The Business of IT: Turbocharge Your Career

Separate and distinguish yourself from the herd in IT, and you’ll be positioned for accelerated and sustained career growth.

Romi Mahajan

There are two types of people who are visible in any organization: the best employees and the worst employees. For those of you in the middle strata, you have to do what you can to orchestrate the visibility and the attendant rewards. This becomes a challenge to do in a manner consistent with the rhythms of the corporation and its leadership structure. It also demonstrates the extent of the subjectivity of the dispensation of rewards and recognition.

This concept is an anathema to the typical IT professional. Most of you still strongly believe in meritocracy and rigor in analyzing relative performance. It may well be an anathema, but it’s also based in fact. You have to not only perform the part, but also act the part.

Before diving into a full-blown analysis of this phenomenon, it’s worth mentioning that IT perhaps has more “science” behind it than many other professions. There’s a fundamental understanding that IT professionals have to get systems to work—keeping the lights on, as it were. Dealing in the world of electrons is much easier than dealing in the world of egos. The measurements are much more cut-and-dry.

To truly separate yourself from the herd, to differentiate yourself based on performance, to be considered a leader, you need to master the human elements of the job. That may seem like a tall order after already mastering the technical elements of the job. While the latter is the price of entry, the former is the juice that will super charge your career.

There are two ways to approach this: First is the “What I’m Not” approach, and second is the “What I Am” approach. Each has its pros and cons.

What I’m Not

The “What I’m Not” approach is a reactive one. This helps set you apart from others in your profession who more closely resemble the stereotypical geeky, uncommunicative IT guy. Following this approach, you’d list all the elements that comprise this prototypical geek, decide which of those elements absolutely do not represent you, and then communicate this finding in a subtle but firm manner.

The stereotypical geek is a poor communicator who sneers at others. This person thinks in terms of technology, not business. More often than not, he is acerbic and bitter; not friendly and helpful. While this is certainly true of many within the IT profession, more often than not it misrepresents the unsung heroes of corporate America. As we know, however, perception is a strong reality. It would be advisable, in this day and age, to react strongly and openly when faced with the bludgeon of that stereotype.

The “What I’m Not” approach is a powerful one, as it can successfully parry the thrust of condescension. However, it falls short because it doesn’t create an assertive, positive identity. It simply dispels the myth of a negative identity.

What I Am

The “What I Am” approach is much more assertive. You go on the offense, instead of playing defense. You have to look deep within yourself to find your defining characteristics and aspirations. Once those are locked in, you must act in support of those characteristics every day.

If you have an abiding belief in a culture of customer service, for example, define yourself by that positive characteristic. Don’t let others set your agenda. If you believe in the ultimate goal of simplicity and you’re a master at translating complex needs into simple-to-manage systems, be known as the guy who makes the hard stuff easy. The questions people ask and the molds into which they force us too often define our reality.

Proactive communication is the single biggest factor (outside of actual, tangible merit) in defining the degree to which people find success in the corporate food chain. Taking too much for granted may be more relaxing, but it’s too passive a strategy to take root in a complex, fast-paced and competitive enterprise environment.

IT professionals are no different in this regard from anyone else, in any discipline, within the structure of corporate America. The next time you feel you are typecast, decide which of these two strategies most closely fits your personality. Start executing on that immediately. You’ll get noticed, and you’ll rise above the noise.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.