If you’re a Techie, know about technology

I was speaking with a group of younger software and hardware IT professionals. They were a great crowd, extraordinarily knowledgeable in their specific areas of expertise, and just a joy to be with, but had a lot to learn.

As part of my presentation to this group, I asked them what they know about current technology megatrends such as Big Data, Green Computing, Social Media inside the corporation, Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and others. I found it fascinating to learn that most of the people in the room were not at all familiar with these trends. Most had never heard about Big Data. Some didn’t know about Virtualization. All knew about Cloud Computing, but many had no real idea how to take advantage of it within the workplace. Upon further discussion, it also became apparent even though these people truly knew their specific technology; they were not very familiar with the other technologies that surrounded them within their own IT shop. As we talked further, it became apparent to almost everyone in the room how a wider view of their chosen profession could help their current job performance and their future professional growth.

The moral of this story is NOT that techies should be an expert in everything, that’s impossible. The moral is that you, as an IT professional, should be a mile deep in your technical specialty and be a mile wide and an inch deep in the other areas of IT.

What I mean by a mile wide and an inch deep is that you should have a broad, basic understanding of the various technologies used within IT and a general understanding of the technology trends that are driving change and innovation within the industry.

The reason you want to have a general understanding (be a mile wide) of the areas outside your primary technical expertise is because the technology you work in, most likely interfaces with these technologies. As a result, the more you know about these other technologies, the easier it will be for you to connect your technology to these technologies and the more effectively you will be able to work with the people who work with them. Examples of the concept include the following:

• If you’re a Java programmer, then by definition, your software runs on computer hardware. If that hardware is in the data center, then it may be on a virtualized server. An understanding of virtualization can help you negotiate the hardware capacity needed to have your software run correctly. • If you are a Database Administrator (DBA), the more you know about software development, the better job you can do normalizing the database structure and defining needed table indexes for the programmers. • If you work in the data center, the more you know about your IT department’s software development methodology (such as Waterfall or Agile), the easier you can understand the scheduling needs for new hardware availability. • If you work on the PC help desk as a PC Technician, knowing and understanding your department’s processes, client service metrics, and reporting requirements may help you become the next department manager. • If you are a Business Analyst or Project Manager, an understanding of programming, database design, and data center operations can help you estimate project size and converting user needs into technical requirements.

Now let’s widen the horizon from your IT shop to the IT industry in total. An understanding of the major IT industry megatrends, like those listed at the top of this blog, will also help you in a number of ways, including the following:

• Help protect your job by allowing you to more easily migrate your skills and direct your focus toward the trends that affect your specific technical expertise. • Help you be seen as a thought leader within your IT shop because of your understanding of industry trends and how they can potentially be applied within your company. • Help prepare and position yourself for promotion because as you move up the technical and managerial IT ranks, your job becomes more strategic and less hands on.

In closing, this week’s blog obviously discussed why you should be generally knowledgeable of technologies outside your specific technical expertise. That said, next week’s blog will provide you with insights into various ways to build and maintain this wider view of your profession.

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

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

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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