Characteristics of a Good IT Professional
Recently, my golf partner asked me a question while we were waiting for a storm to pass. We were sitting in the clubhouse talking about what kind of person makes a good IT professional, and what qualities or circumstances make for a really great IT person. After thinking about this for a while, I came to a few conclusions:
1. Good IT people are born with a few, specific, innate qualities
2. Good IT shops know how to encourage and highlight these qualities.
Let me explain a bit more with an example:
When I was in third grade, I was sent to the principal’s office for taking apart my desk. I really didn’t think I had done anything wrong at the time, but I can see now why my teacher, Mr. Robertson, felt otherwise. You see, I was trying to figure out how the hinge worked inside the desk compartment that allowed the desktop to lift up. A few other kids had noticed some things missing from their desks and were starting to wonder if we had a thief among us. I figured the best thing to do was build a locking mechanism out of the hinge to keep the thief away from my pencils. I got so caught up in how the hinge worked, that I lost track of the boundaries of what Mr. Robertson might call “normal, acceptable behavior”. All I knew was that I had the desk completely apart and was close to having a working lock prototype when I was sent down the hall to talk with the principal.
That kind of passionate curiosity, where understanding how things work is more important than following rules, where you can immerse yourself in your work such that you lose track of time, and rules and boundaries is a requirement for being great at Information Technology.
But, freedom is just as important. Great IT people are not a species that survive long in captivity. Good IT people become great through the freedom to investigate, recommend and adopt new technologies, the freedom to tinker, to get lost for a while in the details. And, perhaps most importantly, the freedom to fail, to act with a sense of responsibility, but without a fear of consequence or retribution. The best IT shops out there give their people a part of each week to find their own solutions to their own problems, to encourage a sense of creativity and freedom. Because, in the astute words of Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.”
Even if it’s taking your desk apart.