Don’t Become Your Own Worst Professional Enemy

You’ve worked hard on your IT career. Not only do you have experience, but an information technology degree, or maybe even a masters in information systems. You have experience under your belt and desired skills on the resume. And yet, there may be a problem in your career path: you.

Advancing, possibly into management, takes a lot more than even an impressive set of technical skills. Similarly, what may seem to be purely technical can turn into an albatross around your professional neck. And that becomes the problem. Certain types of mistakes on the job will seem like shorthand for “keep in back room cube.” InfoWorld laid out some of the mistakes that can be professionally fatal. Here are some of the major ones, rolled together into broader categories with explanations of why they can put the kibosh on your career.

Force software solutions you’re not comfortable with
You can probably understand why people cling to the familiar. You eliminate the learning curve and make things more efficient. The part of that sentence that many forget is “for you.” However, if you walk down this road — clinging to old solutions in a new job; being “religious” about open source, whether in favor or against; showing automatic disdain for legacy solutions; or always trying to use bleeding-edge solutions — you are practically begging executives not to promote you.

The problem is that you’ve just stepped into what is called suboptimization, or trading the sound operation of the whole for the convenience of the part. It may be that old application friends or the newest of the new will be just the thing the company needs. Or it might not. The important thing is to look at what is first best for the company; otherwise you are advertising yourself as a person who makes decisions by personal interests, not corporate strategy and policy.

Flub those project management skills
One of the jobs of senior professionals is to get things done for the company. That translates into managing projects and the work of others. If you can’t accomplish that, how could you be trusted with greater responsibility? There are many ways to send up a red flag: set unrealistic project timetables to disappoint everyone and look as though nothing is happening at the speed it should; inexorably moving ahead with projects of doom; forgetting the lesson from “The Mythical Man Month” (have you read it?) that having the right people on a project is more important than the right number; or underestimating the effect of scale on projects and what can go wrong. The good news: Get project management right and you can go places.

Forget the people factor
Running a business is ultimately about working with other people in an effective manner. If you don’t have the people skills, then you won’t be able to harness the resources a company might offer. There are many ways to forget that you’re really dealing with people, not bits and bytes. For example, you might create “indispensable” employees that the IT department can’t run without (the company can’t depend on who keeps working for it); effectively turning IT assets over to business units that don’t know how to run them effectively just to avoid confrontation over requests; or — wait for it — promote people because of their technical skills, even though they don’t have the interpersonal skills necessary.

To move along in your career, make sure you have all the skills you need, not just the technical ones, and remember that everything you do says something about you.

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