10 Rules for a Successful IT Career
In a recent interview by Stephen Ibaraki, I was asked:
Q: What ten career pointers would you provide specifically to people who wish to enter the computing field?
A: I know that my career success is directly related to following a set of core principles. Here are the ones that have worked best for me:
1. Integrity. You must have high moral standards. You must build a solid reputation that is based on integrity. Everything else pales in comparison to this.
2. Problems are opportunities. You have to enjoy solving problems. Be the one in a meeting to volunteer to solve a problem. Stand up and take on the burden. Paste this on your wall: SOLVE THE PROBLEM!
3. Program Boldly. If you are in a project and NOT trying to revolutionize the industry then you are not the kind of team-member I want. Who would want to just be mediocre? Not me. I’d rather make an ambitious plan and only hit the 80% mark then shoot lower. Remember the expression: Ready, Fire! Aim, Fire!
4. Ego-less programming. Forget who solves the problem. Forget who gets credit. All that means nothing as long as the problem is solved. Believe me, the people who need to notice your accomplishments will notice them. Don’t be afraid to hold someone else up who did good. When you are in a leadership position, don’t be afraid of adopting another person’s idea. If it is a good idea, then use it and give that person the credit. We need and want more good ideas, not less. The rallying cry for every project should be, “Have you made progress today?” Have you pushed the boulder up the hill, even a little bit? If you did, you can sleep well for you will have earned it.
5. Do what you say you will. This is similar to #1 but deserves another mention. When you make a promise, live up to it. On technical projects, learn how to estimate well. Don’t be ashamed to say things take time. Good software is like good construction (and having switched home builders I can vouch for this) … it takes time to do it right.
6. If you want to have people interested in you, do interesting things. Too many companies and people do not understand the law of returns. This is the same people who think happiness should be pursued. Wrong. Happiness is a byproduct of doing something else. This is the same idea for a business and for your career, do the right things and the rest follows. Diligently work hard and you will be asked to shoulder more responsibility (via promotion). So focus, on doing interesting things and interesting work will come to you. Maybe this sounds like faith, but it works.
7. ASK! Speaking of faith, the bible says, “ask and thou shall receive.” I’ve found this to be true. It does not mean you can make a wish and it will fall out of the sky. It just means that there are so many doors closed to you because you did not knock on them. Always ask - the worst that can happen is they say no. If people don’t know what you prefer, or what you like, they will just do it their way. So if you want to influence any process, you best open up your mouth. This reminds me of one of my favorite saying from Thomas More, “Silence means consent.” If you don’t speak up, you consent to the course of action presented.
8. Be a people person. Nurture and respect relationships. I have been helped by many people in my career. I owe them a debt of gratitude and my help in return. Be open to help and be willing to give it in return. People are more important than things. People are more important than schedules. I am a schedule and list type person but I have learned that I will toss them aside, if I have to help someone or talk with someone or just be with someone. People are more important than things. You must have your priorities straight.
9. Peer mentoring. Everyone should teach others. You learn best when you turn around and try and teach what you have learned. Every night at the dinner table, I ask my kids, “teach me something you learned today.” I believe that every company should initiate a peer mentoring program and books like Java Pitfalls and More Java Pitfalls are part of that philosophy.
10. Have a sense of humor. In Korea, a fellow lieutenant related to me her conversation with one of my non-commissioned officers. She had asked him what he thought of me and he said, “Daconta is by the book, but he has a good sense of humor.” Be able to laugh and that includes laughing at yourself. I’ve done a ton of ridiculous things in my life and I’ll do a ton more before I die. It’s not making mistakes that matters, it’s what you do after you’ve made a mistake. So, make sure your work and family life include laughing and fun.