worth much if you are uncomfortable in your workplace day after day.
The physical environment matters. The physical plant should be well-maintained. Problems with office equipment and tech hardware should be resolved quickly. The layout needs to recognize the importance both of collaboration and quiet focused time. It should provide open spaces where coworkers can communicate formally and informally – for routine information sharing, group problem solving, mentoring, etc. – as well as private spaces for focused thinking and conference calls.
Individual success is not individual, it depends on coworkers who respect, encourage, and inspire you. Good colleagues revitalize your passion for technology and problem solving. A team that’s committed to delivering quality work and being the best encourages you to push past your comfort zone to reach for excellence, creativity, and productivity.
Great coworkers accept different viewpoints and work styles. They have a sense of humor that gives perspective but doesn’t wallow in cynicism. Their underlying positive attitude bolsters your persistence in the face of grumpy clients, unruly systems, and other issues that never really go away. They communicate openly to resolve difficulties. Feedback within the team is productive, an occasion for growth and not for revenge games.
A great team pulls together to respond to challenges. There is camaraderie and team spirit – they are not just transactional, not just working for themselves, but glad to offer help. When someone faces personal difficulties and tragedies, they show understanding and kindness.
Competent and ethical bosses
A supportive work environment and great coworkers are sustained by competent and ethical management. Being able to trust that your bosses will do what’s smart, and follow through on what they say, is invaluable.
Good managers are not purely reactive, always being blindsided, always firefighting. They are not rigidly focused on cost — or doing more with less. They look ahead, prepare adequate resources, and are willing both to invest strategically and make hard choices.
Good managers don’t micro-manage and demand lockstep, they respect and trust their staff. They empower people, giving them the scope to accomplish great things. They avoid the pathologies that hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations are prone to by seeking out lessons learned and honest critiques from the people in the trenches.
Good managers don’t promote burnout by overloading employees with excessive workload and overtime. They support work-life balance, not idolizing workaholics who neglect non-work responsibilities and self-care, but rather rewarding employees who perform well while actually having a life. They trust people with the freedom to schedule their personal lives so long as it doesn’t conflict with meetings and other events.
Good managers hire people who are professional and team players, and they address the problem of toxic people, recognizing the effect that a toxic employee has both on coworkers and on the attitude of clients.
Opportunities to grow technically
As a technical professional, you know the rapid pace of change. You must always be learning. If you – or your organization – does not adapt, you quickly fall behind and will be eventually be sidelined. An organization where education is a priority, with a roadmap and appropriately funded resources to improve both technical skills and soft skills, is crucial.
Training opportunities should not just be focused on the company’s procedures and chosen tools and infrastructure but on broader technologies and trends.
Opportunities to grow non-technically
Increasing your soft skills and business skills are as important as your technical skills.
If your love is the technology, balance that with a study of the emotional and interpersonal aspects of group efforts. Avoid a heads-down focus on technical issues.
Watch for opportunities for formal training, as well as the occasions when organizational or group dynamics issues call for your soft skills and business skills. Or potentially online training.
Develop your business perspective and acumen – know your organization’s goals and shape your decisions to support them. Become able to talk with management about strategy, tactics, and the ways that your role can contribute to realizing the company’s ambitions.
Most every day presents occasions to hone your communication skills and improve your understanding of the perspectives and motivations of coworkers, clients, and managers. Learning leadership, how to build an effective team, and how to nurture potential in others enables you to grow into technical leadership.
There are multiple facets to a good company that helps you become successful at your job and career. Overall, success as an IT professional is a group effort.