12 characteristics of successful IT professionals

My daughter just graduated college with a degree in Computer Science and landed a job with an insurance company in their IT department. What makes an IT person successful?

I was at a networking meeting the other evening and was asked the typical question “What do you do?” I answered with my normal turn of phrase “I teach leadership and soft skills to IT people. How about you, what do you do?” The returned reply was not what I expected. Instead of the person launching off on a description of his chosen profession, he replied by saying “Wow, my daughter just graduated college with a degree in Computer Science and landed a job with an insurance company in their IT department. What makes an IT person successful?” I answered with the expected list of characteristics such as having a deep understanding of the technology, business acumen, being a team player, etc.

Upon returning home two hours and a glass of wine later, his question still resonated with me. Upon deeper thought, I settled on these twelve attributes.

1. Loves technology When a person is doing something that he/she truly enjoys, it’s infectious. People can feel it and want to be involved and get swept up in the experience. From an IT perspective, this can be your boss, peers, clients, or staff. Equally, if not more important, is that when you do something you love, you do it better. This shows in the quality of your work, your commitment to the task, and your willingness to take on challenging assignments.

2. Understands data Data is the life blood of an IT organization and the business it serves. Having a deep understanding of a company’s data provides insights into how all the major software applications are connected. Additionally, from a business perspective, if you understand a company’s data flow, you will understand its internal processes and business model.

3. Understands the business A major trend in IT is its closer and closer alignment with the business it serves. Even at the CIO level, you can’t just be the head techie, you must be a strong business professional who happens to know quite a bit about IT. This business understanding allows you to better serve the business community and be more innovative on their behalf.

4. Can speak both techie and non-techie Do you want to watch a non-technical person’s eyes glaze over? Talk to them using technical acronyms and/or start describing a technology’s features instead of its business benefits. The problem with this scenario is that the business users are the people you are trying to support and, as a result, may have input into your next performance report.

5. Is a mile deep in primary expertise If your primary expertise is business analysis, then you should be the best Business Analyst you can possibly be. If you specialize in data communications, you should know everything there is to know about Cisco routers and other data communications hardware and software in your data center. If you are a Project Manager or IT Manager, know how to lead projects and lead people. It doesn’t matter what expertise you choose, IT professionals respect competence. Unless there are mitigating circumstances, such as organizational fit, your ability to perform will be noticed.

6. Has a working knowledge of related technical areas The complexity of today’s business processes multiplied by the complexity of today’s technology doesn’t allow you to be a one trick pony. While, of course, being proficient at your primary technology, you must also be knowledgeable in the technologies that touch it. For example, if you are a Java programmer, you should also have an understanding of database design and database stored procedures. On the less technical side, if you are a Project Manager, you should have a general knowledge of software development, software testing, and the other professional disciplines needed to make your project a success.

7. Shares technical knowledge with others Part of being a team player is a willingness to share your knowledge with others. Helping others helps your manager grow his/her staff, enhances your professional reputation, builds loyalty toward you in those you help, and positions you for higher levels within the company. Also, teaching others actually enhances your understanding of the topic because it makes you look at things from other people’s perspective.

8. Loves to learn One thing about technology is that it keeps changing. Hardware and software vendors continually upgrade their products. New IT megatrends miraculously appear, become the primary industry workhorse, and eventually fade away as an out-of-date legacy. You must love to learn because the tools of your profession are continually changing.

9. Is a team player There is an old African proverb that to go fast, travel alone to travel far, journey with others. A profession spans many years and is a marathon, not a sprint. Being a team player and an ethical employee, in the long term, far outweighs the short term advances gained by unsportsmanlike conduct. It eventually catches up with you. As the expression goes, friends in your life come and go, enemies accumulate.

10. Thinks outside-the-box Creative thinking facilitates innovative ways to solve problems, reuse old technologies in new ways, create new processes, and define new approaches. These types of activities can enhance your professional brand as both a thought leader and indispensable company resource.

11. Sees problems as learning opportunities It is a wonderful feeling when technology and business processes run smoothly. While everyone, of course, does their utmost to reach this state, there is great value in viewing issues as opportunities to learn more about technology and how to use it effectively. Over time, your willingness and ability to fix production problems combined with the deep insights they bring can truly make you a “techie’s techie” and go-to person when issues arise.

12. Loves a technical challenge The willingness and ability to define and architect solutions to seemingly undoable technical challenges can broaden your technical knowledge, increase your understanding of specific technologies, deepen your problem solving ability and gain you the notice and praise of your peers, business users, and management. A love for technical challenge causes you to theorize potential solutions while standing in the shower at home, walking the dog down the street, and sitting in front of the TV with pencil and paper in hand. This may sound extreme, but for anyone who has done it, you understand that your most creative thoughts and innovations most often come when you are relaxed and doing other things. It’s the love of the challenge that keeps it in mind.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom and @MgrMechanics or at www.ManagerMechanics.com.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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