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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!

10 Common IT Job Application Mistakes

Here are some quick tips on how to avoid common mistakes people make when trying to get hired for an IT job...

Be Worth Talking To

I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.
--Oscar Wilde

When you don't know what you're talking about, it's hard to know when you're finished.
--Tommy Smothers

When dealing people, I always try to leave things in such a way that they are glad they talked to me.

Sounds a little egotistical spelled out like that, but I'm serious...

Tech Support and You

This really happened to me...

[User] (a nurse, calling my office for help) You have to get over here right away and fix this computer.

[Me] What's wrong?

[User] (getting madder) I don't know. You're the expert. Get over here.

[Me] Can you tell me what you are having problems with?

[User] (angrier) The computer. It won't even turn on. I keep pressing the "on" button and some green lights come on, but it isn't working. Look, I'm a nurse and I'm really busy and I don't have time to fool around with this. Just get over here and fix it.

[Me] Could you take a few minutes to answer some questions? It might be a simple problem.

[User] No! Get over here. Now.

[Me] OK. I'll be there in 30 minutes. I have to get a spare computer and monitor and drive on site.

[User] Whatever. (phone click)

(25 minutes later...)

[Me] (out of breath from hauling computer and monitor up 3 flights because the elevator was taking too long) OK, can you show me the problem?

[User] Yeah. Look, the screen's black.

[Me] (pressing the "on" button on the monitor) Looks OK now.

[User] Oh... (mumbles something incoherent and probably unrepeatable)

If you are in IT, you may have worked on, and definitely will end up calling, a Tech Support help line. If not Tech Support, then at least customer service.

Here's my advice: always, absolutely always, be nice. In fact, be nicer than nice.

Sometimes you have to be firm, but always be nice. Some environments make it difficult for the service people to really help you, but it usually isn't the person you are talking to's fault. If you need something, be resolute, but always be nice...

Paranoia is a Very Good Thing

Only the paranoid survive.--Andrew Grove

I'm not talking about paranoia with respect to your co-workers and your boss, though that might make sense in your situation. I'm talking about being paranoid about your own work product.

Whether you are writing some code, designing a network, or just opening a few ports on your firewall, being paranoid is a very good thing...

Failures, Mistakes, and Other Ways to Learn

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
--George Santayana

Are you committed to life-long learning? I am.

Why? Because, to paraphrase George Santayana, "those that don't learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them."

How do you learn? Some might answer, "I'm a kinetic learner" or "I learn by reading" or "I am an auditory learner". And that would be true for them, to some extent. There are many learning styles, preferences, and methods, but there is only one common method that is makes such an impact that almost everyone learns something from it. I'm talking about FAILURE.

Many of the most memorable lessons I've learned have came from my failures, not my successes.

AFAS: Ask First, Answer Second

People who think they are smart tend to think that when they are asked a question, they should be able to immediately provide an answer.

Not so.

The problem with that is, because we are human, we tend to misunderstand the question and provide either the wrong answer to the right question or the right answer to the wrong question.

If you really want people to think you are smart, and you want to answer the actual question, first, ask some good questions. That way, you know what the question really is about, only then should you start answering the question. AFAS: Ask First, Answer Second.

Won't that annoy the person asking the question? Yeah, sometimes, but I'd rather answer the right question correctly than any of the alternatives.

There are many reasons why people ask the wrong question, but some of the ones I've run into include:
* They are trying to solve the wrong problem
* They don't understand the problem correctly

Make Your Mistakes Faster

Everybody makes mistakes. Even I made a mistake once. One time I thought I was wrong, but it turned out I wasn't.
--Me (among others)

Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody.

Think about the people you know. Is there someone that stands out in your circle that you consider to be wise? If not in all things, I'm sure you know someone wise in a particular area of life or work. How do you think they acquired that wisdom?

Was it by reading what others were doing? Maybe a little...

Was it by hanging around watching smart people succeeding or others failing? Maybe some...

Use Open Source

One of the best ways to use the few resources you have is to take advantage of open source software.

If you say, "I can't, we have a policy against using open source software", then you should be aware that you probably already use open source software. Are there any Apple Mac computers under your control? Aficio networked printers? Linksys access points? Do you host your website somewhere else? If any of your answers are yes, then you are probably already using open source software. The question isn't if you are already using it, it is if you are actively pursuing it.

Why Open Source?

  • Money: money is part of it, but freedom is even more important. Even if you don't exercise that freedom, someone else can and that will make your life easier and better.
  • Freedom: you control your own destiny.

The Power of the List

There is a lot to know about time, project, and work management. But, to me, it all seems to come down to one thing: the power of the list.

There are some great websites ( and books (Time Management for System Administrators) about time management and getting organized, but the two most important things you can do to get and stay organized are to "commit to the list" and to "commit to the cycle."

Doing these two things keeps me from bouncing around, forgetting things, working on the wrong priorities, worrying about what I should be doing, and feeling stressed by incoming work that is exceeding the outgoing work.

Here's what I do...

Carpe Diem

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam,
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi —
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero.
Leuconoe, don't ask — it's a sin to know —
what end the gods will give me or you. Don't play with Babylonian
fortune-telling either. It is better to endure whatever will be.
Whether Jupiter has allotted to you many more winters or this final one
which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite
be smart, drink your wine. Scale back your long hopes
to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.
  Horace (23 BC)

"Carpe diem" is a latin term that translates to "seize the day". It is generally understood to mean, "take advantage of opportunties now, before time passes".

One of the skills any IT person should develop is an "eye for opportunity".

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