Thaddeus Howze explains how he took decades of work experience and created a list of advice that he would have given to his younger self.
Reasonable men adjust themselves to their environment. Unreasonable men attempt to change their environment to suit themselves. Therefore all progress is the work of unreasonable men.
– George Bernard Shaw
*Guest Post* – Originally appeared on A Matter of Scale
I was asked to give a short presentation to a group of young people who were trying to get to the straight and narrow path that a career might offer. Some of the young men had fallen from the path of education, of self improvement and had been convinced by the efforts of a dedicated few to return and try again. All previous sins forgiven, all that was required was a re-dedication to the efforts to improve their lives. I was asked to speak to them about taking some coursework in IT done at an accelerated rate in an effort to prepare them for a summer internship in the middle of next year. I became involved with mixed feelings.
Not because I do not think it is a worthy cause. On the contrary, I believe it is the worthiest of causes; without such efforts, my own redemption at an earlier point in my life would not have ever occurred and I would likely be dead, or in a state such that death might be a preferable condition. My trepidation came from having to tell these young men the truth about my occupation; or at least, as I knew it. I love what I do. I have done it now for over twenty five years; not the same job, but the same industry, information technology and communications with overlap into the publishing, banking, government, technology, game design, publishing, retail, small business and educational sectors.
How do you distill that into something someone can use? It’s impossible to write something technical that would be useful to someone who has never even done IT, so I decided to write down the things that I learned along the way; stepping stones that have to be touched on the stairway to occupational success. Thinking about these things, I decided these would be the things I would tell myself if I could meet myself on my way to my first IT job interview.
These are the fundamentals. If you aren’t careful, violation of these rules can cost you your job.
- Pick your battles. Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war. Keep your eyes on the war. Give up some things to gain everything. Outlast your enemies. Just because you did not make them your enemies did not mean they did not declare war on YOU.
- What got you to the top, won’t keep you there. Don’t get complacent. Stay frosty. Sharpen that saw!
- Previous success is just that; what you did before. It has no bearing on your present circumstance other than it appeared on your resume. Succeed in a different way this time! Innovate, create something new.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a tool and a quite necessary one.
- You learn nothing from success. (You got it right the first time!) Failure teaches and the world’s greatest minds learned best from this harsh schoolmaster.
- If you work somewhere you cannot fail or failure is a punitive event, leave. They are not doing anything important there anyway.
- Real innovation is risky. When forced to choose between innovation and efficiency management, the long-term win is in innovation.
- Know the difference between being effective and being efficient. The first deals with deciding the right things to do and the other deals with doing things right.
- Hire the guy who came in second. He tries harder. Persistence is the real talent. Plus he will love you for taking that risk and work even harder to prove he’s worthy. It has always paid off for me.
- Be right. But don’t be an ass about it. Do your research; know your craft. Be right but if you make everyone hate you because of it, you won’t last long there, even if you were never wrong. Sometimes it is better to be heard than to be right.
- Never compromise your work. Stand up for what you know, through dint of your effort, research and intellect to be the right thing to do. Find a way to get it done. IT that is compromised serves no one well and costs everyone.
- When you become master of all you survey, allow your team to innovate and fail. The things they succeed with will amaze you. Empower your team. Give them the ability to make decisions on the things they work on. Less paperwork for you, more autonomy for them. Make them responsible for their work, because, well they are.
- Insist on diversity. Hire people smarter than you. (Don’t be afraid. They don’t want your job. If they did, they would certainly have it already.)
- Hire people who don’t look like you. Avoid groupthink. Give your team the power to tell you that you are wrong. This may be the second greatest thing you ever do for yourself. The first was hiring someone smart enough to tell you that you are wrong.
- Just because everyone says it can’t be done, does not mean they are right. Believe and do it anyway.
Those core rules are non-negotiable and will likely work for any occupation. These are my IT-related truths. They too may be applied to any occupation. Adjust as necessary.
Please share this with friends, enemies and temporary allies alike.
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