You are the keeper of secrets. You’re the go-to for support. You know the code base, system, and tools better than anyone in your company. Your scripts are the connective tissue. You can hunt down a problem in a split second because you installed and configured everything.
It’s easy to feel indispensable in IT, and that’s actually not a good thing. It means that you’re shouldering more responsibility than you should, and it may be hurting your career. That’s particularly true when you’re on a small team — and especially when you’re the lone IT pro.
Even if you’re the lone IT pro, you should be the master of a system — not toiling away as the lone builder with the blueprint in his head. Here’s why you might get more than you bargained for by making yourself irreplaceable.
You’re Not Indispensable
Here’s the truth. You aren’t indispensable. Neither are you irreplaceable. If you were to find a new job or, yes, even get let go, the company would move forward. Not that it wouldn’t be difficult to fill your shoes, but the sun would still set. The servers would hum. It would take longer to track down that bug, but it would be found. Routine maintenance might be forgone for a while, but, honestly, wouldn’t that be the case anyways?
“No way,” you say. “If I leave everything will be in shambles.” Think about the actual implication of that statement. That means you haven’t documented or labeled anything. That means you’ve gone rogue from best practices. Let’s not even talk about cable management. Everything may already be in shambles because you’re spread too thin. That’s the danger of being indispensable.
Solution: Documentation is a love letter that you write to your future self. For many tasks, you should write that love letter to yourself. You’ll thank your past-self for telling you exactly what you did and how to fix it. Additionally, documentation takes the blueprint out of your head and puts it on paper. If you ever get help, it’ll be like a love letter to them, too.
A single point of failure
Let’s look at your role like your network. If you had years of records on a storage device, you’d back it up, right? You have UPCs for power outages. When a router goes down, it’ll failover to a standby group. You know your failure points. Single points of failure aren’t good. Don’t be the single point of failure.
You might not realize it, but by being the “go-to” person in your working environment you unwittingly become the critical load bearer. This might be because you can troubleshoot faster, or you have been around for the longest. But there are only so many hours in the day. What happens when a processor is inundated with a bunch of small tasks and you throw a big task at it? It grinds. When you take on many more tasks than anybody else, you’re going to slow down.
Solution: Build redundancies into your system — and be the failover rather than the primary. You know the most. You do it the fastest. Someone else might take a little more time, but they should learn. If you are in a position to delegate, then start delegating. Don’t simply assume the new guys can’t handle it. Give them a chance. Spread the knowledge. Check the work and provide constructive feedback, but don’t shoulder the load yourself.
You know too much
In a recent Q&A with CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara, you can either go deep or wide in your IT career. Here’s the full video:
If you’re feeling indispensable, then it’s possible you’ve gone super deep. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But, you’re at risk of being so deep in the weeds that you don’t expand your knowledge. There’s a lot to learn out there, and technology changes quickly. Don’t get left behind.
Solution: Connect with other IT professionals. Institutional knowledge is great. You know what works — and what doesn’t. If you don’t have context for how things should work, then connect outside your company.
The CBT Nuggets Learner Community is a great place to share and learn. There’s also Reddit, Spiceworks, and other forums. You may find many other indispensable-feeling individuals with potentially better methods, tools, or processes. Always keep learning.
You’re the master Googler
You may feel indispensable, but the truly indispensable thing is Google. In the previous section, we talked about getting to deep in the weeds. The opposite can also be crippling. In many one-deep shops, the IT pro handles everything — and we do mean everything. You may spend the morning helping the CEO figure out a fairly simple Excel formula, write a SQL query for finance at lunch, and then figure out that wi-fi dead spot in the afternoon. These tasks are keeping you from the important stuff.
Solution: You probably have a couple needy customers in your office. Be nice about it, but let people know you’re Googling something for them. That’s a tough needle to thread. Don’t just throw a link at them. Show them a time or two, and then send them a note with a YouTube video. Even better, you may have the power to create an end-user training program. Admittedly, though, it’s tougher when it’s the person writing your checks.
Whose job is it anyways?
When you’re indispensable, you’re the one they call at 6 p.m. (or later) when something is wrong. That only amplifies the feeling that you can never leave. That’s to be expected if you’re operating a one-man shop. But if you’re part of a team, it’s even worse. When you’re the only one who seems to get anything done, then maybe it’s time to talk about division of labor — both among people and machines. You need devices to talk to one another. It’s the same thing with people.
Solution: You’re building a redundant system. The system comprises devices — and people. You can’t do it all. Or maybe you can, but you shouldn’t be. Automate the repetitive stuff with bash, PowerShell, Ansible, Python, or the service de jour. For everything else, talk to your team and boss about your workload. But do it properly. It doesn’t serve anyone well to stomp around yelling, “Do I have to do everything around here?” Instead, use data.
Take a week to meticulously track the time you spend on tasks and projects. Note the automation you’ve already implemented, and try to get some tasks off your plate. Busy is good. Overwhelmed is not.
Time to Go on Vacation
Here’s the simple truth. You maybe be carrying your team unnecessarily. If you’re all alone, then everyone knows you’re all alone. It’s okay to say, “No” — as long as you do it properly.
When you’re carrying a heavy workload and not complaining, that doesn’t make you indispensable. That means you’re shouldering too much. Do everything you can to lighten your burden with automation and MSPs. Build a well-documented, redundant system that anyone could walk into and understand.
Finally, take a vacation. (Like, an actual vacation.) When you come back, you may have more work to do, but that will always be the case. You work hard. Everyone knows it. But, you’re doing yourself a disservice to think you’re indispensable.
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