The IT Professional's Survival Guide

Opinion

The IT Professional's Survival Guide

Michael Pincher advises on how to keep your job while all about you are losing theirs...

If you’re worried about your job then stay away from Mount Olympus. It’s where the Gods live and different rules apply.

I made the mistake of going there once and was pole-axed by a thunderbolt. Of course it wasn’t Greece I went to, merely the headquarters of a project where I worked - the place where executives plan their bonuses - and others' demise.

“Remember,” said the Chairman’s bagman. “Projects like this are divided between those of us above the cloud line supping on ambrosia and the rest of you below, who do what you’re told.” It was a piece of brutal realism.

So if you’re not part of the upper echelons and you're worried about your job, let me proffer some advice.


1) Understand the culture: Most industries are dominated by people and firms with a mixture of clans and hierarchies. For example masons are big in construction, technology is populated by Americans, etc.


2) Know where you fit in: Within hierarchies there are well-ordered relationships you need to understand. In construction, for example, the client instructs the architect, who tells the quantity surveyor, who orders the civil engineer, who gets paid by the accountant, or sues through the lawyer.

It’s a system that goes back to the pyramids. Unfortunately for IT people (the Johnny-come-latelies in most businesses) there’s no easy way to slot into the pecking order. While you know how important technology is – others just don’t care.


3) Learn how to flatter: Many of us IT geeks are pretty egotistical and/or asocial. It’s time to learn how to flatter. While praise may at times be excessive, untrue, or insincere, people love it all the same and the more senior they are, the more used to - and addicted - they are to adulation . It’s not a difficult skill to acquire. Programming in XML requires understanding of syntax; flattery is merely a context language - and best applied with a large trowel.


4) Dress like your peers: All too often IT people dress like circus folk in pony-tails and comic tee-shirts. It’s the nature of our business to appear modern but in some organisations ‘casual’ gets up people’s noses. I asked a managing director once what "dress-down Friday" meant to him. “A grey suit slightly lighter than your normal one,” was the curt reply.


5) Keep your head down: The first rule of paintballing is to shoot the person who’s waving their arms about – they’re usually the leader. So don’t draw attention to yourself. From sending round too many emails, to asking questions in a meeting, your chances of corporate survival are best if no one knows you’re there (or watch the video below for more tips).

Getting on in an organisation is less about talent, commitment and creativity and more about the laying on of hands. Unless it's certain you’re going to be invited above the cloud line, keep well away from the powerful. While everyone deserves to work in a climate of dignity and respect, few of us do - not least in a time when the temple of the gods is being overturned.


 

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This was first published in October 2008

 

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