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100 Secrets


I've decided to start blogging beyond my traditional news, tech notes, recipes, and reviews topics and create a blog on a specific topic; 100 Secrets to Changing Your IT World. Over the next few months (or as long as it takes, I guess), I intend to bring to life the 100 best ideas and concepts that I've learned over the years. Ideas that anyone can use to improve their IT (or even non-IT) career. I hope you enjoy it!

Introduction - 100 Secrets for Changing Your IT World sticky icon

I have gained a bit of experience over the years and I was thinking it might save other people some time if they could learn some of the things I've learned in a little easier way than I had to learn them (which is usually the hard way).

So, I've set a goal of writing down 100 or so of the secrets I've learned about having a great, fun, and interesting career in the world of Information Technology (hence forth referred to as IT).

I've worked a lot of jobs and held different responsibilities, but I've spent most of my time in consulting and contract work. Doing so has provided me with a pretty broad base from which to see things. I've worked in many different industries and for many different people. I've done my time in manufacturing, distribution, services, government, and non-profit. Most of my time has been in the US, but I've also done a little international work.

So, with that in mind, let's get started and take a look at my 100 secrets for changing your IT world...

Are You the Soup or the Spoon?

"A spoon does not know the taste of soup, nor a learned fool the taste of wisdom."
--Welsh Proverb

"Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor."
--Marge Kennedy

When you are working on a project, you'll want to know which role you are in. If you are a team member, you are the soup. When you are the leader or project manager, you are the spoon.

Each has its role...

10 Elements of Minion Management

"There is no 'I' in team. But there is an M and an E."
--Unknown Minion Manager

How YOU manage the people that report to you says a lot about your character. Of course, calling them minions, even if they are in on the joke, is a bad way to start.

It is a pretty big step when you go from a one-person department or consulting company to being responsible for the lives of others. When you take that on, be ready to build a team, not just hand off your undesireable work.

Here are some key elements of leading your people...

Dare to Have a Written Strategy

Do the best with what you have, when you have it, where you are.
--Theodore Roosevelt

If you really want to build something and make a difference, you need to dare to have a written plan. Why "dare"? Because talk is cheap and ideas are nothing unless something is done about them. Set aside brainstorming and talking about what you might do and commit to a written plan. It could be one of the boldest and most important things you do. If you write it down, you might actually be held accountable!

One of the best ways to document your plan is to create a 1/3/5-year strategy document for your area of control. If you're a consultant, that could be for your business. If you're an IT Director, it could be for your department. If you're in an entry level position, it could be for your career.

Just like when building a building, you need to know what you're starting with, know what you want to create, and know what you think it will take to get there. That is what you are trying to document in your written strategy.

Let's start with the purpose of why you are bothering to do this...

When Should You Re-invent the Wheel?

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
--Ecclesiastes 1:9

The answer to the question, "when should you re-invent the wheel?", is simple.

When it makes sense to!

The phrase is often used, usually as a derision, when someone wants to dismiss some else's idea or solution, "we don't need a custom software solution, that would just be re-inventing the wheel." You'll also hear it when someone feels a problem has already been solved and can't be improved upon.

The more "horizontal" the problem (things that affect lots of people and industries), the more likely using existing "wheels" will solve your problem well enough. Clearly, it would be a total waste of time for an IT department to set up a project to write a word processor. There are plenty of old choices, like Microsoft Word, and plenty of new choices, like Google Apps, to solve that problem.

However, as you look at "vertical" problems (things that affect a limited number of people and industries) and you narrow things down to something more and more specific or start to document special processes or when searching for competitive advantage, the more likely you'll find that you DO need to reinvent the wheel.

That is why picking your tools is so important. You'll want to pick things that are open, documented, and can be customized.

And keep in mind that off the shelf is cheap and custom is expensive, so make sure you are allocating your expensive (time/people) resources on the things that will give you a competitive advantage.

Another situation when it makes sense to "re-invent the wheel" is when you are making a paradigm shift, like from horse carts to autos or autos to airplanes. The wheel really DID need to be re-invented in those cases.

Finally, keep in mind that limited resources usually means you'll only be able to re-invent one "wheel" at a time and you'll have to support that wheel for some time. Choose wisely.

Make It Worthwhile

The unexamined life is not worth living.
--Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology
Greek philosopher in Athens (469 BC - 399 BC)

You are only given a certain amount of time in this life, that is why they call it a "lifetime".

Make sure you are living a life worthy of your God-given time here. It is too easy to choose between the busyness of business or the laying around of leisure. You need to take some time, once in a while, and make sure you are investing your time in the right activity.

One old "life coach" exercise is to write your tombstone. The idea is to write, boiled down to one sentence, what it is you would want people to say about you when you are gone. This is OK as far as it goes, but it isn't really an action plan. It should help you figure out what is really important. I think it only really works if you also write down what you think people would say about you right now. Then, using the difference, you can create a plan.

However, if you really want to make a difference in your own life and the life of others, you only need to start out by filling out a single short answer question:

I need to spend LESS time ____________, ___________, and ___________, and MORE time ____________, ___________, and ___________.

Take the time to think this through. Fill in at least 3 answers for each time allocation. Everyone can probably start by adding "LESS time watching TV" and "MORE time with family/friends". Don't stop there. In fact, if you're really focused and thorough, you can probably come up with 10 answers for each.

Take your answers and write them on the back of a business card, laminate it, and stick in your purse or wallet. At least once a week (once a day to start), pull out that card and compare your day or your plans to what you've identified as your critical time allocations.

Within a few weeks, I think you'll find you've started living the life you want.

What is Your Job?

Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.
--Drew Carey

What is your job?
"Director of IT?"
"Consultant?"
"Contractor?"
No, those are job titles.

What is your job?
"I support the servers and the network."
"I'm a software developer."
"I help clients with computer problems."
No, those are job functions.

What is your job?

Here is the answer and it is so simple...

10 Travel Survival Tips for the Traveling Geek

"Travel is fatal... to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
-- Mark Twain

Business travel isn't what it used to be. Or maybe it is, but just more so.

Here are 10 quick tips to improve your trips...

Learn it, Know it, Show it

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
--Samuel Johnson

If you want to build an IT group of any significance (in what is accomplished), you'll need to start capturing the knowledge that is gained by individuals on your team...

Yeah, That's the Ticket!

Yeah... that's the ticket.
--Tommy Flanagan, The Pathological Liar (Jon Lovitz on SNL)

No matter what size your IT organization, even if it's just you, you need to setup an issue ticket system. My current favorite is the open source project called Mantis (www.mantisbt.org).

A ticket system will help you keep track of every request you get, prioritize them, and keep track of your progress. By running your system on a webserver, like how Mantis runs, you can have access from anywhere in the world. Tickets can be submitted by users, if you like, but I usually prefer to have a technical person put them in. A good ticket system will also let you submit basic ticket information by email...

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