Climbing the IT Career Ladder

Aug 8 2011   2:11PM GMT

Improve Your People Skills for Even More Fun and Profit

Robin Robin "Roblimo" Miller Profile: Robin "Roblimo" Miller

The title of my April 12, 2011 IT Ladder post was Improve Your People Skills for Fun and Profit. Today we have more of the same. Strong people skills, when added to strong IT skills, can help you move into management, find another job more easily, and even (in rough times like we’re seeing now) might help you hang on to a job you already have.


Jenson Crawford, Director of Engineering for Fetch Technologies in El Segundo, Calif., says:

  • Let’s face it, computers are easier to deal with than ā€ˇpeople. Computers have deterministic behavior – even when we can’t discover what is causing the behavior. Computers are consistent and don’t have “bad days.” And although I got into a technology career because of a passion for technology, the further I go in my career, The more I find myself spending time with people rather than machines.

    So what are the “people skills” required to advance our careers?

    Listening. On the surface this seems really trivial, but it’s a critical skill. Not just hearing and understanding what people are saying, but confirming the understanding. One way I try to do this is to repeat back what I heard. “Bob, I think I heard you ask for three things. First, Next, Finally. Did I miss anything?”

    Don’t Interrupt. If I’m interrupting I’m not listening. And I’m likely not applying the next skill either.

    Be a force for calm. Learn to help reduce tension in a conversation by not escalating a disagreement. Even when I think someone else is wrong, I’ve learned to first ask for more information, then invite the other person to work with me in checking out the facts. There is a lot less stress when we remain focused on the issues at hand rather than the people discussing them.

    Present ideas in a concise, organized way. This doesn’t have to be done alone. Groups like Toastmasters can help develop this through practice and feedback.

Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions, has some advice we’ve heard before, but need to hear again. She says, “Explaining IT terms in a way that any non-IT person can understand” is particularly important, and adds:

  • There is nothing more frustrating to a non-techie than listening to someone talk circles around them. In the end, they usually tune out and the task never gets done. Explain technical matters at a level that can be easily understood by your audience.

Dan Nainan, a comedian, actor, and computer expert, says, “Tech people need a sense of humor!” He continues:

  • I know, because I was a painfully shy senior engineer with Intel Corporation. My job was to travel the world with Chairman Andy Grove, doing technical demonstrations on stage at events, and I was incredibly nervous about speaking on stage. I took a comedy class to get over the fear, and the comedy kind of took off.

    Since then, I have performed at the Democratic National Convention, at a TED Conference, at three presidential inaugural events, for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and many similar luminaries. I just recently performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Also, I appeared in an Apple commercial last year. I perform all over the States as well as in many foreign countries. My life is like that of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”, just without the sex LOL.

And, hopefully, without firing a lot of people.

But whimsically, folks, the point isn’t whether or not you get out of IT work to become a comedian, but that you should be as approachable as possible as an IT person.

That way, if someone hears you trying to be funny, and says, “Don’t drop your day job,” you have a pretty good chance of keeping that day job — or even of finding a better one!

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